Wednesday, June 16, 2010

In it for the Long Haul - Mary Brydon-Miller

This past week my son, Rhys, spent the evening at a Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC) meeting discussing efforts to stop the development of a new coal ash dump in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. When I first learned of the Appalachian Land Ownership Study in the 1980’s I had no idea that I would one day move to Kentucky myself and that my son and I would become KFTC members. At the time, living in New England, the issues facing Appalachian communities seemed remote, but Billy Horton’s description of the project published in Voices of Change: Participatory Research in the United States and Canada brought home to me the struggles of activists across the region to uncover the inequities in tax policies that continued to impoverish the people and destroy the local environment. So I was excited to read Shaunna Scott’s recent ARJ article, “Discovering What the People Knew: The 1979 Appalachian Land Ownership Study” in which she examines the legacy of the Land Ownership Study, both for practitioners of participatory action research as well as for the people of the region. Scott’s article reminds me of the importance of taking the long-view when considering action research and of remaining mindful of the ethical implications our work can continue to have years later. Scott describes KFTC as “an organization which continues to develop grassroots leadership in Kentucky and provide a voice for citizens in the state legislature,” and describes other organizations in Virginia, West Virginia, and Alabama that also continue to support the work originated by the Land Ownership Study. Scott also notes the personal impact the project had on those involved, people like John Gaventa, and Susan Williams who continues her work as Education Director of the Highlander Education and Research Center . This potential for our work to continue to influence practice should inspire and energize us, but at the same time it should caution us to take the time, as Scott suggests, to consider how to support not just the research component of the project, but the action steps we will take as a result. And to critically examine the ethical implications of our work, now and in the future.

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