Workshop A1: NGO’s in Info-Development

Maja van der Velden (University of Bergen, Norway)

This was, for me, one of the most ‘reflective’ and insightful talks in the batch. Maja posits that technology is NOT neutral. Contrary to the popular relativist view on technology, Maja recognized its internal biases.

Her framework, Cognitive Justice, was beautifully described as struggles for knowledges. Technology is developed around our understanding of the world – our knowledge. And knowledge is often negotiated by power. Knowledge is not just a solitary truth, but many. Unfortunately, today’s concept of knowledge is more attuned to the individualistic, written, Western version. The ‘other’ forms of knowledge (community knowledge, for example) are often regarded as non-knowledge actually. It is inferior, incompatible, unreliable and unproductive. Technology/information systems have, more often than not, rendered such knowledge invisible. And not just by the biggies like IMF and Gateway but by us. In providing solutions to communities, for example, many an NGO have asked first what is lacking rather than what is present: what do the people actually know. Many organizations and individuals often assume (too quickly) that knowledge is absent, when in fact, it has just a different form.

The struggle for knowledges is, thus, the belief that all knowledges should exist side-by-side. It is dialogical and diverse — recognizing that context is inseparable from knowledge; and the cultivation of diversity, essential.

— timi