Introduction to Special Section on the Politics of Knowledge in Development

Published date01 June 2021
Date01 June 2021
AuthorMadhulika Banerjee
Subject MatterIntroduction to the Special Section
Introduction to Special Section
on the Politics of Knowledge
in Development
The twenty-first century search of offering alternatives to the hegemonic development paradigm, whilst
responding urgently to climate change, seeks to answer a specific question. What kind of knowledge of
production in society could possibly be the best to opt for, to develop at this point in history? It is not the
first time that this question has either been asked or an answer to it, attempted. Scholarly debates on
the relevance and significance of ‘traditional’ or ‘indigenous’ knowledge for development, wherever the
failure of modern knowledge was clearly in evidence, had taken place earlier. Then why now, again?
This Special Section of the SIP argues that in the last five decades, or so, several streams of practice
on the ground have worked on this possibility to demonstrate a tangible significance of ‘traditional’ or
‘indigenous’ knowledge as ‘alternative’ systems of knowledges to those of the modernist, capitalist
knowledges of production and, therefore, deserve careful analysis. Second, that studies of how these
have evolved towards contemporary relevance show a complexity of contestations at several levels and
spaces that make it possible—namely, historical context, state policy, political economy, collective
action and institutions. It is clear from the ground that all of these spaces actually contribute to the
making of the epistemology of knowledge systems. Therefore, to understand whether already existing
knowledge systems can contribute to contemporary processes of ‘development’ or ‘well-being’, it would
be helpful to analyse how all these spaces actually transform or reconstitute them. So the debate on
knowledge, which has focused in the main, on the realm of epistemology, needs to extend well beyond
that—whether in the natural or social sciences. For this, an analytical frame that enables an understanding,
analysis and interpretation of this process of transformation of these knowledges of production through
all the above five spaces is required.
The first article offers precisely this, naming it the ‘Politics of Knowledge’, as also offering a new
term for ‘traditional’ or ‘indigenous’ knowledge, namely, ‘already existing knowledge’. Using this frame
as a point of reference, two articles are offered, each of which will take up a specific knowledge system
and present an analysis of how that knowledge has adapted to the contemporary, helping it qualify as an
alternative to the modernist/technicist/capitalist ones. These two articles are on seeds and flood
management. Each of these has been selected because they are very important aspects of the essentials
of people’s lives, forming a core component of ‘development’. They analyse how these five spaces
interact in order to produce the structures of power these knowledges are located in. Together, these
constitute the arguments of the politics of knowledge in development, though in a summary format. They
also provide a framework of how other such knowledges may be studied. The intent is to offer another
three articles on three other knowledge systems in subsequent issues of the journal, within the same
Introduction to the Special Section
Studies in Indian Politics
9(1) 76–77, 2021
© 2021 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/2321023021999159

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