The Epistemology of Stone Soup

Most of us have heard the story of Stone Soup, in which a weary traveler happens upon a small village in search of shelter and a meal. When the villagers, one after another, inform him that they have no food to share—too little, in fact, to feed their own families—the traveler says that he will instead make stone soup to share with the entire village.

The traveler proceeds to bring a pot of water to a boil, and the villagers look on, perplexed, as he drops a stone in the pot. One by one, the villagers decide that they would like to have a part in improving upon this “delicious stone soup,” and they come forward with vegetables, meat, and spices, each giving what they can. In the end, the entire village is able to share a truly delicious soup that they each had a hand in creating.

Stone soup is a metaphor for an epistemology of engaged scholarship.

Put simply, if our container is already full—full of our knowledge, full of our expertise, full, frankly, of ourselves—it’s difficult to find space for the contributions of our community partners.

Community engagement begins with questioning our epistemology:

  • Do we recognize that much of the world’s knowledge exists outside the academy?
  • What assumptions do we have about the knowledge and resources our community partners might contribute?
  • Do we respect these contributions as valid?
  • As valid as our academic contributions?
  • Really?

The stone soup story reminds us that when our offerings of deep content knowledge, artful pedagogies, and empirical processes come together with the on-the-ground experience, mastered skills, and indigenous wisdom of our community partners, they have the power to effect real change—change to nourish us all and help our village thrive.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Elaine Van Doren says:

    I love the stone soup analogy. These are good questions for us to ask whenever we start a new engagement as well as with our “old” ones.

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