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call for papers
Knowledge, evidence, practice and power
volume 23 number 45 may 2015
The theme for the May 2015 journal starts with five inter-related questions:
"What gets counted as knowledge?"
"What gets researched?"
"What gets counted as evidence?"
"What gets published?" and
"Who are we researching and writing for?"
We are living in a world in which an information explosion is taking place, and the sheer quantity and availability of information may be in sharp contrast to its value and accuracy. Questions like these are crucial for a journal like RHM, which seeks to expand the boundaries of what counts as knowledge and therefore gets published, for example by insisting that experiential knowledge has an important place in research and evidence. This, in turn, leads to questions about the creation and sharing of knowledge as it relates to sexual and reproductive health and rights.1
Epistemology, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is the study of the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope, and the distinction between justified belief and opinion. According to Wikipedia, epistemology questions what knowledge is and how it can be acquired. Different theories of knowledge influence methodological approaches and lead to validation of research as "robust evidence" or its opposite. What causes certain knowledge to become hegemonic, and what leads to the omission of certain voices all of these questions demand reflection when we seek to create knowledge in our field of work. At the level of practice, we see that decisions are constantly being made about what gets researched, about who sets the priorities for research and defines the research questions, but also about which knowledge is promoted and used to make changes on the ground all of which raise issues of power and control not only of resources but also of knowledge creation and dissemination.
A recent thesis2 argues that: "systems of power, privilege, and oppression intersect with networks of states and their agencies, international institutions and organizations, donor and funding organizations, non-governmental organizations, the medical-industrial complex, social and scientific research, educational systems, and the media. These networks produce, reproduce, shape, share, and distribute knowledge about reproductive health, which greatly influences dominant discourse, policies, practices, and decision-making from the international to the individual level. I propose that there is an epistemic vortex... (Figure 1) that fosters a global view of and approach to reproductive health, but also generates different manifestations and meanings as it encounters local actors. This metaphor reflects the complexities of reproductive health research, the development of international reproductive health policies, and the way reproductive health strategies are put into practice."
The aim of this journal issue is to reflect on the relationship between knowledge, evidence, practice and power in relation to sexual and reproductive health and rights, for example:
Assigning meanings to "sexual health", "reproductive health", "sexual rights" and "reproductive rights" and to their components why advocates understand these terms differently from, for example, USAID, and the consequences for the research agenda and knowledge creation.
How has the privileging of certain kinds of evidence impacted on SRHR policy priorities and funding?
What role do experiential evidence and qualitative research play in a field increasingly being shaped by demands for impact and to meet targets?
What kinds of evidence have had the most impact? Why and how have some kinds of evidence been translated into advocacy, policy and practice, while others, that should also inform public health policy, have been discounted.
What are the possibilities and limitations of information generated by crowdsourcing?
How are social and visual media being used to create and share knowledge related to SRHR, and what are the consequences of certain news and information going "viral"?
How have popular and other media interpreted knowledge and evidence in reporting on SRHR and influenced national understanding of SRHR issues?
What is missing from the SRHR evidence base and what is the role of racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, discrimination on grounds of age and disability, and narrow interpretations of gender in limiting SRHR research and policy agendas?
1. Thanks to TK Sundari Ravindran, who inspired this theme, and to her and Lisa Hallgarten for their ideas on this subject, re reflected here.