Govinn researcher, Cori Wielenga, had the opportunity to present her work at the Building Bridges in a Complex World conference was very innovative in its approach and the way in which it was framed. It challenged mainstream academia both in terms of substance and process. As stated in their framing documents, academic events tend to stress certain hierarchies and power relations that turn academic discourse into ‘pretentious competitive performances’. Instead, this conference was set up to create safe spaces for genuine dialogue and the creative exploring of ideas together. A thread running through the conference was that the ‘neoliberal’ paradigm has affected both our teaching and research such that we have reduced these to products that need to be churned out and consumed. Conversations centred around how we can revive a research and teaching culture of inquiry and critical open-mindedness.
The research Cori Wielenga presented at the conference was on rethinking justice through listening to communities. It drew on fieldwork undertaken in Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Burundi and emphasised the centrality of engaging with the lived experiences of communities on their own terms in order to understand what justice means in these contexts, and how justice is practiced in these contexts, in the absence of the state, or alongside existing state institutions which are often alienating and ineffective. The discussion emerging from the paper revealed a shared interest in undertaking research in a way that reflects a sensitivity to the context and allows findings to emerge that might challenge preconceived ideas and theories.
The recommendations the paper made included exploring ways in which policy might be developed from below. What would policies look like that were developed by communities, and reflected their lived experiences?