Accepted paper:

New knowledge meets old problems: exploring disconnects in environmental research and policy in the Himalayas


Piers Blaikie (University of East Anglia)
Ritu Verma (Royal University of Bhutan & Tarayana Centre for Social Research & Development)

Paper short abstract:

The “theory of Himalayan degradation” and “gender mainstreaming” continue to hold sway in development, despite being debunked by scholars. Rituals of modernity, relations of power and disconnects between knowledge, research, policy shed explanatory insights to long shelf-lives of malfunctioning theories.

Paper long abstract:

Two major policy issues are of concern in the Himalayas, namely, environment and gender. They cross cut and overlap with one another other in important ways, inseparable from indigenous knowledge, environmental management and justice, and rapid cultural and climate change. This paper places these issues distinctly within a political ecology framework, thereby allowing an analysis of relations between power and knowledge, and they way struggles over material resources are simultaneously struggles over cultural and gendered meanings. Within such a framing, it is possible to trace relations of power and knowledge within different cultural and political sites of contestation, including what qualifies as "science", "fact" and "development" by whom and for what audiences. Although a great deal of new knowledge is generated that should inform and facilitate policy reform, this is not necessarily the case. Out-dated theories such as "gender mainstreaming" and the "theory of Himalayan degradation" (THED) continue to hold sway in development - despite being debunked by scholars - are examined to reflect on disconnects between knowledge, research and policy. The paper argues that policy processes are often complex and contradictory, and cannot be disembodied from rituals of modernization and power relations that shape their articulation, advocacy, implementation, and resistance. To the extent that multiple disconnects exist between research and policy, a political and discursive lens sheds important explanatory insights to the long shelf-life of malfunctioning theories, while modernization projects affect realities on the ground, for worse or better. Some practical suggestions to palliate these disconnects are suggested.

panel P29
Rituals of development: the magic of a modernising project