Reinventing Social Emancipation RSE  
Reinvenção da Emancipação Social  English 

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1. Objectives
Voices of the World is an important part of the project. It seeks to substantiate the epistemological stance that there are many possible knowledges in the world, and that scientific knowledge is only one amongst them. These nonscientific knowledges are often designated as alternative knowledges, which is a problematic designation since the concept of "alternative" suggests opposition to the norm, the norm supposedly being in this case scientific knowledge. But the truth is that almost the entire life of most of the world's population is ruled by nonscientific practical knowledges; if this is the "norm," then scientific knowledge would have to be considered "alternative." The aim of Voices of the World is to include and represent, in this project, specific manifestations of concrete, practical, common knowledges, that is to say, knowledges that are connected with the social practices we designate as practices of social emancipation. If it were necessary to give them a general name, the best choice would probably be "emancipatory common sense." To have access to knowledges of this kind is certainly one of the objectives of this project. But that objective must be precisely defined and subjected to a permanent epistemological vigilance. Otherwise, one may fall into the temptation of imperial epistemology, that is, of gaining access to such knowledge only to turn it into the raw material of scientific knowledge.

Here, the objective is clearly different. The starting point is that scientific knowledge is incomplete and cannot be made complete by resorting only to its own instruments. Since this idea applies to all forms of knowledge, through Voices of the World we aim to encourage a "diatopical hermeneutics." That is to say, we seek to encourage as egalitarian a dialogue as possible among different forms of knowledge, hoping that such a dialogue may be useful for the various holders of different knowledges as they go about pursuing their respective goals. To the extent that researchers and activists converge in their goal of promoting the reinvention of social emancipation, these different forms of knowledge will eventually contribute towards hybrid forms of emancipatory knowledge.

Voices of the World seeks to make practical knowledges accessible in order to confront them with other knowledges produced by the project- in most cases from within the academic field-about movements, organizations, and social initiatives. The confrontation between these different kinds of knowledge may contribute significantly to deepening the discussion on the new paths of social emancipation.

2. About the interviewees
The interviewees are activists or leaders of movements, organizations, and social initiatives that are analyzed in the project. The difficulty found in defining the profile of the interviewees should itself be the object of a sociological analysis. It is the result of the definitive failure (for some) or the present lack of credibility (for others) of the great maps of social emancipation, such as national liberation, socialism, and communism. These maps having been set side, whether definitively or temporarily, the great historical agents of social emancipation have now disappeared: the great leaders of national liberation movements, of communist and other parties, and workers' or worker-peasants' movements. Twenty years ago they might have been the potential interviewees. But twenty years ago one would perhaps not be ready to think, as one does today, of the reciprocal incompleteness of all knowledges. Perhaps then the interview would be unthinkable; either because one would consider scientific knowledge the only valid one, in which case the interview would not be necessary; or because one would consider the leaders' knowledge the only valid one, in which case they would not have to be questioned, but simply followed.

We are now in a time of small maps and guides. While considerably augmenting the stock of potential interviewees, this fact has also rendered the criteria of selection far more ambiguous. We have sought to choose activists or leaders of progressive causes, movements, initiatives, and organizations engaged in resistance against oppression and fighting for a more just society and a better collective life; leaders or activists who have been successful in their struggles and have earned from them a practical experience and knowledge that they were willing to share with us. The important thing is that they hold a practical knowledge which, although drawn from very concrete experiences and struggles, may be useful for other activists engaged in other struggles elsewhere, as well as for social scientists genuinely interested in confronting different knowledges.

3. On methodologies
Voices of the World is not an oral history project. It is based on long, semistructured interviews, that is to say, on a set, or check list, of open questions, which the interviewer posed according to the dynamics of the interview, and which functioned mainly to invite the free expression of the interviewees' ideas.

Whenever possible, we have sought to obtain an audio or even audiovisual record of the interview, unless this was considered to be intrusive and would have interfered with the course of the interviewing. Whenever possible, photographs were taken of the interviewee and of the site and environment in which the interview took place.

The interviews were carried out using the language with which the interviewee was most at ease. The transcription into English and/or Portuguese was made taking into consideration the problems of obtaining an adequate "translation" of the narrated facts and situations.

The text of the interview is preceded by a small introduction to the interviewee. The transcript is followed by a brief text which we might call Exercise of Self-reflectivity, consisting of a short personal commentary by the interviewer on what most impressed, stirred, intrigued, or surprised him or her during the interview.

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Centro de Estudos Sociais MacArthur Foundation
Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian