Multiple knowledges, multiple languages: are the limits of my language the limits of my world?


  • Valerie Brown


multiple knowledges, international development, Local Sustainability Project, Australian National University


Reconciliation of the multiple knowledges involved in international development depends, in the first instance, on all participants hearing the multiple languages of the people involved. A dream that surfaces and resurfaces throughout human history is the dream of a world in which all peoples can hear each other. For the 12 years period from 1992 to 2004, the Local Sustainability Project worked with over 300 communities in four different countries on resolving sustainability issues. Some five sets of collaborating and often competing contributions to all lasting decisions were those of the individual, the community, the expert, the organisation and the integrative thinkers. The divisions between different interests were strong enough to represent distinct paradigms or knowledge cultures with their different content, forms of inquiry and languages. This article argues for the development of an open and inclusive language that respects the original languages, allows all the speakers to be heard and opens up fresh avenues for collective learning. It argues against the proposition that the limits of a language mean the limits of the speaker’s world.


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