Dialogues between the Academy and the community: Establishing an Ethical Framework

By Alejandra Bello; Atanacia Gamboa

    Dialogues between the Academy and the community: Establishing an Ethical Framework

    About the Practitioner-Researcher

    Alejandra Bello; Atanacia Gamboa
    Postdoctoral researcher; Community leader of the Women of Ebony
    Bogotá, CO
    Alejandra Bello; Atanacia Gamboa

    Alejandra del Rocio Bello Urrego: I am a feminist and political scientist. I have been a facilitator in feminist activism contexts and a teacher in university contexts. I am part of the Artistic Political Network of Young Women in Bogotá, Colombia. Currently I work as a postdoctoral researcher at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá.
    Atanacia Antonia Gamboa Rosero: I am an Afro woman, born in Ladrilleros in Colombia. I work as a workshop practitioner basing my practice on Law 1257 of 2008. I am also a mother, sister, daughter, friend, and “comadre.” I work to support the collective rights of women, minors, and the Afro community. Our community members are joyful and enterprising people with an overwhelming spirituality. However, we do not know many of our rights as Afro people because we do not have many opportunities to learn. Nonetheless, I have a commitment with my community to achieve a resolution of the collective land title of Ladrilleros to get one of our rights, which is the right to land, so that the traditional Afro Ancestral culture is preserved forever.

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    Project Summary

    This paper is based on a postdoctoral project, “Women’s bodies and power in the Colombian Pacific: The case of the Asociación de mujeres Ébano,” registered at the Universidad de los Andes, Colombia. The purpose of the initial project was to analyze the relationship between the senses assigned to female bodies in the narratives of the members of the Asociación Ébano (Ebony Association) and the contexts in which these senses have been challenging power in the Colombian Pacific. This project adopted the Intervention Bioethics (I.B.) model to establish the ethical framework of the investigation. The characteristic principles of this school of thought are utilitarianism, limited by human rights, and critical solidarity focused on social transformation. The notion of solidarity implies the construction of an intercultural alliance between the community and the academy. The purpose of this manuscript is to deliberate on the adoption of I.B. and the tools of Participatory Action Research (PAR) for the construction of the project’s ethical model. In the postdoctoral project, PAR was adopted with the objective of establishing an ethical framework for an alliance between the Asociación Ébano (Ebony Association) and the Academy.

    The specific objectives of the current paper are to: (1) identify the needs of the association in relation to community-academy alliances; (2) diagnose the problems of these types of alliances; and (3) identify strategies to overcome the identified limits. The usual practice in university contexts is the adoption of North American Principlism, an ethical approach that aims to solve ethical dilemmas in a technical way and without problematizing the power relations in which they emerge (Garrafa, 2009). Unlike this school, I.B. seeks to politicize ethical dilemmas. Thus, the inclusion of PAR, as part of the construction of an ethical framework, becomes an effective tool to politicize the moral dimension of the research process. This report examines that component of the overall project.

    Project Context

    The Colombian Pacific is the geographical area where Ladrilleros is located and the territory of the community to which the women of the Asociación Ébano belong. This region brings together all the complexities of the Colombian conflict: A great concentration of land, the precarious presence of the state, the coexistence of the legal and illegal economy, and the presence of various armed groups are among the many conflicts the region has experienced. The Asociación Ébano is a community-based organization founded five years ago with the intention of responding to the problems that affect women in the territory of Ladrilleros through initiatives created by the women of the territory. The group is the product of an autonomous organizing  effort by the Ébano women to develop effective responses in solidarity against the violence (including armed conflict) directed against them. This process is an example of how the experience of being a woman interacts with power in a geographical area crossed by complex economic, political, historical and social processes. Ebony women have developed a variety of productive strategies to have a source of income for themselves and for the autonomous development of the organization. These mainly consist of the manufacturing and sale of traditional foods from the black communities of the Pacific, such as cocadas and fruit jams from the region, and offering plans for lodging, food, and exploration of the territory based on principles of solidarity and economic sustainability.  Contact with the organization can be made directly with spokeswoman Atanacia Gamboa at the email ataladrilleros2@gmail.coma.

    Research Goal, Method, and Outcome

    Background and Objectives

    In this paper, the process of establishing the ethical framework for the postdoctoral research “Female bodies and power in the Colombian Pacific: The case of the Asociación de mujeres Ébano” is analyzed. The process utilized tools from Intervention Bioethics (I.B.) and Participatory Action Research (PAR). The objective of PAR was to establish a framework for the alliance between the Asociación Ébano and the project regarding violence against women and a university that had approved a postdoctoral research project by the first author of this paper. The specific objectives were to: 1) identify the needs of the association concerning community-academy alliances; 2) diagnose the problems of these types of alliances; and 3) identify strategies to overcome the identified limits.

    Intervention Bioethics is characterized by politicizing ethical dilemmas, thus better understanding the identification, reading, and response to consideration of the structural power relations of capitalism and colonialism (Nascimento & Garrafa, 2011; García Alarcón & Montagner, 2017), as well as adopting as a goal the transformation of these relationships (Arpini, 2016). This model shares the ethical-political horizon of the pedagogy of liberation, committing itself to the transformation of market ethics (Santos, Shimizu, & Garrafa, 2014). From the perspective of I.B., this horizon implies establishing intercultural links of critical solidarity with communities in order to transform the structural power relations of capitalism and colonialism (Rivas-Muñoz et al., 2015). To this end, tools from other Latin American approaches have been incorporated, mainly from the decolonial school and PAR (Manchola, 2007; Nascimento & Garrafa, 2011). The decolonial school is a Latin American perspective based on the understanding of modernity from its connection with colonialism. According to this school, modernity and capitalism were born through the creation of America in the 16th century when humanity was ideologically divided into different races by the more powerful empires. Utilitarianism and human rights are the perspectives that allow this school of thought to identify and discern moral dilemmas in research practice.

    Here, utilitarianism acquires a special connotation when defined according to the concept of critical solidarity. From I.B., this is understood from its most political dimension, committed, interventive and focused on social transformation and the construction of equity (Selli & Garrafa, 2006). This means that in the decision-making process the maximization of the possibility of building solidarity relations between segments of society is used as an evaluation parameter (Garrafa & Porto, 2002).  From this perspective, the construction of an ethical framework to address community-academy relations implies building an alliance focused on transforming the structural power relations that operate even among those who are part of the alliance, and then jointly seeking strategies to transform this situation. 

    At the first moment of the research, the vision of the spokeswoman of Asociación de mujeres Ébano, Atanacia Gamboa, was presented regarding academy-community relations and how these were given in the specific context of the alliance between Ebony and the researcher, with the researcher representing the academy. Then, an analysis was presented from the point of view of the researcher. 

    The Point of View of Atanacia Gamboa and the Women of Ebony about the Academy-Community Relations

    There is ancestral knowledge that we, Atanacia Gamboa and the Women of Ebony, build from our Afro culture and from our daily life in the community. These knowledges are not recognized by the patriarchal system in which we live. They are about life lessons, experiences, and knowledge that are not found in any academy. What do we need from the academy if we already have our own knowledge production systems? Simple. We need to be certified in order to guarantee that our work, knowledge, and culture exist and can survive. We need access to academic spaces where we can talk about ourselves and about the topics that interest us, among ourselves.  We need our knowledge to be well seen and well paid. We are just as good or better than doctors who graduated from a university. We are just as good or better than psychologists who graduated from a university. And this is the same, with all fields of knowledge.

    What we need is opportunities for the Afro community to be recognized from their contributions. What we do not have is those opportunities. And it is about looking for these opportunities that the alliances with the academy seem useful to us. Despite the good and the bad things of the academy, it is the institution that strives the most to recognize the Afro knowledge that has been hidden due to lack of opportunities. This does not deny that there are, and not just a few, people who extract information from our communities in subtle ways. We believe that they are friendly, they present themselves with narratives of openness and inclusion, but in reality, everything ends in the extraction of our knowledge, in abuse of our good faith and with no concrete benefit for us. So many experiences of disillusionment have made us think that what we need from the Universities are scholarships and/or real resolution to include our communities and give us opportunities so that we can speak for ourselves and above all, on our own terms.

    Although here there is also a problem. They offer us scholarships, but the number of requirements they have makes us think that they do not want to give those scholarships to the members of the community. What ends up happening in these relationships is that we as a community work twice as hard and never see the result. There are so many requirements and so much desire to receive the scholarships that sometimes the conditions force us to violate our principles. When it is also not achieved, it is traumatic because in addition to going against beliefs, we did not get anything in return. This is how a family and a community are disappointed. This type of difficulty is what causes Universities to lose credibility and respect in a community. However, for us as Ebony, dealing with universities is part of the search for opportunities to open doors to a better future. The University with all its problems is also the opportunity to be recognized as a walking library. The alliances are the first step so that the ancestral knowledge of the Afro communities that is not in an academy begins to arrive and to speak for itself. 

    The point of view of Atanacia Gamboa and the women of Ebony about the partnership between the Ebony Association and the project “Women’s bodies and power in the Colombian Pacific: The case of the Asociación de mujeres Ébano”

    The alliance began through a well-known person, and also a woman, which generated confidence. In addition, the researcher was a professional and had a Ph.D. This made a difference with the people who usually arrive to the territory, who are usually interns from private universities that are not yet professionals.b Then, we met Alejandra and we saw that the project was very humanistic and that it was built with us and not from a desk in Bogotá. In addition, the fact that she came from the University of Los Andes and Colciencias gave us peace of mind. These are institutions that had never come to the territory, but we know that they are very important in the country. We said, ‘we’re not dealing with someone of little importance’ and she’s a woman. And it is easier to communicate with someone of the same gender.

    Analysis of the Construction of the Ethical Framework

    The establishment of an ethical framework for the alliance between Ebony and the researcher took place throughout the first three of the four phases proposed by Joel Martí as constituting a PAR process: (1) establishing objectives focused on responding to a situation identified as problematic; (2) discussion of all points of view; (3) the proposals becoming lines of action; and (4) opening of a new cycle in which new symptoms and problems will be detected (Martí, 2003). 

    In the first phase the existence of hierarchical relations between the communities and the academy was identified as a problematic situation, a condition that often results in extractive relations in which the community does not receive any concrete benefit but allows a researcher to extract knowledge from the community. Starting from this point, an objective was adopted to establish an ethical framework for the alliance between the Asociación Ébano and the project. This framework was to take into account both the needs, interests and the participation of the association and the researcher. 

    Then, following the procedure given by Ébano to create alliances with other people outside the community, the researcher (to be referred to as “I” “she” or “me/my”) met with delegated Ébano women to establish the terms of the relations with others. I spoke with the primary spokeswoman several times and also spoke with “The Professional Group” which is composed of Ladrilleros’ women who have completed university degrees or live in Buenaventura, Colombia. Throughout these meetings the goal of the project was established, which focused on responding to the Ébano necessities and creating a memory about the organization’s history in order to become visible. The effort during this phase was to make sure that all points of view were heard.  

    In the third phase, various strategies were defined to establish an ethical community-academy alliance. These consisted of:  

    (a) the preparation of a first version of the project by the researcher taking into consideration the needs identified in the previous phases; 

    (b) the presentation, discussion and modification of the project at a regular meeting in Ébano, a meeting with the Group of Professionals, face-to-face and telephone discussions with the primary spokesperson and finally a workshop; 

    (c) the elaboration of a document called “Acuerdo de trabajo conjunto” (Agreement of joint work) in which the result of the discussions was expressed and the project responsibilities of Ébano and the researcher were established; 

    (d) the establishment of an agreement that academic and other non-academic products will be more adapted to the specific needs of Ébano; and 

    (e) the establishment of an exchange involving the hours dedicated to the project by the Ebony members and the work hours of the researcher dedicated to training the Association in mechanisms to make their projects visible using internet tools and the presentation of results of the postdoctoral project. 

    Adopting the intercultural approach of the I.B., the discussion of an ethical framework with the Ébano was situated within the general guidelines of PAR, with the application of concrete PAR techniques modified to fit specific contexts of the project. The guidelines considered were transformation and emancipation. Using these guidelines, therefore, the project sought to move forward based on an understanding that the Ébano would know, interpret, and transform community-academy relations within the framework of the development of the postdoctoral project through actions and strategies identified by them (Colmenares E., 2012, p. 114).

    The Ébano participated in the construction of the framework of the alliance and gave feedback regarding its interests and needs; however, the participation did not go further. According to the taxonomy proposed by Fabricio Balcázar (2003), the limit experienced in the project was characteristic of a low level of PAR. This was influenced by the fact that from the beginning, Ébano had an identified need that did not necessarily correspond with a high level of PAR, as well as the lack of economic resources of the project. Ebony women were interested in having the results of academic research that responded to the needs identified by them, that is, to have a memory of their existence and to gain visibility. They have their own occupations, thus participating in the academic research process is additional work for them. Because the project did not have the funds to pay them for their work, they were not interested in direct participation. Nevertheless, they were interested in defining the objectives of the project and receiving the results.


    The results are presented in relation to specific objectives. 

    (1) To identify the needs of the association to which the project could respond, the community needed to make an alliance with the academy to build a written memory of the association and make its productive projects visible. The association, in other words, wanted assistance with telling their story to a larger audience, so to speak. In this context, it was as much in the interest of the Ébano as the researcher to establish an ethical framework that would enable a critical solidarity alliance. 

    (2) To diagnose the type of power relations that are at stake in community-academy alliances, it must be taken into account that the development of research processes with communities in institutional contexts has two sides. On one hand, it can be an access to material, and symbolic resources for a community that can help them to organize solutions based on their own interests. On the other hand, it implies interacting with long-standing institutional dynamics and margins against which maneuverability of the community and of individual researchers is very limited. In this case, the utilitarian and solidarity approach of I.B. allowed us to evaluate and establish strategies to deal with these structural dynamics. From this framework, both the interests of Ébano and the researcher were taken into account, and they were answered, finding joint means to maximize the possibility that the link between the two responds to the construction of equitable relations in which the two have benefits according to their own interests. 

    (3) To identify strategies to overcome the limits of community-academy alliances, the implementation of PAR tools allowed us to advance a suitable process for the construction of an ethical framework based on a solidarity alliance. Additionally, it should be noted that in this experience, it was decisive that the community had “The Group of Professionals” acting as a device implemented by the community itself to establish barriers to protect itself against external persons operating in the context of an extractive approach to research. This helped establish an equitable dialogue from the beginning of the process.

    Intervention Bioethics (I.B.) and Participatory Action Research (PAR) are useful strategies for establishing ethical frameworks to allow academy-based research to make fair alliances with communities. The discussions between academic researchers and the communities from the perspective of analyzing how things are, not just how they should be, is a necessary and effective strategy to develop a project according to the interests of everyone. This strategy allowed us to think jointly about strategies that respond to the interests of the community, the researcher, and the institutions in whose framework the research was carried out.

    a Permission to include the email address is granted.

    b They wrote this text in their own words and I translated into English. 



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    To cite this work, please use the following reference:

    Bello Urrego, A., & Gamboa Rosero, A. A. (2019). Dialogues between the Academy and the community: Establishing an Ethical Framework. Retrieved from https://www.socialpublishersfoundation.org/knowledge_base/dialogues-between-the-academy-and-the-community-establishing-an-ethical-framework/

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