Water-related issues are complex across time and space. The Mekong Region is subject to multiple challenges that are often closely intertwined. This piece provides insights into how knowledge is co-created that can help address some of these complexities.
In August 2023, seventeen activists, civil society actors, and academics – with those designations being rather fluid – from Burma/Myanmar, Việt Nam and beyond, set out to explore how water-related issues impact local livelihoods within different localities in Sóc Trăng province in the Vietnam’s Mekong Delta.
Local farming, Vĩnh Châu town, Sóc Trăng (Photo: Johanna M. Götz)
Quickly realizing that while access to, quality of, and organization around water are crucial, they cannot be seen in isolation of other socio-political and economic issues. As such, our conversations meandered from agricultural production and everyday water use into forms of and reasons for human out-migration, the role of Unions, and the ways processes of financialization, including through loan-indebtment-relationalities, figure into the “socio-natural process by which water and society make and remake each other over space and time” within the hydrosocial cycle.1
With the goal of building capacities and fostering solidarities across locations, the visit aimed to both learn more about localized water-related issues and explore and discuss what a process of co-creating knowledge implies across differences. In this spirit, this article is the result of a co-writing process and thus, weaves together different pieces of writings and voices to provide some first insights from our project.
Taking stock of our joint trip, Nang said: “The trip arrangement was beyond our expectations. In a short time, we learned not only about the perspectives of minority farmers but also explored different water sources and diverse ecosystems from the river, ocean, to the mangrove forest, and islands, amongst others.”
Shrimp farming, Vĩnh Châu, Sóc Trăng (Photo: Vương Khả Tú)
Co-creating knowledge – situating the concept
Questions of how and by whom knowledges are produced, whose knowledges count as well as ownership over the knowledge that has been produced, have a long – and often troubled – history. Within recent decades, these questions have been repeatedly scrutinized against, amongst others, critical insights from indigenous, intersectional/feminist, de-/post-/anti-colonial activism and studies. Providing an important approach for this project, understanding what co-creation of knowledge(s) means for us, was a substantial and recurring topic throughout our trip.
Knowledge has been constructed to be centered within powerful institutions like the state or the (neoliberal) university for a long time. Yet, critical voices from around the globe continuously remind us about the need for multiple knowledges to be considered and valued for any transformative, just futures to be forged. Within Mekong water politics, policymaking still tends to be implemented through top-down processes, with knowledge being understood as merely being produced by scientific rigor, bringing about a ‘Modern’ water that can be managed through apolitical, technocratic means. This is also reflected in how ‘participatory’ spaces are set up, leaving out many voices, knowledges, and understandings. Contrastingly, a focus on the co-creation of knowledges challenges such top-down processes and necessitates considering the multitude of knowledges available.
Discussion with local people to understand current water issues. (Photo: Vương Khả Tú)
The co-creation strategy of this project allows the participants to discover existing issues, especially about water management, in an effective way. The discussion between researchers, students and representatives from government departments empowerment each sector by raising different voices to share about current issues in Vĩnh Châu including the difficulties that they are facing. Finding suggested solutions for common issues with the contribution of varied groups is one of the biggest plus of co-creation of knowledge.
said Group 1 workshop participants.
Learning from participants’ unique experiences, for instance, from Thai Baan research, the co-creation of knowledge processes established within Shan State, Burma/Myanmar, and the realities within the VMD, we quickly realized the importance of understanding co-creation of knowledge not as a one-size-fits-them-all model, but a complex process that needs to be understood, developed, and constantly (re)negotiated within the very locality it is to be created and sustained.
In the process of participating in project activities, in our opinion, knowledge co-creation involves calling for the participation of stakeholders in research, which emphasizes learning from experience, knowledge and understanding knowledge of research subjects including the research community, local leaders, the participation of domestic and foreign scientists to understand the research problem, share relevant knowledge and experiences from many different perspectives to explore the problem effectively, multi-dimensionally and emphasize the active participation of the research subjects with their valuable knowledge and experiences.
said Group 2 workshop participants.
This article is based on a 5-day on-site Burma/Myanmar-Vietnam co-learning visit to Sóc Trăng Province, Việt Nam during August 2023. The workshop is part of the SUMERNET project entitled ‘Co-creation of knowledges as a process to respond to water injustices of marginalized communities in Mekong Region water politics.’ The blog article was co-written by the members of the project team and the participants of the workshop and field visit some of whom chose to remain anonymous.
1. Linton, J., Budds, J., 2014. The hydrosocial cycle: Defining and mobilizing a relational-dialectical approach to water. Geoforum 57, 170–180. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2013.10.008.
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