Final Version (2006) of article published in Development in Practice 16(6), 2006, 545-558
On the face of it, this has nothing to do with engagement. On the other hand, it tells how a young Phd student insisted on pursuing his interests in the face of strident opposition from his supervisor. The result, to which the author's work over many years has made a significant contribution, was the development of an understanding of an important component of sustainable livelihoods, which had hardly been present before. More recently the field has developed a new importance in terms of climate change and sustainable alternatives to fossil fuel. The roots of this achievement lay in the determination of a young person,informed by local knowledge and his family's experience of running a wood-fueled bakery, to prioritise the production of knowledge of value to his own society over the many inducements of global modernity. A secondary result is that there may well be many scientists, at ease in their laboratories, studying the carbon mollecules of assorted wood fuels in research for which they might never have got funded had the field not been made relevant by the author and his colleagues. Thus the narrative is of how local knowledge and a different perspective can open up whole new avenues of intellectual enquiry - social, economic and scientific. In this the story links to engagement, which offers a different but not dissimilar route to creating space for discovery research, built on the understandings of value and context created by others.
Using autobiographical experience with reference to woodfuel research in two locations in West Africa, this paper illustrates how knowledge processes influence what can be produced as knowledge; how such knowledge is actually produced; and what is eventually produced as knowledge. However, although it explores the various roles which knowledge plays in the social relations at particular historical moments in the personal and professional development of a single individual, the questions this subjective experience raises are of wider import: whose knowledge matters? how do certain knowledges get suppressed or are denied, while others are privileged? In turn, this raises additional questions concerning the ways in which research and practice are mediated through local research, policy and development prisms. In a general sense, the paper is about the way in which woodfuel philosophies, methodologies and practices are constructed, modified and maintained in existence as knowledge; and a reminder that such knowledge processes cannot truly be understood in isolation, but need to be situated within complex, diversified contexts of individual agendas, group strategies, etc, as well as in multiple sites of production.