Community-Developed Knowledge

At the end of an article* in the fall issue of the journal n+1, sex worker Lorelei Lee notes:

“This essay could not have been written without community-developed knowledge. Any mistakes are my own, and anything I got right is the result of living, working, and thinking in coalition with hundreds of brilliant people in the sex trades.”

(*that outstanding article, Cash/Consent, is preceded immediately by another insightful piece entitled The Evangelical Mind by non-practicing evangelical Adam Kotsko – and the mere juxtaposition of these two pieces, let alone their thought-provoking content, is a sharp move)

I’ve been reflecting on the notion of community-developed knowledge since I read the piece several days ago.

I’ve always had a thing for epistemology (the mechanisms of knowledge production) – and this concept is right at the edge of what is wise and what is problematic in our world today.

For the most part, we have ceased to grant collective authority of knowledge to central figures – whether those be individuals or institutions.

Diffusing power in this way can be a good thing.

However, in our knowledge processes, we have fallen prey to (a) the market-driven cult of celebrity and (b) an overly uncritical willingness to accept sources that simply reframe what we already believe, regardless of whether they are rigorous or merely speculatively profit- or attention-driven.

I don’t know exactly how Lee defines community-developed knowledge, but I hear the potential for a useful corrective to these problems.

Community-developed knowledge is meaningful when it centers the experiences and expertise of perspectives often excluded from discussions of ‘what is known.’

Community-developed knowledge is generated not by a single human savior source, but by collectively sharing in work, commitment, and respect.

Community-developed knowledge can be geared to reject shallow trade in convenient sound bytes that erase nuance, instead weaving insights gathered over time through living and learning (both formal and informal).

Obviously, it can also go wrong, so that homogenous communities of relative power simply reinforce problematic ‘knowledge’ about others and the world – but that’s an ongoing risk no matter what.

We work with and within the world as it is.