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Rich scholar, poor scholar: inequalities in research capacity, “knowledge” abysses, and the value of unconventional approaches to research

The dominance of modern rationality in knowledge production implies that the distribution of intellectual capital highly depends on the capacity to gather representative data and generate generalizable theses. Furthermore, as research becomes more formalized and dominated by large funding schemes, intellectual capital allocation is increasingly associated with high economic, labor force and institutional power. This phenomenon has consequences at the global level. As the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has documented, there are significant disparities between countries in research capacities, with a marked difference between “core” countries with semi-monopolies over sanctioned knowledge production and “peripheral” states primarily used as data mines. The core–periphery divide in research capacity brings about what decolonial theorists call knowledge abysses: the widespread idea that core countries are the ultimate knowledge producers and thus the legitimate guides in humanity’s road to “progress.” In that context, the democratization of knowledge and the prevention of neo-colonial dynamics require the development of cheaper and more accessible ways of collecting representative data. In this article, we make a call for innovations in methods that can serve to overcome this, and we illustrate possible avenues for achieving sound research without incurring high financial costs by describing and discussing our experiences in researching narco-violence in Colombia and prostitution in Russia with what we call the “taxi method.”

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