Whose knowledge counts? Exploring cognitive justice in community-university collaborations

  • Ceri Jayne Davies

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


There is a growing contemporary interest in how universities can play a role in making a difference to community and social issues, and to question how universities’ authority to create and legitimate knowledge becomes an increasingly important in the struggle for social justice. This thesis engages with this timely debate by exploring the intersection of knowledge, power and participation in community-university engagement. I situate my enquiry in specific forms of practice between academic and community and social actors collaborating to produce shared knowledge about issues of social justice. My particular focus is on how diverse ways of knowing, including that of Indigenous peoples, can count towards the way in which such issues are both defined and addressed. I specifically make use of the concept of ‘cognitive justice’ – or whose knowledge counts – to analyse how attention is paid to epistemology in these collaborations. I used a qualitative research design and conducted fieldwork in Canada and the UK to develop 10 case studies. I interviewed academic and community partners about a project they collaborated on in order to explore how people understood what they were doing together, how knowledge was used, shared and legitimated and how these encounters were framed with respect to social justice. My conceptual and analytical framework focused on an exploration of deliberative processes of participation and cognitive justice in this landscape. This thesis makes the case for cognitive justice in community-university engagement in three main areas. The first is to suggest that the participative conditions necessary for cognitive justice include relational practices of engagement and the presence of deliberative characteristics to knowledge creation and use. The second is to argue for an inseparable connection between knowledge and participation in practice, and thus that the degree to which cognitive justice can be considered central to social justice requires practices to go ‘beyond recognition’ of diverse knowledges alone. The third considers the ways in which forms of engagement themselves can be considered cognitively just. I argue ‘doing’ cognitive justice requires new arrangements between researchers and researched which also brings with it ethical and methodological considerations.
Date of AwardFeb 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton

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