Saturday, April 30, 2011

From the editors desk: Wamba on Critical Pedagogy

As I consider the papers of 9 (1), issues of inter-subjectivity leap to mind. By inter-subjectivity I mean the ways in which we as researchers interact, later I will use the word “commune,” with research subjects. Conventional research training prompts us to treat research subjects as passive, albeit, respected objects of data collection. Action research acknowledges the subjectivity of the research subjects, which in interaction with ourselves, becomes inter-subjective inquiry.  Our engagement as persons first and foremost allows for knol3edge to be shared that otherwise might have gotten lost.

Consider: Nathalis Guy Wamba’s “Research as critical pedagogy. Developing an alternative epistemology of practice: Teachers' action research as critical pedagogy” which really speaks to the educator in all of us. The author works from the premise that when we step into the classroom, we meet graduate students who have been disciplined by thousands upon thousands of hours in which they practiced the discipline of passively receiving whatever the teacher wished to bestow. That passive reception might have sometimes looked like resistance but it never looked like active co-creation of knowledge. Engaging our students as active partners is therefore difficult, but necessary. I am inspired to copy and paste a paragraph below from the ARJ Manifesto signed by dozens of leading action researchers around the planet. Profesor Wamba’s work exemplifies how to engage stakeholders traditionally excluded from being part of the research process. Interestingly we find them under our noses, in our very classrooms. Thus in a very different way this paper picks up the theme of the ( (1) issue to address how we might better commune with (rather than work on/give to) “othered” subjects.
At this time we are called to engage with unprecedented challenges that are inter-related and compounding; challenges such as poverty and injustice, climate change, globalization, the regulation of science and technology, the information and communication technology revolution, inequalities and fundamentalisms of all types. Conventional science and its conduct are part of these problems. Action researchers, therefore, are concerned with the conduct and application of research. We acknowledge the complexity of social phenomena and the non linearity of cause and effect and see that the best response to such complexity is to abandon the notion of understanding as a product of the enterprise of a lone researcher, and to engage local stakeholders, particularly those traditionally excluded from being part of the research process, in problem definition, research processes, interpretation of results, design for action, and evaluation of outcomes. In this way, we step beyond what has been labeled ‘applied research,’ into the democratization of research processes and program design, implementation strategies, and evaluation.

 From the ARJ Manifesto,

Read for yourself:

Hilary Bradbury-Huang, Ph.D.
Editor, ARJ
Oregon Health Sciences University

Saturday, April 23, 2011

From the editor's desk: Communing with research subjects by Debra Merskin

As I consider the papers of 9 (1), issues of inter-subjectivity leap to mind. By inter-subjectivity I mean the ways in which we as researchers interact, later I will use the word “commune,” with research subjects. Conventional research training prompts us to treat research subjects as passive, albeit, respected objects of data collection. Action research acknowledges the subjectivity of the research subjects, which in interaction with ourselves, becomes inter-subjective inquiry.  Our engagement as persons first and foremost allows for knowledge to be shared that otherwise might have gotten lost.

Consider  Debra Merkin’s “Hearing voices: The promise of participatory action research for animals.” This paper is remarkable for  how it pushes the limits out beyond the familiar “humans-only”  boundary normally used to determine who constitutes a research subject. The implications for all our work are quite thought-provoking.  Debra seeks to articulate a PAR approach that fully envisions those who are silent, most especially in inter-species studies. Her paper focuses mainly on participatory research with primates.  When I first sent this paper out for review, the reviewers included a colleague well known in the natural sciences. She responded, perhaps a tad huffily, that work with creatures so similar to humans (the warm and furry ones such as primates) really tells us too little about how to work with the ones who are very different, e.g., the worms or crocodiles.  I was not so sure. Now as I see the article in its finished form, I am in fact more sure than ever that the ideology of superiority that insists upon a strict boundary between human and other than human. When breached at all (and doing so with familiar mammals is as good as any place to start the breaching) is indeed so strong a re-sensitization that it can call into question how centrally we place ourselves and, more broadly, human interests in our inquiries. We may yet come to know that – as Debra quotes -  the universe is composed of subjects to be communed with, not of objects to be exploited.  Therefore I see in Debra’s article a formal turning point for ARJ in expanding how we define research subjects.
Read for yourself:

Hilary Bradbury-Huang, Ph.D.

Editor, ARJ

Oregon Health Sciences University


Saturday, April 16, 2011

From the editors' desk: A People That Time Forgot

At the intersection of action research and religion, western and eastern values, I got this note from my action research colleague Meghna, based in Bangladesh - it raises all sorts of tough questions, doesn't it...(an animator is an action researcher)...enjoy!  Hilary Bradbury-Huang, ARJ Editor
From the files - A People That Time Forgot: the Sanyasis of Taraganjby Meghna Guhathakurta

On 21st June 2006, I accompanied RIB researcher Mr. Dipen Sarker and Programme Officer Rana Sultana on a visit to the village of Sanyasis in Taraganj thana of Nilfamari district. This project sought to awaken the spirit of self-enquiry and development among a group of people called the Sanyasis who were devotees of the Lord Siva (Saivaites) and who sustained themselves through begging for alms (dakshina) not unlike the legendary Siva himself!
They were waiting for us with garlands and tilaks in hand. They welcomed us in traditional style with a decorated borondala containing rice, pradip, ( lamp) bananas and dhup (incense). They sang a song using the local folk rhythm of bhawaia and through jokar ( ululating). We were then led from one neighbourhood of the village to another withjokars and the sound of dhol (drums) accompanying us and wherever we went the borondala followed us and was laid to rest at our feet where we were ultimately seated in front of a large gathering of women, men and children. We were also told that many have not eaten until they had welcomed us. This was their tradition. When they gave us the garland of flowers they called it their daan (gift).
Once seated we were further "received" by three young children each with a dish of rice/daal and incense singing a song that was full of pathos.. The meaning was:
"Oh Mother do not cry for your lost child.

Look and see your child is being garlanded by so many people."
It was one of the strangest yet painful songs that I had ever heard being sung to welcome strangers in their midst!
We had barely started discussion under the "pandel" formed by sewing together different banners of workshops, when we were swamped by rain. We hurried and crowded together into a room, which was called "pathagar" which incidentally was built by BRAC for a library albeit in a community who did not know how to read and write! So it was used like a club where meetings were sometimes held. The discussion was continued there as much as possible amidst much din but them it gradually led to more singing all around.
Here are some of the fascinating things, which the community revealed about themselves.
Like the Lord Siva whom they adopted as their central deity, they were Sanyasis i.e. people who had renounced the world. As such they did not believe in any form of worldly possessions and hence did not believe in work or exchange to sustain themselves, hence their need to sustain themselves with dakshina. However in the absence of a supporting belief system in contemporary society, their act was looked upon more as begging. This was also critically looked at from women and men within the community as well. Their reason was that it was a painful way of sustenance which not only entailed physical exhaustion but also much humiliation ('soul murder'). Society gave them no value whatsoever. They were in a critical position of reevaluating their lives and yet had yet to incorporate a work culture in their day to day existence. This was a major challenge for the PAR practitioner.
Although the community sang as a whole in Sangkirtan, they did not sing for money or alms. They only used it for themselves and for their religion. Yet the tune and rhythm of their sangkirtans did not resemble the tune and rhythm we usually hear in kirtaans of the vaishnav cult. The words too differed. They spoke more of their pain and struggle than of other worldiness. Dipen mentioned that the first time he had entered the village he had met a man playing a flute beautifully. In his subsequent visit he had come across the same man who had given up his flute playing. He answered that he had no joy left in him.
Women married at a very early stage because like the Beday community they can go in search of alms only when accompanied by their husbands. Young girls were left behind. So in order to serve the community they were married off early. The village swarmed with children. Incidentally only three young girls were educated (upto class seven) in the whole community. One of these girls, Shobha Gir ( Gir is the common title), had become an internal animator. She said that her parents have agreed to educate her and her sister and she a Christian Missionary helped her with expensive books. BRAC had started a pre-primary school in one neighbourhood, and Dipen was in the process of starting a Kajoli Model ECLC in another neighbourhood. The Sanyasis had stated that they do not want their children to beg for their living like themselves. Youths of the village has already formed a Samiti and have started saving. They have asked Dipen to help them open a bank account in a nearby branch. This is the first bank account to be opened in the community!
Health is a serious problem as they mostly travel long distances by foot and proper nutrition is not guaranteed. To avoid expensive health treatment they fall easy prey to quacks. To meet expenses during crisis times, they have sold almost all the trees in their neighbourhood and homesteads. Many live in their own homestead land, and some live in land belonging to others.
There are four animators working in the village ( 3 men and one woman) and they have been able to get themselves accepted by the villagers after one month of initial suspicion that they were either missionaries or abductors! They have kept minute records of each meeting which I have asked them to copy and send so that we can extract more guidelines from them as how to proceed.
The challenge in this field is very distinctive from other Participatory Action Research ( PAR) related fields. Elsewhere the people already had professions albeit ones that were undervalued by society or had become redundant. Here it is the very concept of work or exchange (market), which needed to be addressed. Many women said that they made things like hand fans or sewed for themselves, but they had never thought of selling them for profit or as a form of earning. This will be a difficult terrain to cross, but an interesting one. PAR is helping them to address these issues, but I see that a certain amount of skill training and welfare (health especially) components may be needed as well as in the Harijans of Kushtia or Bedays of Lohajong.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

From the editors' desk: Making space in academia for action research

As a follow up to last week's "from the desk of the editors" on the issue of action researchers making space for our work in academia, my ARJ colleague, Davydd J. Greenwood, Goldwin Smith Professor of Anthropology at Cornell University offers the following:

"If I did not believe reform of higher education were possible, I already would have quit. I could have a lovely and relaxing life outside of academia after 41 years at Cornell. When I render a judgment on some of these issues, it is on the basis of 27 years of academic administrative experience at my university, nationally, and internationally. I know that no significant reform is going to take place until the current organizational model that exists in academia is changed. It was built on General Motors and U.S. Steel in the 1950’s . Such reforms are not going to be easy and it is by no means clear to me that most action researchers have either the ambition or ability to engage their institutions on this level. It is quite clear that AR cannot do this alone and needs to form a common cause with a process of re-invigorating the social sciences and humanities with a sense of purpose beyond scoring well in the rankings and with the daring needed to study large-scale system problems that reach beyond what we know how to do as yet.
Having followed the international processes of change in higher education for the past 15 years, I can only say that action research is notable for its invisibility. A good but quite conventional piece of social research by Richard Arum and Josipa Roska, Academically Adrift, has done more in a couple of months to catalyze the arguments about the future of higher education than anything we have contributed so far.
The problems here are about the strategy and substance of trying to reinvent higher education in a very hostile environment. It is a noble task. It remains to be seen if AR can or will play any role in this beyond modest local initiatives. The poor response to the request for papers on AR in higher education tells us something about our field at the moment."

 - Davydd

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Strike for Justice 2011 posted by Mary Brydon-Miller

It’s time for our good friend Brinton Lykes to lace up her bowling shoes and raise some money for the Martin Baro Fund for Mental Health and Human Rights. The goals of the Martin Baro Fund, named in honor of the Jesuit priest and social psychologist who was murdered in El Salvador in 1989, are:

· "To support innovative grassroots projects that explore the power of the community to foster healing within individuals and communities that are trying to recover from experiences of institutional violence, repression, and social injustice.

· To promote education and critical awareness about the psychosocial consequences of structural violence, repression and social injustice on individuals and communities, while educating ourselves and the wider community about the community-based responses of grantees in their pursuit of social reparation and a more just and equitable world.

· To build collaborative relationships among the Fund, its grantees, and its contributors for mutual education and social change".

Projects supported this year include Aware Girls, a project to empower women and girls located in the Swat district of Pakistan, the continuation of a capacity building course titled Mental Health and Community Strength in Chiapas Mexico, the Healing the Hurt project and the Sustainable Alternatives for the Advancement of Mindanao in the Philippines, and a women asylum seekers project in Manchester, England.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

From the Editors' Desk: Is it that our sex lives are too good?!

 We'd intended this post to go up before the response from Davydd Greenwood.  Here's the From the Editor's Desk related to AR and Higher Education from Hilary:

"I have been pondering the apparent lack of engagement of action researchers in creating space inside academia for action research. It seems we do action research in spite of academic culture and don't much question this. Is this resignation or an intelligent re-focus of energies? The question is on my mind because in my own field of organization behavior, the academy of management gives an annual award around this time of year to the best action research paper. The award is given through the Organization Development and Change division. Being in a position to help decide who receives the award, it is noticeable how little competition there is. That is not to say that the quality is low, but that it is safe to suspect that action researchers in management don’t send their papers to the Academy of Management! At least not any more. In fact I don’t! My own most recent publication is in Leadership Quarterly, hardly a bastion of action research – though all my work informs and is informed by an action research experience (I promise!). If I look at my own motivations I see that I bifurcate my attention – academic publication is a way to “get stuff out there.” I have been socialized (programmed) to think that’s important. Maybe it is. My more energy-focused action research endeavors (keynotes, presentations, graduate education, writing for specials issues etc) is a way to be in conversation with my real colleagues, those actually working with practitioners in ways that make change. Nothing is more lovely than hearing from someone in a far flung part of the universe that ideas developed by me and colleagues have been picked up because they are useful. To make a difference is a longing of the human heart. Is getting published a longing of the human ego? I don’t know. To tell the truth, I no longer believe that academic publications are useful to anyone except the ones publishing them. So do I not also play my part in this quiet resignation that has settled over academics in the face of efficiency maximizing universities and ranking chasing pressure in the mainstream? Action research is misunderstood and ignored, except by those for whom it matters. And it matters to me that it matters to them. As I have written about in my essay "What is good action research," action research attracts relatively more 'multidimensional' people who seem less driven to perform to external measures. (My real theory is that action researchers have more interesting lives than their quietist colleagues and find their approbation away from traditional accountings -- better sex lives keep us busy too no doubt ;). But doesn't our widespread resignation also reflect the distance between the significant role that universities could play (they are still respected, despite the price gouging) and the self interestedly low horizons they have come to serve.

As editor I notice how many fewer responses to a call for papers on ‘developing contribution through action research dissertations’ there were when compared with those that came in to a call for healthcare related papers or the use of arts or theory building. The latter topic – theory building, suggests that it’s not that AR’ers aren’t interested in scholarship per se (not that I ever doubted it myself!). When discussing this observation with a colleague he responded, based on many years of experience, that too many action researchers are happier taking potshots at higher education than in doing any serious analysis. Many practitioners self-define as marginal to higher education or opponents of the “patriarchal”, “exploitative” institutional systems. We agreed that this may sound good – academia is a bit of a money making hussle (!), but simply stating so doesn’t change anything for the better. We are, after all, action researchers, isn’t more is expected of us? And is there really a point in claiming superiority over academic colleagues while leaving the academy untouched. The result is self-perpetuated marginality combined with a self-satisfied attitude.
So how to respond to this dilemma? Who is the community for even thinking about this with? Perhaps I am posing an unresolvable question, one unresolved in my heart. I see my CBPR colleagues at medical school perfectly happy to do their important work, ditto so many colleagues in education where AR is the norm, and ditto the sprawling NGO world where AR is alive and brilliant. If our readership of ARJ show so interest in “AR in higher education,” per se, then is publishing on the subject in our journal tantamount to burying the work? Given the reality of moribund social sciences (compared with the excitement and resources that flow to the harder sciences) should we just give up even imagining higher education as potentially emancipatory? This allows us save our energy to do what we can, using it simply as a conduit to where “real life” is lived, mainly outside academia. Rilke says to hold the unresolved questions in our hearts. But I invite your comments.