Working Group 1: Is the truth out there for us to show? Reflecting on epistemologies and ontologies in development research.

Minna Hakkarainen, University of Helsinki (

Henni Alava, University of Jyväskylä (

As a field of research, Development Studies is commonly expected to produce authoritative knowledge – a “true” account of the problems affecting the world, and, based on this knowledge, of ways in which the world could be bettered.

Yet many contemporary social scientists draw from, among others, feminist and postcolonial philosophies of knowledge to emphasise that there actually is no single truth that can be objectively verified. Rather, they highlight that societies consist of multiple realities, and that the world can only ever be known from a particular vantage point. They also emphasise that the stories that are told of the world, and the ways in which they are told, matter: they influence how the world is acted upon. Our views of ‘development’; of ‘society’, of ‘conflict’, of ‘women’, of ‘environment’ limit the horizons of our scholarly imagination. When transferred to the world of policy and practice, these views also legitimise action and inaction.

This presents development scholars with a number of crucial questions: how can we approach and narrate multiple realities in ways that advance our understanding on socially relevant issues? What would it mean to take context, positionality, and the incompleteness of all knowledge seriously in our research designs? We welcome participants to present theoretical papers, or reflections drawing from their own research, that examine what relevance epistemology and ontology have, or should have, for development research.

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