Cultural difference is the starting point for a lot of activities related both to research and development cooperation. How to deal with cultural difference is a difficult question to answer. Whose terms are used? For the benefit of whom is research done? These were some of the topics treated on the NFU 2014 Conference in Tromsø.
The issue of development and conflict in Africa is a highly political one. It is related to the difficult questions of identity and access to resources. Still, there is not one, single African context. During this parallel Session, there were three presentations on issues relating to the Politics of Development and Conflicts in Africa.
On October 2nd, Director Jesper Simonsen of the Norwegian Research Council presented the following table to the audience of “On Whose Terms?” the NFU’s conference of 2014. With this table he presented a question: What is the worst research?
Surely, many thought, the worst research must be that of low quality and low relevance to the issue at hand. But no, Simonsen stated, for that research can easily be dismissed and disposed of. Rather, the worst research is that of low quality, but of high relevance, for it is in danger of being used. But who decides what research is of quality, and what is relevant? “On Whose Terms?” tackled these questions head on.
The first keynote plenary was «Working in Both the North and the South: Comparative Experiences» at which two speakers discussed this topic from their different perspectives. Professor Peter Geschiere (University of Amsterdam) and professor emerita Randi Rønning Balsvik (University of Tromsø) covered issues from Cameroon, Ethiopia and Norway.
One of the sessions during the second day of the On Whose Terms? conference was devoted to the topic “Education and Social Justice”. Jennifer Hays and Velina Ninkova, both from the University of Tromsø, presented their works at the session. The presentations were about the indigenous San people from southern Africa. The community is also known by the name “Bushmen”, who currently live primarily in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Angola, and speak several different languages. In total, the group consists of approximately 100,000 people. In the countries where the San people live they are the most marginalized segment of the population and have the lowest participation rates in national economic, political and education systems.
One of the main goals of the On Whose Terms? conference was to provide a stage for discussions of challenges and solutions researchers are facing when attempting to create an effective collaborative research atmosphere with colleagues from different social and cultural backgrounds. One of the sessions was the keynote plenary about cross-cultural research collaboration, which specifically promised to discuss Negotiating Codes and Dissonant Expectations. During the first part of this session, several researches presented their experiences of collaboration with people with different cultural backgrounds.
On Thursday, October 2nd 2014 as part of the “On Whose Terms?” NFU Conference hosted at Uit The Arctic University of Norway, social anthropologist and filmmaker Professor Lisbet Holtedal delivered her keynote address on the subject of Power, Communication and Development: Epistemological Output of Cross-Cultural Collaboration. In her address, Holtedahl reflected upon the ways in which the academy has historically created societal hierarchies and asymmetries of power – between the academy and society at large, between the global North and the global South, between men and women, and between all over marginalized groups and their privileged counterparts. These imbalances, she explained, persist to this day and the academy must realize both the ways in which it is responsible for these hierarchies and the ways in which it can help to level them. Holtedahl’s message is clear: the academy has a responsibility to those affected by its research, research which cannot exist without the experiences and knowledges of its subjects – without research subjects, there can be no research. “The reality”, Holtedahl says, “is that we need them”.