Cultivating ways of knowing for transformations

The basic assumption of western schoolarization and academia is that we are individuals (body and mind) who "appear" in an unconscious universe, made of inert matter and devoid of meaning. This belief promotes individualistic and materialistic attitudes that objectify life and are inculcated across the globe through neo-colonial institutions and dynamics such as school, university, government, market, etc.

Global environmental change, inequality and the other existential crises in which we are trapped are rooted in the hegemony of individualistic materialism and the monoculture of knowledge that justifies it. Addressing these crises involves decolonising the mind by cultivating in each person a diversity of ways of being and knowing, but... How can we decolonise ourselves? The good news is that outside the dominant Western culture there are still thousands of ways of being and knowing that assume a meaningful and relational universe in which the material world is only a useful, but not absolute, way of perceiving. These cultures can be a source of inspiration. The bad news is that these alternatives are rapidly disappearing or are subjected to dominant practices and discourses that silence, extract, domesticate or oppress marginalised and alternative voices.

Decolonisation begins with recognising the materialistic and individualistic beliefs in ourselves, but that is only a first step. The real work consists of unlearning and undoing the monoculture fields that we have labored, through habit and repetition, deep within ourselves. In this series of videos, we will discuss experiences in Latin America that can inspire or guide processes to unlearn and undo monocultural practices rooted within us, and to learn to cultivate a truly plural and transformative base for ways of knowing.

Using “cultivation" as a metaphor, this project will bring together four virtual conversations; their content and themes will be co-constructed and re-signified by those collaborating in the project. The proposed themes are:

Conversatorios Metáfora

Conversatory 2 - The sowing of shared dreams

“The sowing of shared dreams” emerges from the idea of polyculture, where we converse and live in plurality, diversity, and dialogue based on difference. In polyculture, not only the harvests are more diverse and the soils richer, but through differences, we acknowledge ourselves and enrich our sense of communality: I am with you and you with me, but no one ceases to be who one is.

In this second conversatory we talk about what can be, without limitations, without mental ties, looking towards the emptiness that we can occupy, what are also called utopias. Some like Enrico, Loni, Tania and Mirna have embarked on the task of transit from Utopias as dreams to Utopias as processes, from “what would be if…?”, to fill their hands with soil, tilling Utopias day by day, and making them bloom.

And of course, neither dreams nor utopias nor communality are an easy process; there may be stones in the way, soils may be badly eroded, and conditions may not be conducive to seed germination. "It's crazy - some say - without agrochemicals you won't make this land produce!" How many times have we not heard this? But those who venture into these crops have learned to live with the frosts, with the pests, with the lack of water and with too much sun.

Adding company, combining and articulating different ways of knowing and questioning our beliefs and values allows us to meet those for whom, we are the Others and vice versa. Transforming the soil to make something grow where others said nothing would grow, requires changes in oneself and these changes are not necessarily comfortable, in fact, if they are profound, true transformations almost by nature have to generate discomfort. But when we transform these profound changes into underground bridges and share them, we transcend the otherness and create a new identity.

In addition to the changes that are generated individually and collectively, the sowing of dreams also requires weaving different times and spaces. Leaving aside the linear and imperative time that has been imposed on us to encounter other figurative, social and physical spaces, can lead us towards the exploration of different ideas of time, such as the time needed to carry and sow the seeds in the field, the time lived, the time of the Earth...

This conversation is full of seeds of dreams to be explored and germinated dreams to be savoured. There is so much to say that ideally we would have a chat around a fire, following the rhythm of the fields, to attend to that which does not respond with the immediacy that today's culture has conditioned us to demand...

(by Fernanda Pérez Lombardini, J. Mario Siqueiros-García, Lakshmi Charli-Joseph, Patricia Pérez-Belmont, Hallie Eakin, Almendra Cremaschi, Tania Campos, Enrico Cresta, Mirna Inturias, Loni Hensler, David Manuel-Navarrete)

Conversatory 1 - Regenerating the soil for new roots

What you will see in this first video is a conversation over 'low flame', in which four knowledges cultivators from Colombia and Mexico 'dig' into the roots of their own knowledge systems, and share how through experience and reflection, they have transitioned towards more sustainable and plural ways of seeing and understanding the world. These cultivators question the forms of knowledge that were imposed on them and how they have opened themselves, not without conflict, to new voices, ideas, elements and substances that have nourished and transformed their ways of apprehending and cultivating. Their proposals and reflections include:

Some of the questions that emerge from the conversation are: Is it possible to transform the ways in which we perceive and understand what surrounds us? What structures do we need to break down? Who can we count on in this journey? What are the opportunities to transform ourselves? What challenges does this transformation imply?

Listen in this video these and other reflections on how to take advantage of the cracks in our own soil, and how to aerate it, decompact it and, ultimately, regenerate it in order to collectively build a global soil suitable for a polyculture of knowledges and ways of knowing.

(By David Manuel-Navarrete, Almendra Cremaschi, Patricia Pérez-Belmont, Lakshmi Charli-Joseph, J. Mario Siqueiros-García, & Hallie Eakin)

"Within and across the various strands in this particular conversation, ‘social’ and ‘natural’ implications unfold inseparably together. A resulting vision emerges of deeply entangled political ecologies: in which ambiguous relations and flowing processes matter more than rigid categories and fixed structures. That all this is achieved through the little rectangular frames of Zoom, is all the more to the authors’ credit. I can’t wait for the next instalment…" Andy Stirling

In the next conversatory, ¨Gathering knowledges¨, we will explore different practices that certain organizations or communities in the Global South have applied in projects that seek the co-creation of knowledge, transdisciplinarity and transformation...

Blogs and related content

This project is part of a series of events occuring during the Methods year of the STEPS Centre, aiming to discuss how to challenge sustainability research. Challenging Research
Read our first blog about diverse initiatives in Argentina, Mexico and Kenya on different methodological challenges and ways to catalyze change towards more just worlds. Waves of challenging research for sustainability

The project Cultivating ways of knowing for transformations is coordinated by Umbela Transformaciones Sostenibles A.C. and LANCIS-IE-UNAM, in collaboration with IIMAS-UNAM and SOS-ASU, with the support of the STEPS Centre, and as part of the series Challenging research for sustainability in which ARIN - Africa Research and Impact Network also participates.