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Linked and Situated: Grounded Knowledge


  • This research was funded by the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs and the University of Wisconsin–Madison Department of Soil Science. We would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their suggestions and their help expanding the article's contribution. We would also like to applaud the participants in this study for the time, ideas, and effort they dedicated to cleaning up their water.


Local knowledge registers prominently in scholarly efforts to resolve environmental problems, ushering in widespread use of participatory practices of deliberation. Without the incorporation of local knowledge, many scholars contend that environmental science and planning remain beholden to the unbridled reign of the expert, and the daunting complexity of environmental problems remains seemingly impossible to penetrate. Following in this vein of work, we formed our participatory research project on nonpoint water pollution in two watersheds around four action clusters. On the local side, we included a cluster of farmers and farmland owners and a cluster of general community members. On the expert side, we included a cluster of researchers and another of government officials. However, we found in our research that the development of democratic deliberation depended more on whether participants situated and linked their knowledge than whether it was local or expert in origin. We suggest grounded knowledge, situating one's experiences in a way that enables participants to actively link with other knowledge, as a concept useful for scholars to better understand which ways of knowing enable deliberation in the participatory processes.