Barefoot Engineers: The Non-Mobility of Knowledge in a Knowledge-Transfer Project

Stewart Allen


Knowledge transfer is an integral, yet oft neglected, component in the transfer of technology between different geographical and cultural milieus. This paper is based on fifteen months of participatory fieldwork within a CBO (community based organisation) in India that hosts up to thirty five participants at any one time from the Least Developed Countries index to train them in the maintenance and repair of solar photovoltaic technologies. The trainees, all of whom are women, and ideally grandmothers, are instructed for six months, without a common medium of language instruction, in circuit board assembly, soldering, testing, maintenance and repair, through a learning-by-doing process. After six months, the women return home to solar electrify their communities. In the following paper, I argue that knowledge is created and sustained dynamically through an on-going alignment of objects and symbols, gestures and bodies, identities and environment. Knowledge and meaning are not so much embedded or inscribed in these materials but rather performed through them in a dynamic coalescence of networked doing. By employing a network metaphor to describe the interplay of bodies and gestures, and not only material semiotic alliances, I hope to re-situate the centrality of lived interactions between persons and material objects in the dynamic becomings of network assemblages.


Knowledge-Transfer; Explicit; Tacit; Performance; Actor-Network

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Anthropology Matters Journal ISSN: 17586453 Publisher: Anthropology Matters url: