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Knowledge at the boundary between science and society: a review of the use of farmers’ knowledge in agricultural development

Nathalie Girard (INRA, UMR AGIR, Département SAD, Castanet-Tolosan, France)

Journal of Knowledge Management

ISSN: 1367-3270

Article publication date: 14 September 2015




The purpose of this paper was to build a review of the various management processes of this knowledge in this domain, with the aim of identifying research topics and perspectives for knowledge management (KM) within the boundaries between science and society. At the boundary between science and society, the development of agricultural systems is grounded in various innovation processes that are currently being challenged by sustainability issues. In particular, farmers’ knowledge is emphasized today in various reports and scientific studies as a way of designing more sustainable agricultural systems.


A literature analysis was performed on a database built from the Web of Science and 273 scientific article abstracts were qualitatively analyzed.


Four KM strategies on the basis of the objectives of these papers, the arguments used to justify the study of farmers’ knowledge (FK) and the position of the authors in relation to this knowledge were built. These strategies can be broken down as follows: assessing FK to improve it; documenting FK to capitalize or legitimize it in development processes; using FK as a resource for innovation; and facilitating the sharing of various sources of knowledge to increase the efficiency of development projects.

Research limitations/implications

Because the four KM strategies show a relative genericity, research perspectives for each of them, some of which were related to the KM community and some of which extended the focus on political, legal or sociological aspects of knowledge production processes at the boundary between science and society, were drawn.

Practical implications

The four categories of KM strategies revealed the importance of legitimization processes of practitioners’ knowledge when dealing with innovation at science–society boundaries, whereas such processes are often neglected by classical KM methodologies.

Social implications

This work questions the category of “practitioners’ knowledge”, stressing the need to go beyond the dichotomy between scientific and empirical knowledge and to recognize the hybrid nature of knowledge. It also shatters the myth that local knowledge is more sustainable than science-driven innovations, arguing for more KM efforts at the boundary between science and society.


Even if farmers’ knowledge has been used since the 1970s to promote more endogenous innovation processes as opposed to classical science-driven innovation processes, no review has yet been done of the use of farmers’ knowledge in the development of agricultural systems.



Girard, N. (2015), "Knowledge at the boundary between science and society: a review of the use of farmers’ knowledge in agricultural development", Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 19 No. 5, pp. 949-967.



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Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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