GEOGRAPHICAL RESEARCH ›› 2019, Vol. 38 ›› Issue (6): 1333-1342.doi: 10.11821/dlyj020181361

• Cultural Inheritance and Spatial Governance • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Local knowledge and spatial governance: A case study of the governance of Dongshan town, Suzhou

Shangyi ZHOU1(), Xian SU1, Haiming CHEN2   

  1. 1. Faculty of Geographical Science, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China
    2. Agriculture and Forestry Service Center, Dongshan Town, Suzhou 215107, Jiangsu, China
  • Received:2018-12-13 Revised:2019-02-01 Online:2019-06-20 Published:2019-06-12


Comprehensive management of the Lake Taihu watershed is an important environmental protection task as well as a space governance project. This involves land use changes along the shores of Lake Taihu. Studies have found that some environmental management strategies in the study region had not achieved their goals. One of the possible reasons might be that the governance did not involve local knowledge and only applied scientific knowledge. Such phenomenon also occurred in the space governance of other regions. Based on Geertz's concept of local knowledge, this research argues that outsiders might also be able to understand the local knowledge of insiders at the semantic level. This case study focuses on the issues related to aquaculture pond construction in Dongshan town, Suzhou on the eastern shore of Lake Taihu. Through interviews, text analysis and comparative analysis, we aim to find a semantic prototype that the environmental planners (outsiders) and local aquaculture farmers (insiders) could share. We find that 'length' is the semantic prototype that formed their common understanding of the rational planning of aquaculture ponds. This semantic prototype allows the planners to understand how the aquaculture farmers construct their ponds to adapt to local environment and to integrate their local knowledge into the planning. It also helps the farmers to better understand the ponds designed by the environmental planners. This study concludes that local knowledge is not only created by local people but is also constantly changed through the interaction between insiders and outsiders. The aquaculture farmers' local knowledge which is largely based on their local practice does not think about the sustainable development of the macro region. The global perspective and scientific knowledge from the environmental planners could help local people to broaden their horizon and update their local knowledge. During this process, the staff at the local Agriculture and Forestry Service Center in Dongshan town play the role of quasi-outsiders and serve as intermediaries between the two groups to facilitate their understandings. This research sheds light on the relationship between local knowledge and scientific knowledge. We argue that integrating local knowledge into the planning procedure can greatly enhance the effectiveness of space governance.

Key words: local knowledge, semantic prototype, space governance, Dongshan town, Suzhou