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Fugitive and codified knowledge: implications for communities struggling to control the meaning of local environmental hazards

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The purpose of this qualitative research was to determine the ways that knowledge is constructed and used by emergent citizen's groups (ECGs are grassroots, action-oriented, problem-solving groups) engaged in environmental conflicts, and by a state government environmental regulatory agency that interfaced with them. Four historical-organizational/observational case studies of conflict dynamics involving ECGs and the government were undertaken. Case studies in a qualitative research paradigm were used since they particularize information in a complex, process oriented manner that reports life experiences. All of the grassroots groups in the study cited 'education' as a goal of their organizations. The research documented the struggle for who controls the meaning of hazardous scenarios. ECGs were cultural producers at the local level, developing the intellectual and moral faculties of the community, especially through collective education and collaborative and social learning. The state agency, on the other hand, constructed intellectual and moral capacity from a bureaucratic locus. As such, both were instrumental in community learning, as well as sites of contest. The results show that regulators most frequently relied on 'codified' or 'official' knowledge that reproduced the status quo. ECGs constructed 'fugitive' knowledge that escaped the control of institutional specialists, and that reinforced their local (and at times global) interests. Bureaucrats seldom used local knowledge to make environmental decisions. Citizens responded with rebellious collective action, quiescence and at times despair.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Georgia Athens USA

Publication date: May 1, 2004

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