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Session Overview
5-SP110: Ethical and Practical Challenges of Participatory Development Research
Wednesday, 07/July/2021:
11:00am - 12:15pm

Session Chair: Dr. Sonja Marzi, The London School of Economics and Political Science, United Kingdom
Session Chair: Dr. Elisabet Dueholm Rasch, Wageningen University and Research, Netherlands, The

Session Abstract

Critiques of development research methodology have opened up avenues for ‘doing’ development research in participatory and collaborative ways that contribute to solidarity and social justice. In many contexts research participants demand to be included and have a say about research design, process and dissemination. At the same time, the neoliberal university and funding mechanisms often remain focused on outputs, rather than on process, which makes it difficult to do research in a participatory way. Drawing on researchers’ experiences with applying participatory methods this session aims at exploring critical and innovative research methodologies in development studies that include a participatory approach.

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Does Development Research 'Care'? Implementation and Challenges of a Caring Participatory Research Approach

Alena Sander

Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium

Drawing from the ‘ethics of care’, a normative theory about the ideal ‘act of caring’ that is responsible, attentive and reciprocal, the paper proposes a new participatory approach which takes research participants’ needs as a starting point of one’s research from which all other research decisions depart. Through the example of a participant observation of a Jordanian CSO, it presents how a caring approach to research may be implemented, and looks into the ethical challenges that such an approach may pose, that is questions of responsibility, (im)partiality and instrumentalization.

Doing the Right Thing(s)? Reflecting on the Practice of Participatory Research in Western Uganda

Karembe F. Ahimbisibwe1,2, Alice N. Ndidde2, Tiina Kontinen1, Twine Bananuka3,2

1University of Jyväskylä, Finland; 2Makerere University, Uganda; 3University of Oulu, Finland

Normative arguments for participatory research methodology revolve around promoting justice, searching for equality in researcher-participant relationships, triggering transformative change, and increasing quality of knowledge produced. Each of these arguments points to “doing the right thing” in an attempt to reach certain ideals concerning the desired research process, relationships and outcomes. Previously, we have discussed dilemmas between such ideals and the practical implementation of participatory methodology in relation to our fieldwork conducted in two rural districts of Uganda in 2017 (Ahimbisibwe et al. 2020). In this paper, we draw on an additional experience of an extended fieldwork conducted in June-August 2019 to explore local conceptualizations of good citizenship and existing participation practices in rural communities in Western Uganda. Our explicit methodological aim was to create amiable situations where knowledge is co-constructed and shared to empower communities through extended stay with the communities, participation in daily lives, and utilizing a variety of participatory techniques in our data generation. Using our field diaries, photos and personal reflections, we discuss the choices we made about the “right thing to do” in response to the pertinent themes encountered in our research, relevant for any practice of participatory methodology conducted in academic development research framework. These include agenda setting, ethical clearance, community entry, time span, level of engagement, power dynamics, language, participatory tools, compensation, and feedback. We conclude by reflecting on how “doing the right thing” in many instances means negotiating between diverse definitions, and practically, “doing the best thing” in each situation. We also reflect on the ways in which strong commitment to meaningful engagement with people facilitates making what we consider the best choices in the space between rural communities and institutionalized sphere of international development research.

Ahimbisibwe, K.F., Ndidde, A. N. & Kontinen, T. (2020) Participatory methodology in exploring citizenship: A critical learning process. In Holma, K. & Kontinen, T. (eds) Citizenship practices in East Africa: Perspectives from Philosophical Pragmatism. Oxon: Routledge, 159-175.

Manipulation for Participation? Discussing the Tensions of Participatory Development Research

Anne Siebert

Ruhr University Bochum, Germany

The field of development research has concerned itself with the importance of participatory research practices for more than two decades. Hence, we are confronted with a plethora of critique against top-down research approaches. Simultaneously, bottom-up emancipatory efforts in community development have gained momentum. These experiences include diverse notions of scholar-activism in which researchers seek to support community struggles and tackle broader inequalities on the ground. However, beyond the overall celebration of these research interventions, further critical reflection is urgently required. In times of increasing individualisation and neoliberalisation comprising the socio-economic exclusion and related intolerance globally, community participation in empirical research seems ever more challenging and restricted. Considering these developments and departing from the case study of an urban agriculture community initiative in South Africa, this paper asks how inclusive can participatory development research truly be? How much community participation is suitable? And how much change can an engaged researcher really introduce?

Building from field research between 2016 and 2017, particularly rich empirical material including narrative interviews, neighbourhood walks and focus group discussions, this paper sketches diverse ethical and practical challenges in dealing with a community initiative of about 700 members. Many of the members describe themselves as poor. At the same time, a diverse group of mostly better off leaders dominates the initiative’s interventions.

Theoretically, the paper is guided by Sherry Arnstein’s well-known ladder of citizen participation as well as further related, more recent classifications of participation. For instance, citizen control or partnership in the research process imply influence of community members in the research process. However, in the specific case, these levels of participation comprise difficulties in representing community needs in a comprehensive way. Unsurprisingly, certain individuals tend to play a dominant role in the research process. While the existing definitions help us to understand the prevailing dynamics on the ground, the empirical material provides important guidance to sharpen and (re)define basic theoretical considerations in the context of participatory research. In addition, this work pays attention to the specific role of engaged researchers in supporting the dynamics on the ground and sharing important findings directly with the research participants. The chosen case study shows for example that this approach seems too short-sighted in rather divided groups with highly diverse socio-economic backgrounds. It is the attempt of this work in progress to add a fresh perspective on existing theoretical debates and to address lived experiences with an innovative combination of existing concepts.

The paper concludes by calling for more sensitivity in the field particularly in the context of disruptive community agency. Following this lead, it is suggested to pay more attention to community psychology and to discover manifold layers of scholar-activist-community relationships.

“We Need You to Tell our Story!” Reflections on Doing Collaborative Research in Guatemala

Elisabet Dueholm Rasch

Wageningen University and Research, Netherlands, The

In this paper I explore how “collaborative ethnography” as a participatory, engaged and solidary mode of doing research can be a way to engage with the critique development research has received (an still receives) of following a top-down and neo-colonial approach. In my current research about how territory defenders experience violence and criminalization as a result of their resistance towards megaprojects in Guatemala, I consider collaborative ethnography to include the writing of ethnography with local community consultants as active collaborators in that process (Lassiter 2005). In so doing, I try to establish more horizontal research relations and to prevent the “extraction of data”. This implies that research participants are involved in the research design, process, and dissemination. In this paper I explore the challenges, but also the advantages for researcher and research participants alike (categories that might overlap!) of such a way of doing research within the neoliberal university.

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