Monday, June 21, 2010

Who Are We Working For? - Alan Wight

Like Valerie Louis, I find myself in a reflective state - not because of graduating, but because today marks the beginning of another round of professional education as I begin course work for a Ph. D. Also like Deb Dole, I have recently been questioning the power of community participation to lead to social action and equitable social change for the people1. Finally, like Mary Brydon-Miller, I am excited after reading Shaunna Scott’s recent ARJ article, “Discovering What the People Knew: The 1979 Appalachian Land Ownership Study” where she examines the legacy of the study, both for practitioners of participatory action research as well as for the people of the region.

Given the fact that I was born in Northern Appalachia, did my undergraduate work in the region (at Ohio University), have an inclination for environmental social movements, and truly desire to see change in the power structure; Scott’s article has personal implications as she illustrates the successes and challenges of PAR. My entire life I have been told we live in a democracy, where other than the presidential race our votes directly elect local and state representatives. These officials are charged with working for the people in their regions to help better their lives. Looking back more than 30 years Scott’s analysis of the Appalachian Study reminds us that even when the people band together with help from experts2, it is still an uphill battle against powerful corporate3 and government interests, especially when examining the relationship between land ownership and the socio-economic-environmental conditions afflicting the people (p. 193).
I agree 100% with Scott, when she cautions against the co-option of PAR/AR by corporations, agencies, and firms, as they become more effective at “targeting, defining, and channeling the direction of empowerment efforts” (p. 199). However, ultimately all parties need to cooperate, compromise, and collaborate in a constructive manor.

1. In talking about “the people,” I am referring to the massive division of wealth in the United States where the top 1% of our population owns 33.4% of the wealth, the next 4% own 24.1%, 5% own 12.5, 40 % own 27.9% and the bottom 50% own 2.5%. Another way to look to look at it, is that the top 10% of the population owns 69.5% of the wealth and other 90% of the population own 31.5%.
Source: Kennickell, Arthur B. 2006. Currents and Undercurrents: Changes in the Distribution of Wealth 1989 – 2004. FEDS Working Paper No. 2006 – 13.
2. Those folks with fancy titles, degrees, certificates, and letters after their names indicating official institutionalized training.
3. In mentioning corporations, I acknowledge that these are simply organizations made up of people, and to some extend include “the people.”

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