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10.00  Transformation of Local Knowledge Networks After Displacement: A Social Justice Approach to Ethical Public Health Research and Practice with Partners Affected by Conflict

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9:00, Tuesday 7 Jun 2016 (30 minutes)

In contexts of mass displacement, communities are uprooted, social networks are dislocated, tradition and norms are misplaced, forgotten, or reinvented, identities become disjointed, and the physical integrity of the body rules supreme. In the flux and disorder of crisis, public health researchers and practitioners have often focused their attention on responding swiftly, sometimes unilaterally, to the least common denominators of health: decreasing mortality, eliminating disease, and increasing functioning. Yet in the midst of these chronic cycles of crisis call and response, the disruption of local knowledge networks and the transformations of knowledge and practice bases that occur during conflict, displacement, and recovery (or stasis) have been neglected. How can public health donors, researchers, and practitioners, from the Global North in particular, effectively and ethically involve themselves in these knowledge transformations? Which methods and approaches further disrupt and which ones encourage communication, mentorship, partnership, and learning?

Loss of home and community due to forced movement and displacement makes attachment to place and sense of belonging that much more important and coveted for affected populations. The international “expert” regime intervenes with donor directed agendas and equipped with evidence-based practices, all originated elsewhere. Although usually well-intentioned, outside researchers run the risk of undermining the one resource affected communities may need the most: the assets, experiences, values, and resiliencies available in people’s own localities, socio-cultural heritages, and scientific traditions. This is true not just for those directly affected by conflict and displacement, but also for local humanitarian actors, scientists, researchers, and service providers, all of whom are affected by social disruption. In our zeal to help displaced communities recover and to deliver innovative interventions, we may end up displacing local knowledge, resources, and opportunities for social growth. 

In this paper, I will draw on case studies from my more recent work in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia to illuminate these tensions, dynamics, and lessons learned. I will identify problem points at key junctures in the research process, as well as opportunities for collaboration, from calls for proposals from donors, to research question and study design, to priority setting and intervention development, to assessment of programs using local indicators of success. I will discuss the practical realities that have become clear in my work with displaced groups and will offer suggestions for how we can ethically make investments into local knowledge networks. I will offer suggestions for applying a social justice approach to public health response in humanitarian contexts that acknowledge both the fragility and the resilience, as well as the rootedness and the fluidity, of knowledge bases and information dissemination in the aftermath of displacement. This will include recommendations for reforms in the IRB review process, data dissemination, and publication opportunities. I draw on the Rosi Braidotti’s “nomadic theory” to conceptualize themes of community, belonging, membership, and the power and possibility found in movement, disruption, and the re-imaging of worlds. 

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