Why do we investigate context?

A practice happens within a particular context. It is the context, which often influences the choices we make about a particular practice and which supports and inhibits the practice. For example, our current practice of food consumption would not have become possible without the advances in farming technology.

The circumstances which surround an event or a situation are the context of that event or situation. For example, if you need water, how you get it is influenced by where you live; what kinds of resources you have; the knowledge you have; the knowledge your community has; your own values, and the values of your community.

Check out the example of how context influenced the stewardship practice of installing and using rainwater tanks in Cata, Eastern Cape. 

In this course we will be investigating the many different layers of context (individual, community, institutional, cultural, historical) and how these can influence all the different aspects of a practice (We will explore these aspects later). And we will do this with the communities who are effected by the issues and challenges that you have identified in your case studies and the practices that will become the focus of your change projects. The reason we investigate context and practice with people is because it is only through understanding how people perceive their own context and how they have learnt their particular practice that we can start looking for ways to change it together. Another way of saying this is we explore with people what enables and constrains their ability to act against social injustice and live in a sustainable way.

Now do the exercise “Leaks, Debts and Devices: A Community seeks alternatives” to practice how to identify practices and discuss the influence of context on a practice.

Now that we have explored the approach we will use to analyse context and practice, let’s explore some of the methods and tools we can use to find out about the practices in our case study. This in the first stage of our changing practice projects.

During the course we will ask you to present your pre-course assignments.  While your colleagues are presenting see if you can practice identifying practices and noticing how context influences the practice that your colleague talks about.  You can find instructions on how to do this by going to the exercise on “Working with Pre-course assignments”.