Knowledge production processes for spatial justice in transition times


  • Valeria Monno DICATECh Politecnico di Bari


Actors’ relational dynamic, Knowledge/power relations , vulnerable , spatial justice




In this paper, I discuss invited (including co-production) and activist bottom-up forms of knowledge production to highlight their relations with power and their transformative potential in affecting the construction of more socio-environmentally just urban space for vulnerable communities of human and non-human. My  goal is not  to produce normative and conclusive answers on the topic. It is to reflect on the potentialities of each of these forms of knowledge prodcution in triggering ontological and epistemological changes in oppressive frames of thinking and action. It highlights problems to be faced by different actors when involved in even small planning actions opposing stressful and unjust ways of living.

The first part of the paper reflects on recent theoretical transitions that have influenced ways of conceiving knowledge production  to outline an interpretative framework which is oriented to highlight differences and possibilities in the transitions from a style to another of knowledge production. 

In the second part, I tell the story of Taranto an industrial city in a post-modern, ecologically oriented Europa which has seen almost 25 years of conflicting truth on its industrial and polluting past, present and future, which has involved different actors (including professionals) and ways of knowledge production in different periods to solve the "working or dying" dilemma. Nowadays, after years of knowledge conflicts, it seems that we have arrived at "the end of double truth".  

I trace the changes and permanence in producing knowledge through my own although "light" involvement and conversations with citizens, professionals and activists.

The interpretation confirms that coproduction produce material, tangible effects. However, they are unable to change power relations among actors and the dominant  onto-epistemologies of spatial injustice. On the contrary they are reproductive and diffusive of reproductions of dynamics and logic of oppression. They are used as a way to channel vulnerable communities' discomfort into a stream of actions that facilitate adaptation to unjust urban and regional transformations. They also reproduce delegitimization, disempowerment and isolation of dissonant voices ( of activist s and experts) or attempts of independent thinking as unacceptable costs for making any process effective. As a result, innovative ways of participation strengthen the division between professionals and public administration, which sits on the one side and citizens on the other, while associations assume an ambiguous role. Coproductive forms of engagement diffuse a conception of citizens' engagement as a value-free process based on individual and contingent choices in a context of efficient urban management. 

Bottom-up collective actions offer more opportunities to transformative interactions. When  characterized by genrative thinking and  critical openness they are not only focused on tangible and intangible effects. Although ineffective in producing "material" results in the short run, the intangible impacts of these generative collective actions can be relevant in producing a regime shift towards more green socio-environmental urban transformations. By looking at intangible effects, bottom-up knowledge production processes can reconnect people to power relations and redefine the ambiguous role of planners, associations and professionals, which currently risks preventing rather than promoting transformative changes. These processes have to be seen as spaces opened to emergent active collectivities that can help nurture the idea of planning as practice for the caring of places.


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