Participatory Research: An Ethical Approach to Ethnography

The idea of participatory research was introduced to me through two readings this week, Community-Based Participatory Research: Challenging “Lone Ethnographer” Anthropology in the Community and the Classroom by Nathan Jessee et al. and Indigenous Knowledge, Community Participation and Traditional Land-Use Mapping by Karim-Aly S. Kassam and John R. Graham.  Participatory research is the title given to a broad anthropological or ethnographical community research method.  The idea is that a researcher can gain insight into community specific issues through actively working with the community to design a research proposal and set of methods that would be best at not only gaining intellectual material but also empowering the community and creating a tangible work based off of the findings that the community can use.  One of the most important aspects of participatory research is that all parts of the research process are transparent and involving either the community as a whole or members of the community who are often chosen by the community.  Also all results and materials created based off of the research is owned by the community and they get the final say in how and when it is used, thus empowering the community.  Participatory research is often used in modern anthropological and developmental studies on impoverished or isolated communities or communities with very specific problems or indigenous knowledge.

Historically, anthropological studies on groups of people were often through the lens of a “lone ethnographer” as termed by Nathan Jessee et al. or in other words, by a single researcher who would live in a community and study their everyday lives.  It was often intrusive and the end goal was to gain enough insight to publish another scientific paper or to present to a board rather than to gather information to help the community in return.  Also the research was often heavily based off of the researcher’s personal interests instead of the needs of the community and took the view of an outsider since the researcher was often not from the culture.  Thus, it merely reduced a culture to the opinions of the researcher and did not benefit the people who were the objects of study.  Like Karim-Aly S. Kassam and John R. Graham stated, as development (in this case, in the form of research) reaches out into isolated environments it tends to destroy the only cultures that have been able to, not only live, but thrive in those environments.  Participatory research is a method that is ethical in its approach since it avoids taking advantage of communities and takes into consideration the issues facing the communities and the research that would most benefit the people.  Also it gives direct control to community members by engaging them in all the steps of the research process and giving them all of the rights to the results and products created.  Fortunately, participatory research is becoming a very widespread methodology for ethnographically focused studies and it is even being taught to graduate students through service learning style courses.

When engaged in any development work or work with groups from cultures outside of your own, I believe that both direct community participation and community control of the project is a necessity in order to fully gain insight and to create results that meaningful to both parties.  A culture is not an exhibit to be studied and then turned into a research paper; the community should not be the object of study but rather the subject and authors of the study.  This participatory research approach is very similar to the work that our class hopes to engage in with the community of Intag in Ecuador.  Instead of developing conservation projects based purely off of personal interest, every step of our team’s project is in collaboration with our community partner, Defensa y Conservación Ecológica de Intag (DECOIN).  We have matched our skill sets with the priorities of DECOIN in order for our work to be the most beneficial to the community’s needs.  I hope that through IARD 4011 and our team’s partnership with DECOIN that I will have the opportunity for deeper and more meaningful learning from the multiple views that I will be exposed to throughout the course.

1 Thought.

  1. As you point out in your last paragraph PAR is now being applied beyond the enhno/anthro folks…I think they may have been most blatantly responsible for extractive research that misrepresented many cultures, but botanists and ecologists have been ‘stealing’ ecological knowledge for 100s of years!

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