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Friday, July 5 • 11:35am - 12:15pm
Understanding knowledge practices in a transformative citizen science context

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The Mpophomeni Sanitation Education Project (MSEP) is a citizen science project that foregrounds the transformation of social-ecological practices and the solving of real-world problems in context. It is a community-engaged citizen science project that aims to address the problem of sewage pollution in the Mpophomeni settlement (Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa) through citizen involvement in monitoring and reporting of sewage pollution events. In this paper specifically, we focus on understanding the nature and role of knowledge in this particular type of citizen science practice.

Working with Tabara and Chabay’s (2013) description of two ideal-type worldviews that focus on the role of social-ecological systems in human information knowledge systems, the paper develops a set of indicators for understanding knowledge in these types of citizen science practices. Tabara and Chabay (ibid.) argue that an open, but socio-ecologically embodied worldview is necessary for actively addressing context-specific sustainability issues. We work with Maton’s (2014) 4-K model that describes knowledge practices as epistemic and social in nature, in order to strengthen the theoretical grounding of the indicators developed for this study.

In keeping with the social realist perspective on education, our research methodology is underlaboured by critical realism and an interest in Bhaskar’s (2016) ‘holy trinity’ which embraces ontological realism, epistemological relativism and judgemental rationality. The data for the study is generated from semi-structured and focus group interviews, project documents and observations with and of the MSEP coordinating team as well as members of the three components of the MSEP. These are; the ‘Enviro Champs’ who monitor and report sewage spillages, a school eco-club that focuses on environmental issues in the settlement, and the Mpophomeni Youth Productions Environmental Street Theatre group who engage the local community through plays that deal with the pressing issues of water and sanitation in the settlement.

The findings show that knowledge practices in the MSEP are both social and epistemic, produced by a wide range of knowledge actors in open knowledge systems as defined by Tabara and Chabay (2013). They also show that social-ecological transformation is associated with meaning making processes and learning experiences in context. The MSEP knowledge products exemplify concrete universal knowledge in that it is both contextualised - that is context-rich - whilst at the same time being relevant outside the scope of the local context. The mini-SASS water quality test is a good example of a contexualised knowledge tool that is both scientifically rigorous and allows for local meaning-making and potential social-ecological transformation.

In describing the knowledge practices in the MSEP, through a combination of Tabara and Chabay and Maton’s work, we achieve two things. From an education practice-based perspective, we develop an argument for the importance of developing learning processes that support knowledge practices with both epistemic and social relations in citizen science projects with a transformative social-ecological agenda. Secondly, from a methodological perspective, we outline a synergistic relationship between the 4-K model (which strengthens the theoretical grounding of our analytic tool), and the indicators in our tool (which are illustrative of how the 4-K model might look when applied to contexts concerned with social-ecological transformation).

Friday July 5, 2019 11:35am - 12:15pm SAST
Room B47

Attendees (1)