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


  • Stewart Allen University of Edinburgh



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


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.

Author Biography

Stewart Allen, University of Edinburgh

Stewart Allen is a final year PhD student, in the department of anthropology, at the University of Edinburgh. He is currently on leave from his studies to take up an internship with Intel, Ireland, as an ethnographic researcher. He can be contacted at the following e-mail address: stewart.allen4(AT)