Does Knowledge Have a Gender? / Le savoir a-t-il un genre?

Guest Blog by Ali Hirji (@abbaspeaks), Community Manager at ORION and a sociologist in training

Knowledge Mobilization turns research into action. This process, however, is not gender neutral. A reflection on our monthly #KMbChat.

La mobilisation des connaissances transforme la recherche en action. Mais ce processus n’est pas neutre, il est sexospécifique. Une réflexion que vous trouverez sur notre forum mensuel #KMbChat.

Our August #KMbChat brought together Twittizens on the topic of barriers to knowledge mobilization.  #KMbChat is a safe space that oscillates between theory and practice. We share our theoretical frameworks and demonstrate how these activate the research and researcher. This monthly forum appeals to a variety of interests. I, as both a moderator of the August chat and a newbie to the world of knowledge mobilization, took advantage of this and asked a politically laden question.

Is gender a barrier to knowledge mobilization?

The “answer” is in the final sections of the chat’s transcript. Yes. No. Maybe so.

I argue that knowledge has a gender. Knowledge is masculine (theory). However, Knowledge Mobilization attempts to unsettle this (practice).

I do not celebrate knowledge as masculine – instead, I have come to realize it as a systemic reality. During my third year of undergraduate study, I engaged extensively with York University Professor Dr. Arun Mukherjee. In her introduction to Sharing Our Experience she advanced the university as a means of propagating and justifying ideologies of racism and that these ideologies are often dignified as science and objective truth. I extend her analysis to gender. From my optic, masculinity augments a strict, reified, “scientific” understanding of the world. It situates us in boxes and refuses change.

Allow me to illustrate this two fold approach. I hope this invites more advanced scholarship.

From what I have been told, KM literature is surprisingly mute on my question. In his book Masculinities without Men, York University Professor Dr. Bobby Noble advances that the construction of gender today is in a state of crisis (a good crisis, if ever you could call a crisis so).

Take a look at this logo:

ResearchImpact logo

The illustration on the letter “i” is of a male body.  Given that this letter is also hoisted on the word research, is it suggesting that research and the translation of knowledge is the domain of a masculine subject?

No. It is, instead, highlighting a history of knowledge and seeking to change it through knowledge mobilization.

David Phipps noted that when we scan the floor of Knowledge Mobilization professionals, we calculate more females. The letter “i” and the broker model  speak to Professor Noble’s crisis.

Historically, the female body and identity have been relegated to arenas where it is instructed and controlled. Knowledge, as power, remained socially constructed and rooted in the hands of men. Knowledge mobilization disrupts this system by facilitating a co-production of knowledge that brings previously inaccessible individuals/groups to partner with one another. In essence, gender is a striking metaphor on deconstructing our previously narrow production and application of knowledge.

The title, I posit, invites us to re-search the “i” – who is the body at the heart of knowledge production and transfer? Surely, not just the masculine body.

Yet is the battle for equality in knowledge settled with the introduction of the knowledge mobilizer? No. The knowledge mobilizer must remain alert and active to where mobilization work is needed most.

Perhaps in Canada this battle may not be as apparent. Shawna Reibling argued that gender is a neatly hidden barrier for us and Cathy Bogaart invited discussion on how gender influences subject matter choice and relationships. Knowledge Mobilization, like any industry, is impacted by gender. Knowledge Mobilization turns research into action. This process, however, is not gender neutral.

We still, however, operate within a relatively equal landscape. Or so I think when I consider knowledge and knowledge mobilization issues internationally.

When Malala Yousafzai addressed the UN, she emphatically stated that the pen was mightier than the sword. Malala, I believe, had a message for our North American Knowledge Mobilization. Not only was she inviting partnerships to be formed international, she was encouraging our brokers to work and collaborate with researchers who are consistently impeded by institutional and structural barriers.  The Envisioning Global LGBTQ rights is one powerful example of how knowledge mobilization can continue to address gender and issues surrounding it.

Knowledge Mobilization, friends, is always a work in progress.

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