Smith, Thomas Aneurin (2012) At the crux of development? Local knowledge, participation, empowerment and environmental education in Tanzania. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.Full text available as:
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Development appears to have gone through a paradigm shift, from top-down, state-led projects to bottom-up, participatory schemes which seek to take account of local knowledges. Tanzania is a country which, like many others in the ‘Global South’, faces a myriad of interlinked environmental and development problems, particularly as much of the population’s livelihood needs are deeply entwined with local environmental resources. Current environmental policies and conservation practise in Tanzania appear to reflect this new shift in development, and increasingly the Tanzanian state and a number of NGOs have aimed to increase the participation of local people in environmentally sustainable practices. Education about the environment, for both adults and young people, has become key to this approach in Tanzania since the 1990s. This thesis aims to explore the many practical and theoretical questions which remain about the suitability of participatory projects that utilise local knowledges, considering questions which are fundamentally at the heart of how development is and how it should be done, questions which are ultimately at the crux of development itself. Specifically, I aim to answer questions about how participants and communities can become ‘empowered’ through participatory initiatives, and to this end I investigate the important yet presently neglected role of young people. I further explore the nature of ‘local knowledge’, questioning its current use in development projects whilst seeking to re-conceptualise and re-orientate how ‘local knowledge’ is understood and employed. I utilise a qualitative and participatory methodology through three communities in Tanzania, each of which offers a contrasting picture of environmental issues throughout the country. I begin by exploring the current understandings of participation and local knowledges in development, and follow with an explanation of the methodological approach. The empirical chapters are then organised around three main themes: local knowledges, environmental education in Tanzania, and the role of participation in Tanzanian communities. The first of these chapters appraises the concept of ‘local knowledge’ critically by first comparing local and official discourses of the ‘environment’, assessing how far an attention to local knowledges has percolated into official environmental discourses in Tanzania. In light of local understandings of the environment encountered in these three communities, I consider how the current conceptual framework of local knowledge may be limiting our understanding of how these knowledges are constructed and communicated. The second empirical chapter examines environmental education projects in Tanzania, and from this I critically reflect on the role of NGOs and the state in local development. Through an analysis of environmental education, I consider how both local knowledge and participation agendas can be spatialised, in particular by understanding how formal and informal spaces of learning are constructed discursively in communities, and the implications this has for the outcomes of education projects. I go on to examine the notions of participation and community, exploring how participation and inclusion operate at different scales, including those beyond the local. I consider how the current conceptualisation of participation and community, derived from ‘Western’ ideals, can conflict with local understandings of responsibility, volunteerism, participation and community development. Through this, I question the ‘community’ as the necessary site of empowerment, and in particular here I draw attention to the role of young people and how their identities are reproduced at the community scale and beyond. Finally, I conclude by discussing the conceptual and practical application of local knowledge and participation in development in light of this critical appraisal. I consider the role of formal education more broadly in empowering young people, and I question the role of NGOs in the future of locally and nationally orientated development. I end with an examination of the ethics of the current development paradigm in light of the understandings of development uncovered by this study, many of which fundamentally challenge the way that participatory forms of development should be done.
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