1) Knowledge is socially situated. SftP-Atlanta stands by the epistemological standpoint that all knowledge is socially situated and that the perspectives of oppressed groups including women, minorities, and others are often systematically excluded from “general” knowledge. So we start our interventions focused on including the tacit knowledges of the public. This genre of knowledge is often invisible from general scientific knowledge repositories that have historically favored the knowledge of the expert-elite. For us, it is more than just a theoretical standpoint. We see this as the only practical way of conducting actionable research with communities. The active and varied knowledges affected communities bring to the table are not mere data points for formal scientific research. Instead, they are just as essential as the formal scientific skills that we have to offer, if not more.
2) Knowledge should be constructed through participation. The inclusive approach to knowledge production that we espouse is part of a foundational praxis that takes shape through participatory design methodologies. We team up with the organization and community representatives in order to consciously position those most intimately impacted by research as leaders in shaping research questions, framing interpretations, and designing meaningful research action and outcomes.
3) Knowledge should be openly accessible for all.Jürgen Habermas in his seminal essay on the scientization of politics and public opinion critiques the existing practices of the scientific community:
“the very results of research that are of the greatest practical consequence are the most inaccessible.”
Enabling open access to our methods, practices, results, and analyses is at the core of SftP activism. Toward this goal, we use the Open Science Framework, an existing web platform that supports collaborative open science research. We consider it our responsibility to facilitate public ownership of scientific knowledge. The scientific research that aims to serve the purpose of the community (and is a direct product of community participation) should be made accessible to the people. That said, there is also a need to broaden our perception of access. When we are engaging with communities and knowledges that have been historically excluded from the social structure of science, providing access must mean we learn to communicate our studies in a language that is approachable. After all, how can we claim that something is “publicly accessible” if the public is not able to engage with the science we create?
Current oppressive governing ideologies and practices depend on advancements in science and technology for control, surveillance, and the advancement of capital without regard for the health or well-being of people or the planet. Therefore, it is crucial that we consider the role that science, technology, agriculture, engineering, math, and public health play in shaping the future. At its core, our mission is simple. We believe that all science, in practice and in its outcomes, should seek to eliminate injustice and serve the needs of the people, and necessarily, the environment.
In this time marked by an extremely divisive political climate, scientific reasoning can be an extremely powerful tool to resist injustice. But activating scientific discourse among the public will not happen without a greater commitment from the traditional science community, and a reimagining of science by the society at large. There is a need for a practice of science that is, as Sandra Harding would say, committed to anti-authoritarian, anti-elitist, participatory, and emancipatory values. Our collective “spiritual” growth as scientists requires that we organize now not just to defend science, but also to mobilize it for the people.