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Decolonising knowledge: Enacting the civic role of the university in a community-based project

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journal contribution
posted on 2022-11-14, 13:56 authored by Mary McAteer, Lesley Wood


The need to work in partnership with communities in a meaningful and impactful way has become a core part of university planning, in many countries around the world. In the Global South, the potential for the Eurocentric knowledges and power structures to dominate such partnerships is pervasive. 

This article reports on findings of a participatory action research project conducted with community members in a socio-economically disadvantaged community in South Africa who had identified a need to improve school-community cooperation in educating local children. Analysis of our findings, framed against broader cultural and historical contexts, suggests that when the role of university-based ‘experts’ is one of facilitation rather than ‘delivery,’ then not only is participation more effective, but, also, the process and products of knowledge democratisation can be realised more effectively. 

We thus provide unique insight into the way relationships between the university and the community can be reconceptualised, from a position of knowledge and epistemic hierarchy to one of epistemic democracy. We discuss the (civic) role of the university in enabling this co-construction of knowledge, and in developing the shared meanings and understandings that promote decolonisation and enable social change.