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An Analysis of Participatory Communication for Development: A Social Construction Perspective
Unformatted Document Text:  Participatory Communication for Development 22 receiver. In contrast, from a social construction perspective, knowledges are “situated versus decontextualized, positioned versus universal, historical versus timeless, interested versus disinterested, embodied versus disembodied, pluralistic versus unified, ethical versus instrumental, [and] dialogical versus monological” (Shotter & Gergen, 1994, p. 27). A social construction perspective on knowledge thus supports the notion central to PCD that knowledges are situated and historical. However, social construction can add a critical understanding which is otherwise missing in theoretical treatments of PCD. Crotty (1998) warns that humans “tend to take ‘the sense we make of things’ to be ‘the way things are’” (p. 34). From this perspective, we co-construct and co-maintain knowledge and then immediately we forget that we do this. One reason for this social amnesia is the perpetuation of the encoding/decoding model of communication in both theorizing and in everyday conversation. If we continue to believe that meaning is something which resides in tasks or in an individual’s mind and that, through encoding and decoding it can be transmitted to other individuals, then we perpetuate the notion that knowledge is real, unchanging, and exists either within individuals or somewhere outside of individuals waiting to be read or learned or discovered. To take a social construction perspective, however, is to commit to the notion that knowledge is continually being created, negotiated and transformed, and as such, it is neither unchanging nor unchangeable. This critical understanding of the construction of knowledge holds implications for the theory and practice of valuing local or indigenous knowledge in participatory development. Rahnema’s (1992) critical observation that “no one learns who claims to know already in advance” (p. 122) speaks to another of the theoretical problems of the valuing of local knowledge, in which an over- valuation of local knowledge may result in a simplistically static understanding of knowledge. Instead, knowledge “is the unknown which has to be dis-covered together” (p. 122). A social construction approach to knowledge stresses the active construction of all knowledge, and questions

Authors: Dare, Alexa.
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Participatory Communication for Development 22
receiver. In contrast, from a social construction perspective, knowledges are “situated versus
decontextualized, positioned versus universal, historical versus timeless, interested versus
disinterested, embodied versus disembodied, pluralistic versus unified, ethical versus instrumental,
[and] dialogical versus monological” (Shotter & Gergen, 1994, p. 27).
A social construction perspective on knowledge thus supports the notion central to PCD that
knowledges are situated and historical. However, social construction can add a critical understanding
which is otherwise missing in theoretical treatments of PCD. Crotty (1998) warns that humans “tend
to take ‘the sense we make of things’ to be ‘the way things are’” (p. 34). From this perspective, we
co-construct and co-maintain knowledge and then immediately we forget that we do this. One reason
for this social amnesia is the perpetuation of the encoding/decoding model of communication in both
theorizing and in everyday conversation. If we continue to believe that meaning is something which
resides in tasks or in an individual’s mind and that, through encoding and decoding it can be
transmitted to other individuals, then we perpetuate the notion that knowledge is real, unchanging,
and exists either within individuals or somewhere outside of individuals waiting to be read or learned
or discovered. To take a social construction perspective, however, is to commit to the notion that
knowledge is continually being created, negotiated and transformed, and as such, it is neither
unchanging nor unchangeable.
This critical understanding of the construction of knowledge holds implications for the theory
and practice of valuing local or indigenous knowledge in participatory development. Rahnema’s
(1992) critical observation that “no one learns who claims to know already in advance” (p. 122)
speaks to another of the theoretical problems of the valuing of local knowledge, in which an over-
valuation of local knowledge may result in a simplistically static understanding of knowledge.
Instead, knowledge “is the unknown which has to be dis-covered together” (p. 122). A social
construction approach to knowledge stresses the active construction of all knowledge, and questions


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