Evaluating Institutional and Social Practices
in Sustainable Development and Syndrome Mitigation Research

The term "knowledge" is generally used in a positive sense. In the field of sustainable development, there is, for example, the widespread notion that better utilisation of knowledge in development policy can be a major factor in improving the lives of a large number of people. Reducing the knowledge divide, it is believed, will lead to more equitable social conditions. The generation of more and better knowledge has thus become one of the central elements of current approaches to development.

It is worth remembering, however, that knowledge is a political, cultural, social, historical and economic phenomenon that reflects the conditions in which it is produced. As has often been noted, there is a strong correlation between knowledge and power. Of late, development discourse has begun to address the subjects of politics and power as inherent to the concept of knowledge. This new focus on the nexus between knowledge, power and politics in the North-South dialogue opens the way for enhanced reflexivity in existing and future development agendas and programmes.

The NCCR North-South research project "Knowledge, Power, Politics" is a study on the political nature of knowledge production and knowledge exchange in development research and policy. 


The purpose of the project is to further our understanding of the dynamics of knowledge production, circulation and utilisation. In studying these processes it proposes a critical reflection on the ways in which they are influenced by the social practices that inform development research and policy.

The following questions build the research focus:

1) Which are the main characteristics of scientific knowledge production processes in sustainable development research?

2) How do the institutional and social practices of programmatically influential actors determine the relationship between development research and development policy?

3) What are the mechanisms for the mutual exchange of knowledge? What is the potential for reciprocity at the research/policy interface?

4) What is the impact of knowledge exchange (research/policy, North/South) on the potential of specific actors to influence policy in selected development contexts?


This project has grown out of a widening new perception of the role of knowledge in and for development. Knowledge is conceptualised as a powerful economic and political factor in a so-called "knowledge economy" of sustainable development. Structuration theory, cultural theory and actor-network theory will be applied in an attempt to better understand the epistemological foundations of research networks and the influence of their social practices at the research/policy interface and in the North-South dialogue.

Empirical evidence will be gathered in three case studies: two in the so-called South (Bolivia, Vietnam) and one in the so-called North (Switzerland). At a conceptual level, the project investigates knowledge production processes within academic development research networks, including social and institutional practices at the interface between development research and development policy. At the implementation level, the project studies the nature and impact of knowledge exchange between actors in the "North" and their counterparts in the "South."


Claudia Zingerli (Project Leader)
Development Study Group (DSGZ),
University of Zürich (GIUZ)

H. Andrés C. Uzeda Vásquez (Researcher)
Universidad Mayor de San Simón (UMSS)
Cochabamba, Bolivia