Negotiating Extractivism and Agency through Participatory Action Research
This project was situated in the Ebony Women’s Association (EWA) and was a part of the “Female Bodies and Power in the Colombian Pacific” project registered at the Universidad de Los Andes, Colombia. The Female Bodies and Power in the Colombian Pacific Project in the EWA adopted Intervention Bioethics (I.B.) as its ethical framework as it is consistent with Latin American values such as liberatory pedagogy, decolonialization, and participatory action research (PAR). See details of the background in Part 1 of this paper, Dialogues between the academy and the community: Establishing an ethical framework (Bello-Urrego & Gamboa Rosero, 2019).
The objective of this paper (Part 2 of the two-part report) is to analyze the power relations that operate in community-academy alliances in order to provide a theoretical perspective in relation to the constitution of an ethical framework. The theoretical framework was to be utilized for the postdoctoral project “Female bodies and power in the Colombian Pacific: The case of the EWA” focusing on ethical considerations of the investigation. The ethical consideration is the result of independent research whose objective was to establish a socially just ethical framework for the alliance between the EWA and the postdoctoral project from the perspective of I.B. and PAR. The core finding of this paper was that the implementation of PAR tools allowed us to identify strategies to overcome the limits of community-academy alliances and to advance a suitable process for the construction of an ethical framework based on a solidarity alliance.
See details of Project Context in Part 1 of this paper (Bello-Urrego & Gamboa Rosero, 2019).
Project Goal, Method, and Outcome
The objective of this paper was to analyze the power relations that operate in community-academy alliances in order to help develop a theoretical framework focusing on ethical considerations in relation to a postdoctoral project, “Female bodies and power in the Colombian Pacific: The case of the EWA.”
The ethical framework was developed in three steps: (1) analysis of the influence of modern-colonial hierarchies that operate between the different ways of producing knowledge through community-academy relations; (2) description of the ways in which the community-academy relations were built in the postdoctoral project; and (3) discussion of the above in light of the concepts of extractivism and agency.
According to theories of decoloniality, the colonial expansion of European empires arose in the context of ontological division between those who are recognized as human beings and those who are not. This division was conceptualized by Ramon Grosfoguel as the zone of being and non-being. In the view of Grosfoguel (2012) the division operates on the basis of racial order. For this author, gender is subordinate to race, meaning that it is an element that marks the difference between people within each zone, but it is not a constituent element of the border between human and subhuman (Grosfoguel, 2013). On this theoretical basis, Grosfoguel (2013) proposes the concept of epistemic racism-sexism to explain the fact that the constitutive corpus of the social sciences is produced by American, French, German, Italian and English men.
This epistemic racism-sexism creates a hierarchy between the different types of knowledge corresponding to the colonial scale of valuation of life in which the white man is the parameter of humanity (Grosfoguel, 2013). The thesis of Grosfoguel, following the philosopher Maldonado-Torres, is that the Cartesian principle “I think, therefore I am” depends on the principle “I do not think, therefore I do not exist “(Maldonado-Torres, 2007). It follows that the border between who is recognized as a thinking being and non-thinking being is imbricated at the border between who is recognized as human and who is not. This border was drawn in the process of colonial expansion of the European empires. In Grosfoguel’s vision, the relationship between these processes and Cartesianism as the basis of modern epistemology makes the principle “I think, therefore I am” dependent on “I exterminate, therefore I exist.” In this perspective, the monopolization of the capacity of “knowing” depends on alienation from the capacity to know by other people. These processes are closely linked to the capitalist process of accumulation of capital through annihilation of colonized peoples by conquering peoples. This is the context in which the global north positioned itself in relation to the colonized peoples of the global south.
Turning to practice, the concept of epistemic racism-sexism proposed by Grosfoguel (2013) is a useful tool to capture the conditions of possibility that operate in the relationship between communities and universities. Further, application of the concept in practice allows us to acknowledge that the assessment of knowledge is ranked by race and gender. However, in Grosfoquel’s argument, gender appears as an element independent of race and even subordinated to it. For this reason, it is pertinent to review it in the light of the works of various decolonial and postcolonial theorists that have been demonstrating the relationship of codependence between both categories. Gender and race constitute the central critical categories of this work, with Elsa Dorlin (2008, 2009a, 2009b) providing crucial ideas as to the genealogy of sex and race in their dimension of ideological categories.
The works that the philosopher Dorlin has advanced in dialogue with French materialist feminism and postcolonial studies have demonstrated that there is a genetic relationship between sex and race as ideological categories (Dorlin, 2008, 2009a, 2009b). This justifies the need to use both gender and race as critical categories for the analysis of power in colonial societies. Through archival reviews of medical discourse, the author shows that the origin of the modern concept of race derives from the domination logic based on sex that operated in the conquering peoples. Thus, non-white beings are seen as biologically inferior because they are seen as biologically feminine. The idea of the overlap between sex and race has been defended within the decolonial school by María Lugones (2008) and Rita Segato (2016). Their works converge in demonstrating that the prioritization of race over gender did not correspond to empirically verifiable findings. Unfortunately these ideas are not considered by Grosfoguel (2013). The line between the area of being and that of non-being is not only the product of the racial classification of people, but of the overlap between their classification by sex and race. In the feminist-informed decolonial perspective, this is what explains why the canon of contemporary social sciences is produced by white men from five countries. The fully human being, in other words, is deemed to be masculine and white; therefore, the maximum epistemic privilege is incarnated by a masculine and white body. For example, the funding of the researcher depends on the results being published in indexed journals. These are most often magazines that demand the use of the corpus accepted in the academic community which, as Grosfoguel points out, are mostly produced by white men of five powerful countries.
This racial and gendered privilege is a condition attached to the production of scientific knowledge within which contemporary universities exist. Some privileges result in the audible production of knowledge, while for others knowledge production remains inaudible; some of us can talk because others cannot. It is in this equation that the relationships between university research and communities are situated. In reference to the present project, the dynamic of research is at this very nexus of a potentially white male oriented university epistemology and a black female association epistemology. An interesting question arises here as to the potential for agency in regard to this logic. Agency is defined as a people’s capacity to transform relations of oppression, and thus in the current case it would have to be the black female association that took the lead in a genuine transformation.
This is the question on which I want to focus this analysis from the experience, still under construction, of the relationship between the EWA and my postdoctoral internship at the Universidad de Los Andes. Producing total, absolute and universal responses is beyond the scope of this text. Rather, the objective is to share the specific answers that are being built between a specific community and a researcher and not to try to prove that these are the correct answers that are generalizable to all situations.
About the Project
From the first meeting, the women of the EWA expressed two specific needs: firstly, to make the association more visible in order to help raise funds, and secondly, to keep a memory of what has been done as a collective for themselves and for the new generations. For my part, I expressed my research interests and motivations. Personally, I have a great interest in the Pacific Region and a great admiration for the organizational work of women in the region. On the other hand, the project that unites us is part of a very specific institutional context, my post-doctorate research within the Universidad de los Andes and Colciencias, so part of my interest is related to fulfilling the commitments made with both institutions.
We decided to combine our needs through the construction of an ethical framework which would guide the alliance. The ethical framework would be built by taking elements of Intervention Bioethics and PAR. The combination of these methodological areas is described in Part 1 of this paper (Bello-Urrego & Gamboa Rosero, 2019). The result of that process was the decision to develop two different types of products from the same fieldwork. We agreed that the compiled life narratives will be used to elaborate traditional academic products about the relationships between racialized and sexualized bodies, narration, and culture. Also, we agreed to produce memoirs about the history of the organization in formats totally in accordance with the needs of the community.
The initial meeting produced a discussion about the fact that there is an economic benefit for the researcher linked to carrying out the research (e.g., funds for her time with the project and economic benefit to her career through producing knowledge for publication) and, at the same time, a practical difficulty in managing to pay salaries to members of the Association who would work on the PAR. Considering this inequity, it was agreed and recorded in writing that there will be a payment ‘in work’ by the researcher to the organization. This remuneration would consist of the design and execution of workshops whose objective is to provide tools to use for online funding management platforms (crowdfunding) and for better utilizing the Internet to promote the tourist routes offered by the association as a way to self-finance EWA. In addition, on these platforms they will use a presentation document about EWA based on the results of the project.
The construction of the ethical framework took place by utilizing the four phases proposed by Marti (2003). See details of Analysis of the Construction of the Ethical Framework in Part 1 of this paper (Bello-Urrego & Gamboa Rosero, 2019).
Between Extractivism and Agency: Toward Conceptual Frameworks
A first key point to highlight is that there is a social structure that goes beyond the specific people who interact in the community-academy relationship. Beyond this are cultural, institutional and historical limits that establish margins for interaction and that go beyond the agency of communities and specific researchers. Such limits include an intrinsically racist and sexist culture, institutions forged from the historical exclusion of black communities and the resulting invisibility of their problems, and institutional dynamics that are part of the normal functioning of academic spaces that are beyond the reach of a few people (Davis, 2005). In Buther’s terms, politics are about being constantly inside and outside the norm (Martínez & Dios, 2014). Being in a culture where the norm is racist and sexist, the transformation of politics is played out in permanently oscillating challenge and in the reproduction of this very type of logic.
Taking this into consideration, the project took shape from the analysis of how things are and not just how they should be regarding the academic-community relationship. The starting point was to accept that this relationship occurs in a context of structural imbalance so that the room for maneuver is not absolute, although it does not cease to exist as a possibility. It is precisely on that possibility that the project was shaped. Regarding how things are from the point of view of EWA, the academy is considered as a space of reproduction of the hierarchies that historically have excluded them and not as a space to produce knowledge. From this perspective, the interest of the community was not in an alliance to elaborate an investigative process, but a bridge to access resources that can be managed more easily from a university space. Specifically, they were interested in using the academy as a platform to make their projects visible, but without having to hide or adapt their self-positioning or the perspectives they held in deference to the academy.
A further challenge to the relationship was the institutional logic in which the project would occur. Our discussion identified that the production of articles that can be published in indexed journals as part of university activities was limiting and dissonant with the interests of the community. This situation would make it difficult to escape from extractivist logic whereby local knowledge is extracted and becomes an object of knowledge produced in the manner of the global north. A tension arises as the capacity of the researcher to open scenarios for the community within universities depends on types of research products that a community may find abhorrent.
In the present project, this reality has been overcome by embracing the contradiction rather than avoiding it. Therefore, while we recognize that there is a certain degree of stratification in this academic-community work, we also strive to generate strategies so that EWA can use the academic spaces that are opened through this project and reference them according to their own interests.
This conclusion draws together key aspects of the theoretical discussion and the outcomes of the dialogues between the researcher and the community, EWA. Three key points are made which are particularly relevant for research in colonialized spaces and for research that crosses between university and community borders. The same points are, however, equally useful for all researchers to bear in mind.
(1) Researchers must analyze the influence of modern-colonial hierarchies that operate between different ways of producing knowledge in community-academy relationships.
The ideological line between what Fanon denounced as the area of being and that of non-being (human/sub-human) (Fanon, 2009) is not simply the product of the racial classification of people, but of the overlap between their classification by sex and race (Dorlin, 2009a; Lugones, 2008; Segato, 2016). In the ideological universe that emerged from the colonial construction of our present, the full human is masculine and white; therefore, the maximum epistemic privilege is incarnated by this body. This form of privilege is linked to the production of scientific knowledge within the modern logic in which contemporary universities operate.
Community-academy alliances must deal with these types of relations that are bound to colonial history, including understanding it and trying to transform it. However, the existence of as well as efforts to transform such a social structure go beyond the specific people who interact in these types of alliances. There are cultural, institutional and historical limits that establish margins for interaction and that go beyond the capacity for agency by communities as well as specific researchers.
(2) Researchers should endeavor to describe the ways in which these relationships have been built into their projects.
Analysis of current structures and discourses should preface discussions of how things should be in order to ground research in realities. In this process, the interests of all parties should be shared and examined in order to reveal areas of complementarity and conflict. Holding these discussions in this project allowed us to think together about strategies so that the research would respond to the interests of the community, the researcher and the institutions in whose framework the research was to be carried out. At the beginning of the process, it became clear that the Participatory Action Research was part of the world of the researcher, but not of the community. This was answered by weaving an alliance between three elements: principles of PAR; the vision that the community itself has of the university and research; and the horizon of transformation that the community itself established.
Since the first meeting, the women of the EWA articulated two specific needs: to make the association more visible in order to help raise funds and to keep a memory of what has been done as a collective for themselves and for the new generations. They do not want to advance a so-called normal research process because they consider that they do not need an academic for this purpose. Their interest was clear and concrete: they needed an investigative process that was relevant to their interest in gaining visibility and generating additional resources.
For my part, I expressed the interests that had moved me to do the research project. As a person, I has a great interest in the Pacific and as a woman I had a great admiration for the organizational work of women in the region. On the other hand, I was mindful that the project that brought us together is part of a very specific institutional context, a postdoctorate project in conjunction with the Universidad de Los Andes and Colciencias. So, part of my interests has been related to fulfilling the commitments made with both institutions. In effect, I needed to produce traditional academic results, papers, articles, among others, in order to comply with the conditions of my institutional link.
In the present project, addressing the tensions between university-affiliated research and the interests of a community organization such as EWA meant combining the needs and interests of both parties based on flexibility. Therefore, we decided to develop two different types of products from the same fieldwork, with the collected life narratives to be used to elaborate traditional academic products about the relationships between body, narrative, and culture and a product based on individual and collective memories about the history of the organization produced in formats decided by the community.
For the same reason, there was open discussion about the tension between the economic benefit for the researcher linked to carrying out the research and the difficulty in providing economic benefits (e.g., salaries) to members of the Association working on the project. Considering this, it was agreed in writing that there will be a payment in work by the researcher to the organization focused on meeting specific needs of the Association.
(3) Discuss community-academy alliances in the light of the concepts of extractivism and agency.
The development of research processes with communities in institutional contexts has two sides: on the one hand, it can mean for the community access to material and symbolic resources that help them to create solutions based on their own interests; on the other hand, it implies interacting with long-standing institutional dynamics against which the margin of maneuver of the community and of individual researchers are very limited (Bello-Urrego & Gamboa Rosero, 2019).
In order to leverage agency and mitigate extractivism in this project we established an ethical framework using tools from Intervention Bioethics (I.B.) and Participatory Action Research (PAR). It is important that other researchers begin discussions in communities from the perspective of analyzing how things are and not only how they should be, as this can be a more ethical path towards developing a project according to the interests of everyone. In the present case, this allowed us to think jointly about strategies so that the research would respond to the interests of the community, the researcher and the institutions within whose framework the research is carried out.
Limitations and future research. This paper has examined one researcher’s experience with navigating the boundaries between academic and community research. It attempts to show that such research can be conducted in an ethical way through explicit application, discussion and ongoing awareness of hierarchies of power, and their manifestation in relationships between researchers and community members. It also provides a narrative of an effort to strengthen agency through working collaboratively in the face of heritages of coloniality involving race and gender. As issues of racial divide occupy the foreground and participants were all women in this project, future research should examine the intersections of race and gender in depth as to whether studies with race and gender overlap and those with non-overlap may contribute to new understandings. In the present project, while the researcher and the community members shared a common gender/body which offered some potential for solidarity across university-community barriers, the researcher was nevertheless, by virtue of her status as a post-doctoral researcher, a representative of an institutional context that is typically not interested in building solidarities, in particular those that challenge the power relations of university-community relations based on the extraction of knowledge.
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To cite this work, please use the following reference:
Bello-Urrego, A. (2019). Dialogues between the Academy and the Community: Establishing an Ethical Framework (Part 2) Retrieved from https://www.socialpublishersfoundation.org/knowledge_base/dialogues-between-the-academy-and-the-community-establishing-an-ethical-framework-part-2/