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Eliciting and Circulating Situated Knowledge: An Ethical Imperative

In his scholarship on the ethics of life writing, Paul Lauritzen suggests that there is an ethical imperative for us to include situated knowledge in our deliberation:

All serious moral reflection must involve a dialectical movement between general principles and concrete cases and that proper moral deliberation involves attending both to rules and to the affective responses of particular moral agents facing particular decisions. (19)

As a "concrete case" of the ways individuals have experienced firsthand how a given institution, its policies, and its practices play out in day-to-day life (Lauritzen 19), situated knowledge serves as a rich, experientially-based resource for interpreting and problematizing familiar abstractions and stock solutions to problems that have not yet been fully understood. Situated knowledge isn't necessarily segregated from formal public knowledge. For instance, an apartment tenant may be fluent with many public institutions' forms, regulations, and procedures. But it is also the case that ordinary people often have something to say about institutional discourse that isn't usually part of the collective social knowledge; moreover, they may know something about the gaps between the professed intent of specific public policies on the one hand, and how they play out in lived experience on the other.

It seems clear, then, that "[...] if we are going to deliberate with the fullest range of facts available, experiential narratives may prove to be indispensable" (Lauritzen 24). However, the reason for situated knowledge isn't merely to glean information to inform adjustments so that an institution can run more efficiently; far more significantly, eliciting and circulating people's situated knowledge of how institutions impact their lives are matters of social justice (Branch; Cushman; Long; Sauer). As Cornel West argues, the dignity and efficacy of everyday people often hinge on their ability "to attenuate the institutional constraints on their life-chances for surviving and thriving" (4).

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