Knowledge In Civil Society (KICS)
A Draft Concept Note -II
24th February 2010 - Core Group Meeting
KICS has been working for five years now, as an informal convergence of civil society activists and academicians who are interested in the areas of concern to civil society. Occasionally, KICS has been able to draw in other experienced individuals and professional depending on their interests and the issue at hand. During these five years KICS has been mainly holding workshops and sharing sessions in small groups. In between these events, there has been regular exchange of ideas, information, and views, albeit between a few active contributors, via mailing lists. A few research and case studies under different projects have also added a dimension of proactive synthesising of some of the knowledge and experience in civil society. KICS has also been to formulate an Indian manifesto on science and technology following a series of consultations. This manifesto has inspired a few case studies on different sectors that would feed into the draft in the coming months. Some of this knowledge and information have been consolidated through a few publications, films and more recently through the website. So, perhaps there are many who are passive recipients/beneficiaries of this exchange.
Legally, KICS has been functioning as part of CWS. A quick email consultation on this about a year back revealed that most persons wanted KICS to try and have its own legal identity. There were a few who struck a cautionary note to this move. In view of the latter, a firm decision on getting a separate identity for KICS had been postponed. We now feel that we should move ahead with the proposal in such a manner that will take the views of the few ‘cautioners’, and evolve a consensus.
This concept note is set out in three sections, and invites all concerned to comment, add, and subtract in a manner that will help reach this consensus. The first section is on the structure of KICS, the second on the ideas and beliefs that hold KICS together, and the third, on the engagement and interaction on these beliefs with the work of civil society.
II. Dimensions of the KICS concept :
In human endeavours, the nation-state came to hold commanding heights but recently and did so only for a while (historically speaking), and this was a transient phase. During that phase, communities and societies were thrown into closer juxtaposition with one another, nationally as well as globally (as nation-states became part of a clearly recognized comity of nations). In this, modern Science and Technology played a pivotal role. The phase of the commanding heights of the state, as state, started tapering off eventually (collapse of the Soviet Union marking this). The state’s surrogate S&T, controlled by free market-driven corporates, has now an autonomous existence and growth of its own, unencumbered by societal views of S&T: this S&T autonomy now tends to govern the presently down-sized state itself, often in the name of the defence imperatives of the nation-state. This is true of all states in varying degrees and of the Indian state too, the latter being our primary concern in KICS work.
KICS is driven by the need to rein in S&T without being anti-S&T. KICS realizes that it can flower only in a regime of international peace and progressive disarmament, to which it would seek to make its own modest contribution through its stand on armed conflicts, nuclear questions and the like. It premises that there is more to knowledge than modern S&T, if only there is wisdom as to where to look for it. The knowledge yield may be from sources considered non-conventional from the viewpoint of modern S&T, but these should be properly considered conventional in terms of long term histories of communities and societies. Serendipity could add to the excitement of such search for knowledge.
The non-conventional sources (which are, as we said above, conventional really) of knowledge are provided by the generally ignored or side-lined multiple knowledge systems that exist in India (and no doubt elsewhere), positioned among the marginalized, and the variety of systems of languages and dialects in which India abounds.
There are now clear and stern warnings that some languages and dialects are endangered, and this means the plurality of knowledge systems is under threat. The consequence of this would be that homogenized views on knowledge will get preponderant, leaving sway to modern S&T, with its proven track record of violence, anti-feminism, and anti-marginalized and anti-ecology stances.
A full play for the multiple knowledge systems would be provided only by emphasizing dis-aggregation, and by strengthening democracy from below, which coheres with Gandhi’s ideas of oceanic circles, particularly because those ideas are going through a comprehensive purgatory that rids the presence and hegemony of forces that are anti-marginalized. This amounts to a restructuring of the presently centralized Indian polity: such reconstituted polity nurtures (among other things) the multiple knowledge systems, preserving (at the same time) the gains of global juxtapositioning of communities and societies that happened because of modern S&T. In so reverse-gearing the centrist polity, a multiple of objectives would be reachable :
i) Establishing true democracy with the marginalized getting increasingly fuller voice.
ii) Alternative knowledge systems come to their own, represented by, and embedded in, the variety of systems of languages and dialects in India.
iii) Modern S&T would be kept on leash as democratizing will pervade S&T, too.
iv) Ecology and environment can be preserved by having a polity with reduction in aggregation that has been the bane of ecological and environmental health all over.
v) Preference for leisure and non-pecuniary pursuits, and predilection for the arts, music and culture --- all these would be valued higher than income in such a regime.
2. Structure of KICS
KICS should have a separate legal identity as soon as possible, with an agreed at difference. That difference is that the work of KICS should be undertaken more by its constituents – members, sympathisers, fellow travellers, with KICS being more the visioning, facilitating, enabling, solidarity and cementing and networking force. In other words, KICS the organisation, and KICS the legal identity which represents the organisation, is more in the background, and KICS the basket of inter-related and complementary ideas, information flows, exchanges, and other work is the main arena of work of the Network. Further even if large parts of the work is done by KICS per se (either staff, or volunteers more related to KICS than the constituents of KICS), it is located in the issue itself. And thus the principle stakeholder is society itself. This can be a challenge to the legal structure which may be vested in a few people, but we vest the legal authority in such people and systems that believe in the above principles.
III. The Role of Civil Society:
Civil Society in India some way represents the Gandhian oceanic circle concept ; civil society’s Community-based Organizations (CBOs) and Non-Government Organizations (NGOs), which have over the years been incorporating the Ambedkarite ideology of empowerment of the marginalized, are institutions to which dis-aggregation comes naturally. It is only more recently that these institutions have been willing to look beyond their immediacy: this looking beyond their immediacy has been generally through banding with other CBOs and NGOs for questioning the policies of the state. The questioning, which initially was in terms of assertions or normative principles, is now being built on credible empirical bases. Given their spread, and the experience that they have gathered by now, these institutions can be expected to be in possession of the wisdom required to find journey on the track of knowledge-search natural for them.
KICS seeks to help CBOs & NGOs to explore their ways through, for which the necessary empirical additionalities and instruments would be built, facilitated by KICS. The stress in this is working with CBOs and NGOs, strengthening empiricism and drawing on the richness of systems of languages and dialects in India, which constitute the as-yet imperfectly explored repositories and systems of knowledge, to build a polity that is democratic and non-violent, respectful of women and the marginalized, garnering in the process the clout that can keep S&T to be at the service of societies and communities rather than the other way.
In sum, KICS helps build an alternative paradigm of development, rooted in democracy, in secure human rights, in equality between women and men and in empowering the marginalized and, in ushering in an alternative S&T that is not violent, and in building systems that are preservative of identities.
M.V. SASTRI & John D Souza, KICS
Would it be useful to put explicitly on the agenda support for academics, and aspiring academics to engage with these issues. I have been uncomfortable with empirical work leading straight into policy. while engagement with theoretical frameworks comes more as an afterthought. Perhaps the outcomes should have an explicit space for this, rather than expecting it to happen in due course?
Portions from Rajni’s earlier email which might be relevent:
this existing momentum is itself very fruitful....where activists engaged on issues in the field are able to link not just to share information but also to think-through the how-what-why of those issues. The challenge on this score is should the number of people in the network be larger? Or is it better to keep to a smaller more managable number?
the other aspect is how to take the issues/insights which emerge onto larger public platforms.
a need for a broader, over-arching, engagement with the political-economy of knowledge construction and validation. eg. on water or energy, or health systems or even more fundamentally on "Growth".
I don't know how we would give this endeavor shape and form but it is urgently required......on a scale that is well beyond KICS but could still be triggered or nudged along by KICS....since most of us have entry into a variety of other forums. So it would be a case of doing some incubation internally and then seeking partnerships.
W Bijker adds:
As a contribution to your discussion later this week, I would like to explore a bit further the point that Annapurna has made in her reaction, dated 18 February and sent via the KICS google group to all.
My contribution comes in the form of this email and not in the form of a concrete proposal for additional text, although I would certainly be happy to contribute to writing such when your discussions conclude that that is wished for.
For me the strength of KICS has always been the “informal coming together of civil society activists and academicians”, as the very first words in Sastri garu’s note read. That combination is for me important in more than only a combination of persons: KICS also tries to combine agenda’s, working styles, and audiences-to-be-adressed. I herein see a recognition that understanding and intervening, or explaining the world and changing it, both necessarily go together. The balance between understanding and intervening, or between research and politics, will be different for different persons and even for one person in different circumstances, but I venture the claim that ideally always both components are present. For me KICS offers a place to help me to critically reflect on the balance between my research and my efforts to change the world, and a place to help me adjust this balance to various circumstances. More generally I hope that participating in the KICS forum helps all its participants to reflect on how to choose and keep her or his balance.
One implication of this is that I see the “activists” as doing science, and hopefully benefiting from interactions with the “scientists” in KICS; as much as I see the “scientists” doing politics and hopefully benefiting from the interactions in KICS with the “activists.” Symmetrically and logically, I also see the “scientists” benefiting their doing science from interactions with the activists, as I hope that activists learn from seeing the scientists engaging in politics.
Much of this symmetry is already in the note, but it could be made more explicit. Doing that would endorse the Sastri garu’s key points about “non-conventional sources (...)”, “plurality of knowledge systems”, and the nurturing of multiple knowledge systems by a reconstituted polity. One way to make the note more explicit could be to add a section titled “The Role of Science”, but there may be other ways.
I realize that the above is horribly abstract, and I apologize for that. But it would not be difficult to think of examples that illustrate what I am trying to say (though these examples would probably not fit in the note): Shambu is not only studying the development of the knowledge and agricultural system of SRI, but he is also engaged in the Orissa and Indian politics of it; Ramoo and Kavitha not only promote NPM and stop GMO, but at the same time develop a deep understanding of the scientific and political systems involved; Annapurna (with Shyama and Latha) not only tries to help handloom weaving communities to find new forms of sustainability, but also develops a theoretical understanding of the social, technological, and funding innovations needed for that; I am (with Pankaj, Haribabu, and Prajit) not only studying the development and use of nanotechnologies in India but also trying to contribute to a democratisation of the risk governance of such new technologies.
Srrekumar N adds:
1. In the past 5 years, KICS has indeed served as an excellent meeting place, where diverse people have discussed, got together and done good work. One half of me still feels that it is best kept that way. KICS could collaborate with the so many organisations that exist all around.
2. As one of the persons who wrote the cautionary note on legal entity for KICS, I would now say this. A legal entity is a good idea if there are 2-3 key people to nurture KICS, who would give 50 + % time for it - at least for the first 3 years, for substantive guidance & setting up processes, not operational support.
3. In my opinion, what are the characteristics of these key people? Tolerance towards different kinds of people and organisations; Immense capacity to listen to both academic and field worker; Patience to keep working without expecting immediate impacts; Capability to feel challenged to discuss issues at an abstract level, 2-3 levels removed from the ground level. They would raise some funds and set up a team.