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The Politics of Knowledge in Youth Education about Reproductive Health in Tanzania

  • Author(s): Ivanova, Olga
  • Advisor(s): Thompson, Katrina Daly;
  • Goodwin, Marjorie Harness
  • et al.

This dissertation offers a sociocultural linguistic perspective on the politics of knowledge in development work in an economically challenged post-colonial context by exploring discourses emerging in semi-formal education about reproductive health in rural Tanzania. The questions about knowledge value in such contexts have been mainly addressed from the macro-perspective of state policies, globalization, and debates on neo- and post-colonialism. From this perspective, knowledge, or rather global and local knowledges, are treated as given entities in an ongoing struggle with one another. Applying a micro-perspective of research on talk-in-interaction, this dissertation suggests that knowledge, its forms and values, are instead situated in a dynamic, mutually constituting relationship. This project adds to the growing body of literature on knowledge appropriation and offers an insight into the ongoing creation of a “third space” (Bhabha, 1994; Higgins, 2011; Kramsch, 1993) or a “third culture” (Useem & Useem, 1967) in the intersection of traditional ideologies about language, sex, and gender and the “enlightenment discourse” (Higgins, 2010b, p. 70) of Western biomedical rationalism.

Building on the idea that language is an essential component of knowledge and that talk is a form of social action, this dissertation explores linguistic choices and discursive norms as a medium and an outcome of knowledge appropriation. By scrutinizing language use in two main contexts of development work, namely training sessions for future educators and teaching sessions conducted by the educators for the target population provided by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), this dissertation addresses the following questions: 1) how epistemic status and authority is co-constructed in interaction; 2) how the shared understanding of knowledge needs is created; and 3) how the knowledge needs are addressed. This research finds that NGOs create a novel site for socialization into sexuality and gender by licensing for transgressing discursive prohibitions, which, however, may or may not translate in changing sexual behaviors or ideologies about sexuality and gender. Instead, the acquisition of a development register becomes a significant learning outcome. Students and educators are socialized into recognizing a particular vocabulary, interactional practices, and language ideologies as a valuable asset and a commodity.

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