Making it work : three case studies on the epistemology of everyday knowledge




Azar, Riad, Ph. D.

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The three case studies that make up this dissertation center on the role of social epistemology – the ways in which people construct lay knowledge in their social networks – to solve everyday problems, and how people know what they think they know.

First, I present a case study of legal knowledge within municipal and county-level courts in three large cities in Texas. I ask, where do people receive legal knowledge? How do they think and feel about the legal knowledge they have received? How is knowledge they received deemed legitimate? I find that the sources of legal knowledge shape legal knowledge legitimacy and have implications for people’s views about and experiences with the criminal justice system.

Second, I present a case study of a lead-in-water contaminated community in West Texas. I ask, how do residents understand the town’s water contamination, who (or what) do they blame for its condition, and why? How do those understandings of culpability shape people’s ability to collectively solve problems? I find that resident’s beliefs about the water crisis are shaped by their opinions of their neighbors and their opinions of their town. These two categories of opinions, private and public culpability, are talked about as the problem with the pipes on the one hand, and the problem with the pool on the other. These opinions and beliefs go on to shape how residents organize to save public infrastructure and how the town responds to their claims.

Third, I present a case study of a cattle ranching community in the Texas Panhandle that suffered from devastating wildfires. I ask, how do community politics shape experiences and perceptions of disaster recovery? I find that the way residents narrated how they came together after the fires serves to reproduce everyday understandings of politics. Rather than talking about public expenditure in the form of millions of dollars of disaster aid funding that has historically buttressed the community against catastrophe, residents chose to highlight the role of their local community in helping each other.

Together, these three case studies outline how knowledge production is a social endeavor.



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