Tuesday, 29 September 2009

STEPS SYMPOSIUM: PREACHING TO THE CHOIR?

By Sara J Wolcott

One knows one has a good symposium when the participants are not afraid to ask challenging questions. Such as, what is the point of the New Manifesto? Did the original Sussex Manifesto really do that much – and can the new one do even as much as the first? And how does one influence socio-political change, anyways?

Sheila Jasanoff raised the ‘radical disconnect’ between dominant public policy voices such as Barak Obama’s vision for a future that includes ‘science diplomats’ who might not necessarily consider the rich knowledge bases that already exist in those other cultures, on the one hand, and the visions in the STEPS manifesto which lifted up the innovative capacity of people on the ground to respond to environmental change. How can documents such as this Manifesto effect the more dominant visions and voices? Check out Jasanoff’s recent piece in SEED magazine for a longer (and more eloquent) exploration of these tensions.

The bright minds behind the Manifesto are well aware that documents are only one step in influencing political change. But the participants challenged them (and perhaps all of us) to go further. As several who were experienced with the struggle to change politics said, you don’t change politics by coming up with better ideas. Its much more difficult - and confrontational. Even getting science policies to be explicit about their political stance (much less changing or influencing those politics) does not look to be an easy struggle.

The New Manifesto is still in its early draft stages. And the process of drafting the document includes taking it to ‘unlikely partners’, as well as the ‘choir’. Can the STEPS Centre take on board these critiques, and successfully struggle with how a document can influence socio-political change? I believe so, but we will see.

Sara is an MA student in Science, Society and Development at the Institute of Development Studies



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