Embracing Situated Knowledge in Crises and Beyond
Keywords:Slums and Informal Settlements, COVID-19, Situated Knowledge, Community-Based Organizations, Freetown
The difficulties in tackling COVID-19 have shown with unparalleled strength the need to acknowledge alternative epistemologies in planning. Pandemic responses that seem to have been met with relative success were based upon the guidance, knowledge, and embodied experience of communities on the ground. While some recognize the key role of alternative or ‘non-expert’ knowledge in addressing current planning challenges, most have struggled to broaden their definition to include different ways in which community-based organizations generated data, shared knowledge, collaborated with other development actors, and learned from past experiences. This paper studies the response in Freetown´s slum communities to the unprecedented crisis brought by the COVID-19 outbreak. It analyzes how community-based organizations were able to leverage their situated knowledge to negotiate, develop, and occupy spaces of power in their city´s crisis management systems during the first months of the pandemic. Data was collected through semi-structured interviews and personal communications with residents of Freetown’s slum communities, workers of international non-governmental organizations (INGO) based in Freetown, researchers, and local government officials. This research discusses what knowledge is, where and by whom it is generated, and how it can be collectively leveraged in crisis situations. We also offer a reflection on what this may mean for the future of planning, in terms of transforming structures of exclusion and sustaining that transformation.