Facing inequalities: responding through the mouth of our knowledge – News

Baptiste Godrie, professor at the School of Social Work, works on balancing the balance of power between scientific, institutional or professional and experiential knowledge.
Photo: Michel Caron – UdeS

“How come we live in relative social peace, when open war is waged on a daily basis against people living in poverty? Baptiste Godrie doesn’t mince words. And for good reason.

“Poverty kills: more difficult living conditions, complicated access to health and social services, more difficult educational pathways, higher levels of stress, with all that that entails… Living in poverty is extremely harmful,” explains the researcher.

So how come, as a society with the resources to do things differently, we don’t do things differently? And besides, how else?

Baptiste Godrie, professor at the School of Social Work

Questions are good.

So good that several researchers have delved into many aspects: taxes, social assistance, minimum wage, consumer basket, education, ideologies that legitimize social inequalities… So good, in fact, that they led to the adoption, in 2002, of the Action to combat of poverty and social exclusion, in particular through the action of the Collective for a Quebec without poverty.

In its original spirit, this law was intended to prioritize improving the living conditions of the poorest fifth of the population over improving the income of the richest fifth.

“But actually this proposal did not end up in law. We have even gone in the opposite direction socially’, says Baptiste as an example of ‘significant income increases’ of the richest.

In 20 years, the inequality gap has widened even further, despite research, demands from citizens and even the use of – at least – a legal measure.

What are we missing then?

The reaction of the trained sociologist is surprising. In his view, one of the elements neglected in our conversation about poverty and inequalities is… voting – with everything they convey in terms of experience and knowledge.

But not just any voices: we never hear them. Or maybe we hear, without really listening.

The discrediting of the voices of certain groups is one of the main sources of social inequalities, of their reproduction. To deny the legitimacy of a word is indirectly to deny the experience it describes. And it is to deprive yourself of everything it has to tell and imagine.

These questions guided Professor Godrie’s research. How does the way we produce, mobilize and transfer knowledge create or reproduce social inequalities? And above all, how to democratize these processes?

words that resonate

This seminar on epistemic injustice and participatory research with community organizations, co-hosted by Baptiste in January 2019, took place at the Montreal Research Center on Social Inequality, Discrimination and Alternative Citizenship Practices (CREMIS), whose researcher served as interim scientific director for 18 months.
This seminar on epistemic injustice and participatory research with community organizations, co-hosted by Baptiste in January 2019, took place at the Montreal Research Center on Social Inequality, Discrimination and Alternative Citizenship Practices (CREMIS), whose researcher served as interim scientific director for 18 months.
Photo: provided

Through his studies in higher education – dissertation, then thesis – Baptiste applied his research to the specific field of health care and social services. He is interested in the voices that are most often ignored: those of people who are homeless or poor, and especially those with mental health problems.

“It is especially difficult to admit the most excluded people, the researcher emphasizes. Sometimes they cannot read or write; they find it difficult to show up for appointments on time, due to a lack of financial resources or their survival situation…”

Other times, the difficulty in listening to these people stems from our own limitations. Getting them involved means opening a voice that is often critical of our ways of doing things, in dissonance with our own perceptions. Sometimes we don’t like to hear that voice. It confronts us with our blind spots.

This voice is not the experience specific to a single individual. Rather, it refers to experiential knowledge derived from a whole group’s reflections on their experiences. According to Baptiste, the communal dimension of experiential knowledge brings to the fore strategies, knowledge or shared interests that can be carried by community groups or citizens.

The specialist certainly wants to promote the participation of users in research practices – the so-called “participatory research”. But it wants to go further: it wants to give their participation a deserved – yet long-denied – weight in the co-construction of research programs.

Several studies show that while researchers in health and social services prioritize, funding is moving towards the technical dimensions of care and services. The users, for their part, place more emphasis on the relational dimensions of care.

This involved researcher therefore works on balancing the power relations between scientific, institutional or professional knowledge and experiential knowledge.

With this in mind, he is responsible for the scientific leadership of the first-line university institute in health and social services. He regularly collaborates with civil society organizations, for example on poverty reduction in Quebec and Belgium, with his most recent Knowledge grant, from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

When the challenge is great, so is the stake.

hold lyrics

“We are talking about people who, because of their identity or their status, have had bad experiences in the network of health and social services,” explains the researcher. They often have a certain distrust of institutions, so the first step is to rebuild trust and balance power. Today more than ever this is a major challenge. †

What has changed today? The answer, we’ve been partially alive for two years: the pandemic.

If the various social movements have long pointed to the need to rethink our institutions and our ways of doing things, COVID-19 has cracked the last traces of varnish. But as artist Monica Kidd sums it up in her short film Storm, “any vulnerabilities that we don’t take into account will weaken us”. Over and over.

Listening to those who have come through the cracks in the system thus far is to cover up our weaknesses.

Baptiste also speaks of recovery, of containment… of utopias, almost.

May our public institutions finally reflect the diversity of possible experiences, “from the most common to the most marginal”. May they open the door to more professional autonomy, including for network personnel. More equality of course; also for greater flexibility and dignity.

Towards more humanity.

Other projects of Professor Godrie
Baptiste co-founded the Diversity of Knowledge group at the International Association of French-Speaking Sociologists, for which he is responsible. This group organizes various activities to improve practices and reflections regarding citizen participation in research.
The specialist from the School of Social Work is also Vice President of the Science and Common Good Association (ASBC). The ASBC promotes the development of responsible, fair and diverse science. That is why she mainly publishes scientific publications, which she offers for free.

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