This blog is an attempt to share and discuss my thinking about the politics of producing, communicating and using knowledge, and to explore if (and if so, how) this affects my research and practice.
Based in Johannesburg, South Africa, my research is concerned with the two politically – and publicly – unpopular issues of migration and health. As a result, they’re issues that are urgently in need of improved policy and programmatic responses (you can read more about that here and here). My work aims to support the development of improved responses to the health and wellbeing of people on the move within the southern African region.
To do this, a better understanding of – and engagement with – the politics of producing, communicating and using knowledge is needed. My work aims to support the development of improved ways of doing research in order to better address the health and wellbeing needs of people on the move in southern Africa. This blog is an experiment, to see if it will assist me in this process.
I want to explore whether research, and its intended application, benefits from different forms of public engagement, including this blog (is a blog an engaged space? if so, for who? or is a blog a carefully-curated-for-public-consumption set of thoughts that would do as well in a private journal or research notebook?).
Will trying to engage publicly (including through this blog) in this process help me in thinking through the politics of knowledge and how it relates to my work? Will this change the ways that I think, write and – ultimately – practice my research?
Discussions about knowledge politics aren’t new. But, with an undergrad degree in genetics, a masters degree in the control of infectious diseases, and a doctorate in public health, I have a very applied (public health-y) approach to research. I’ve no problem with this and am an advocate of a public health approach to research where it’s needed. It’s a discipline with a difference; public health research is deliberately designed to generate better understanding to guide the development of policy and programme responses to improve (equity in) health.
But, I think that we can do our (public health-y) research differently – in ways that are more engaged and responsive to the politics of knowledge – with an aim to improve public health outcomes for all.
To try and support ways of doing differently, I want to focus on three things:
1. Ways of producing knowledge
What (who?) drives knowledge production and research agendas? What kinds of knowledge exist? Whose knowledge counts? How is knowledge produced or curated? Who produces and/or curates this knowledge?
2. Ways of communicating knowledge
How is knowledge shared? Who engages with knowledge that is produced and/or curated? How should we (can we?) create productive space(s) for engagement between and across policy|practice|research|advocacy|activism activities? How is engagement and communication part of a knowledge production or curation process?
3. Ways of using knowledge
What knowledge is used and why? Who uses this knowledge? What knowledge is excluded? Who excludes this knowledge? Do knowledge production and the curation of knowledge influence policy development and practice? If so, how? What can be done differently?
An avenue to exploring these questions is through the Migration and Health Project Southern Africa (maHp). Supported by a Wellcome Trust Investigator Award, maHp aims to explore (and evaluate) ways of generating and communicatingt knowledge in order to improve responses to migration, health and well-being in the SADC region. Multiple disciplinary perspectives, mixed method approaches, and the involvement of various stakeholders – including migrants themselves – are central.
Originally from the UK, I’ve been living, studying and working in South Africa since 2003. I’m an Associate Professor at the African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS) at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), where I coordinate the Migration and Health Project Southern Africa (maHp). I am involved in research, teaching and postgraduate supervision on a range of topics associated with migration and health. I’m a member of the University of the Witwatersrand Research Ethics Committee (non-medical) and am Postgraduate Coordinator for the ACMS where we run Hons, MA and PhD programmes.