Local Knowledge is Not a Pot of Gold

How do we know that the world is changing around us? What can place-based knowledge tell us about climates, past and future? Can we use that knowledge for good, not evil?

'Local' knowledge—an umbrella category for traditional, tacit, indigenous, and ‘uncertified’ expertise—is often viewed by science groups (like the IPCC) as vital for crafting effective and appropriate solutions to the world’s wicked problems—like climate change.

At the same time, local knowledge is slippery: it hinges differently across place and time. Local knowledge may be at odds with scientific and technological goals of universal knowledge and progress. In 'extracting' local knowledge from the context of its production, experts may break the ties that bind such knowledge to the materiality of its place—including local governance arrangements and sociotechnical practices. Extraction may do more violence than good.

In a recent article, authored by our Fulbright NEXUS team and published in WIREs Climate Change, we make the point that local knowledge is not a pot of gold, awaiting discovery at the end of the proverbial rainbow. In reviewing the field, we combed through literature in climate adaptation science and took stock of common trends, patterns, and ideas about local knowledge. Drawing on theory in science and technology studies (STS), we move away from the extractionist approach—still so common in science—and toward a compositionalist theory of local knowledge. This shift, we argue, calls for an end to ‘mining’ local knowledge to reinforce climate governance regimes.

Moved to read more? The article is now available on the WIREs Climate Change website; or email Katie Meehan for a copy.  

 This graph charts the explosion of publications citing 'local knowledge' in climate change adaptation research. Prior to 2010, only 10 articles were published about this topic--the same number of articles published in the first quarter (January-March) of 2015 alone.

This graph charts the explosion of publications citing 'local knowledge' in climate change adaptation research. Prior to 2010, only 10 articles were published about this topic--the same number of articles published in the first quarter (January-March) of 2015 alone.

We’re Hiring!

Are you a prospective PhD student interested in science studies and the politics of environmental knowledge? Dr. Katie Meehan is seeking to hire a new graduate research assistant (GRA) to work on the NSF-funded Knowledge Integration Project.

The ideal candidate has strong interests in political ecology, science and technology studies (STS), and environmental politics in Latin America, especially Brazil. Requirements include (1) a master’s degree, in Geography, STS, or a relevant area; (2) experience with qualitative research; (3) field or work experience in Latin America. Language skills in Portuguese and field experience in the Amazon are highly desirable, but not required.

Specific GRA responsibilities will include: 1) preparing and administering a visual Q-method survey, an image-based qualitative technique; 2) analyzing qualitative data and reporting the results; 3) assisting Dr. Meehan with project-related activities, such as the public art/science exhibit. The GRA will gain skills in Q method, survey design, qualitative data analysis, academic writing, and project management.

The GRA position is for one year (starting Fall 2018) and provides an annual stipend, health insurance, and tuition waiver. Upon admission to the graduate program, the Geography department provides select, highly competitive applicants with up to 3-4 years of additional funding, typically as a teaching assistant or instructor.

The Department of Geography at the University of Oregon is top-ranked program with strengths in critical human geography, biophysical geography, spatial data science, and political ecology. We are located in Eugene, Oregon, a weird but lovable town situated between the Cascade Mountains and Pacific Coast.

Interested in this position? Prior to formal application (due January 15, 2018) to the Geography program, prospective applicants should send a brief letter of interest and CV (including GPA and GRE scores) to Dr. Katie Meehan (meehan@uoregon.edu). Thanks!