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Budd Hall & Rajesh Tandon - Guest editors of the GUNi 6th Conference
In this interview Budd Hall, Secretary of the Global Alliance on Community Engaged Research, and Rajesh Tandon, Founder and Chief Functionary of the Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA), elaborate on the main themes of the upcoming GUNi 6th Conference: transformative knowledge and the importance of community-university engagement for social transformation.
The title of the 6th GUNi Conference pose a call to action based over a truly ambitious challenge: Let's build transformative knowledge to drive social change. What does mean transformative knowledge?
Transformative knowledge is knowledge that can be used to expand democracy and contribute to social change. It is knowledge that may be created by women and men at the heart of a social movement working together without any reference to academic knowledge. It could be knowledge created when community groups and academics work together in co-constructing an understanding of reality. Transformative knowledge may be an integral part of organizing for the protection of human rights, the deepening of social justice or the advancement of freedom. Examples of transformative knowledge include the ancient knowledge of Indigenous Peoples used to protect environmental rights for everyone and the legal rights of women and girls for a life free of violence.
The historical purpose of all knowledge has been to improve human conditions. Knowledge production was historically carried out with societal improvement purposes as humanity evolved its life situations. Today, a call for transfromative knowledge is a call to re-claim that historical human tradition. Over the past century, knowledge production gradually disconnected from the societal priorities for improvements in human conditions; knowledge began to be treated as a commodity for private benefits of knolwedge producers and their sponsors. In the past decade or so, the push towards knowledge economy has further reduced the transformative purpose of knowledge. Humanity faces civilisational crises today; its capacity to transform itself into a sustainable society for the next generations depends a great deal on creating and mobilising transfromative knowledge that can begin to provide new and innovative solutions to our crises.
Why is community-university engagement key for building a social transformation?
Community university engagement has the ability to bring together the skills, resources and credibility of the academic world with the vision, needs, skills, resources and credibility of the civil society world in a way that builds the capacity to change lives and communities. Universities belong to all of the people and it is the right of all the people in our societies that these structures of knowledge creation and transmission should serve the needs of healthy, inclusive, peaceful and sustainable communities.
Universities are public institutions mandated for the twin purposes of knowledge production (research) and knowledge dissemination (teaching). The contributions of universities, from the days of Nalanda and Taxila in the Indian sub-continent, began with the demands of community in the period before Christ; Buddha himself was a disciple and teacher at Nalanda. In their modern incarnation, universities became elitist 'ivory towers' and lost their connections with the masses. As elite institutions producing elites of society, universities, perhaps unwittingly, began to support status quo and perpetuation of elites. Re-connecting universities to communities, in a way to society itself, can be the basis for re-claiming their contributions to social trasformation. The liberating, transforming and challenging potential of universities can be re-realised if its connections with the community are strengthened in both its knowledge production and knowledge dissemination functions.
Please, give us a couple of reasons why it is timely and relevant to be a part of this debate.
There is more attention being given to the relationship and or the re/negotiation of higher education and society than at anytime for a very long time. It comes as our global society is searching for paths of more egalitarian, more inclusive and more just ways of living together and sharing the bounty of this mystical planet. Now is the time for social movements, for community activists, community leaders, intellectuals, cultural workers, politicians, students and the merely hopeful to take up the right to a new utopia, a utopia of liberty and justice for all.
As public institutions, universities are facing questions about their societal relevance and contributions to social transfromation. The accountability of universities as public institutions is under review in many societies around the world. The privatisation and narrow commercialisation of universities is further reducing their transfromative potential. As questions about University Social Responsibility (USR) are being posed, the transfromation of universities, and their partnerships with civil society and communities, becomes imperative. Hence, this is the debate that both civil society and university leaders need to be shaping, lest market forces and governmental regulation further stifle their potentials.