Footprints in the mud : re-constructing the diversities in rural people's learning processes

D. Millar

    Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


    This book is about indigenous learning, or rural people's learning, in northern Ghana, and the need to capture this rich body of knowledge in development intervention. Ile book is divided into three parts.

    Part 1: The first part deals largely with secondary information that is drawn together to provide an entry to the research. I start with a general background picture of Ghana, and agriculture in Ghana. I draw out the problems that sustainable increase in agricultural productivity has to deal with; in the country as a whole and in the region particularly. The historical evolution of how development intervention has tried to respond to these demands in Damongo (the study area) are summarized.

    The problem area that was tackled by this research; 'indigenous learning and its role in development intervention' , is discussed showing both the theoretical and practical evolutions of the subject. Evidence is given to for fact that within the Government sector intervention still operates with the Transfer of Technology model. The Non-Governmental (NGO) sector has progressed to the state of introducing participatory processes in response to concerns for improving intervention strategies (a stage Government intervention is yet to reach).

    While acknowledging the efforts of the NGOs to draw on indigenous knowledge in their participatory processes, I criticise them for their insufficient attention to spirituality and indigenous learning. I argue that recent evidence show that the people's own notions of spirituality (their cosmovision) are gradually being introduced into development intervention strategies, but not people's learning processes.

    In order to reconstruct what the rural communities say their ways of learning are, and to see how to integrate such findings into sustainable intervention strategies, I have made a choice for a combination of the actor-oriented approach and the soft systems perspective. Within this context I look at diversity (heterogeneity) as part of the theoretical discours that has guided the collection and management of my data.

    The methodology used for data collection and management involved a combination of ethnographic tools like discourse, conversational, and case study analyses; participatory rural appraisal tools like impact matrix, matrix scoring, and mapping. I describe the various modifications that I had to make to these tools and the evolution of techniques to make my data management more effective.

    Part II : This is dedicated to data that have largely been generated by the field surveys themselves. The section starts with the role of imagery in the peoples lives.

    My research findings are then discussed to show that on one side of the indigenous learning continuum there is a type of learning which I refer to as 'vertical learning'. It is vertical in the sense that it describes inter-generational learning; particularly the young learning form the old (juvenile learning). These forms include organised, unorganised, and even unconscious or unintended learning. The socially constructed environment within which learning occurs is described. The peoples' categorization of vertical learning into "wulu" (a period of intensive tutelage and apprenticeship), and "bangfu and oogfu" (periods of graduation and passing out), were identified. Among the young, the concept of "gandaalu" shows that peer group learning also goes on.

    Indigenous horizontal learning (adult learning, peer learning or intragenerational learning) is the other end of the learning continuum I identified. As a. continuation of vertical learning, it takes advantage of issues like imagery, knowing environment, and "gandaalu" discussed earlier.

    Some of the specific aspects discussed in this section include 'the partial commoditization of learning', organised and less organised learning, socially constructed learning distances, and learning orientations. The people designate four learning quadrants, "zanzanbe, Ire-karbe, Ike-brebe, zuudem". These are analyzed using the 'three planes of learning'. The use of this technique draws out the transitions and the dynamic inter-changes between the learning orientations. The growth trends of 'knowing' are then discussed.

    Accepting the fact that rural communities are open and dynamic in their orientations towards knowledge, I proceed to analyze what communities referred to as 'the outside world'. This reveals how some of the information that interventions have introduced to farmers has functioned when confronted with the ongoing indigenous learning.

    Further in this section, diversity is discussed by looking at acquired versus generated information, the ways information is utilized; at the categorization into 'three generations', and categorization into the three religious groupings that the communities said were important in differentiating their identities - catholics, moslems, and animists.

    Part II ends with a revisitation of the various discourses in the entire study, drawing out the various experiences of indigenous learning. These experiences are then discussed both as subjects and objects of the social constructions of power. I take the position that all development interventions have to deal with power relations. The discussions about power in this section pave the way for the presentation of the proposed action framework.

    Part III : 1 conclude the book by dealing with a recommended action resulting from the findings of the research; 'a framework for Empathetic Learning and Action (ELA). As a recommendation, it draws on both primary and secondary information captured in earlier chapters.

    In evolving this framework, 1 take the position that communicating innovations, as done by intervention processes so far developed, is weak in achieving the participation of rural communities. 1 question the empowerment of rural communities so far, and the way intervention strategies manage differential power positions of actors in the development arena. My opinion is that development intervention should shift towards arriving at sustainable communication with rural communities which emphasise negotiations, consensus building, and collective actions as opportunities for continuous 'learning - action cycles' . I proceed to propose a framework on how to move participation a step forward.

    My learning and action framework which is yet to be tested in the field, is developed with NGO activities in mind, but it is possible to use it to serve development intervention in general.

    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Long, N.E., Promotor
    • Röling, N.G., Promotor
    Award date15 May 1996
    Place of PublicationWageningen
    Print ISBNs9789054855255
    Publication statusPublished - 15 May 1996


    • indigenous knowledge
    • psychology
    • learning
    • methodology
    • teaching methods
    • sociology
    • urban society
    • urbanization
    • social classes
    • farmers
    • ghana


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