Participatory Action Research

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Introduction

With the goal of finding a local healthy arts and music community initiative, I went looking for local programs because there has been at least one in every city I have lived, and because I am personally more interested in and committed to music than most other cultural activities.  Unfortunately, I was not able to find an arts and music-centered community-based organization.  There are less than a handful of non-profits, like the Springer Arts House for drama and musical theatre as well as the River Arts Center for traveling musical acts.  There are commercial chain businesses that specialize in music instruction, whether they be audio production or music instruction, and there is a music program in every public school in the local city and county.  However, there are no community organizations focusing on alternative (read: non-mainstream) arts and music.  Such an initiative should focus on the community that is not served by the conventional.  It would serve political minorities and youth interested in artistic and musical self-expression that no outlet other than the above, outside of public schools, offers.  Unfortunately, even the public schools are focused on conventional musical expression.  That isn’t enough.

How would I create a healthy communities’ arts and music initiative?  It could not be a one-person effort.  It would require the efforts of a myriad of individuals, neighborhood groups, community groups, some local government participation and even some local businesses.  Accordingly, this paper will be organized into the following sections:   Determining health indicators, specific steps, people that should be involved, and what information will be needed prior to beginning such an initiative.  While there are exceptional community toolkits available, some that I will consult for supporting ideas, the bulk of this healthy community arts and music initiative will be supported by the real-world asset analysis of Kretzmann & McKnight (1993) to conduct an asset-based assessment, rather than a needs assessments.  Specifically, it is necessary to determine what is already available in the community, rather than operate from a disadvantaged viewpoint of what is needed and already lacking.

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The process of constantly contemplating a research topic from one class to another serves an interesting purpose in my mind.  It causes me to constantly rethink this topic and others that I have dwelled on for the last few years. I see this as a powerful engagement with the topic of gender and racism propaganda, sitting where I sit from a perspective of an Italian white-appearing cisgender man and causing me to constantly look at this topic from different perspectives and engage others with this topic.  As a result, my area of interest at this time has been refined as, what are the short and long-term effects of organized sexist media propaganda as it influences unintentional interpersonal sexist propaganda upon Black women and girls.

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The research process is something that feels very familiar to me. While I am always learning, always searching and seeking, and perpetually digging deeper, not for passages to prove q point, though that is not unfamiliar to me, but to learn, always to learn more. Locke, Silverman, and Spirduso (2010), introduce the idea of researching for a specific purpose, though it seems I have been seeking out information and researching since I was a little.  Researching is a very familiar place.  In some ways, it feels like home, whether it has been within academic primary sources over the last several years or even secondary and general sources for much longer.  Locke, et al go on to indicate that information that look for as academics may be somewhat buried as incidental information within studies that is more observations of the participants regarding particular behavior, or even as secondary sources or study questions.  Again, this kind of research feels very familiar to me, though I obviously need to hone those skills to a sharp point to be affective and effective here at Saybrook and later when I move on to dissertation research and teaching.

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History in the Western Hemisphere, especially the United States is filled with example after example of the upper classes, the rich and wealthy, engaging in social reform of the poor and the lower classes.  But those rich and wealthy, who thought they knew better, passed judgment on those so-called poor and lower classes, and judged them based on their own high society morals.  Very little progressive social reform occurred under those circumstances, except for the limited viewpoints of those impressing their morals on others. Beyond my rant of the legislative and social morality of the present and past, it is indeed refreshing that there are other countries and individuals that are interested in actually helping rather than moralizing to a populace. 

The founder of Childline, Jeroo Billimoria, actively engages in participatory action research (PAR) or action-based community development (ABCD) or a combination of the two to improve the lives of homeless children in India.  This is something I have never seen done in the United States and certainly not in a project of this grand scale. Each time I see an example of humanity and progress such as this, it gives me ideas and hope for the future and how I can actively help people help themselves. Billimoria actively trains, teaches, and employs the children that she has saved and she treats them with humanity and respect.  They have grown up and they help others.  When I was younger, I dreamed and tried to create a self-propelled paddleboat.  This is an example of a well-oiled paddleboat that helps itself by helping others who, in turn, stay to continue helping.  This is what I want to do on some level in some way.  The whole history of Childline is one where trial and error are valued in order to evolve and improve the assistance to the homeless children of India.  Rather than give up when faced with what appeared to be failure, Billimoria learned from her mistakes and worked to improve the manner in which Childline responded and the manner in which it interacted with other agencies.

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McKnight & Kretzmann’s Mapping Community Capacity address an issue that I have puzzled over for many years:  How can the government create an incentive to better one’s life circumstances without creating and perpetuating an environment of unhealthy need and dependence that engenders mere existence and probably hopelessness, to create producers rather than service clients?  Unfortunately, I have observed friends living on public assistance who don’t realize they have skills and creativity to contribute to their community, and I have seen politicians that are not interested in addressing this problem where one group votes to cut benefits and the other group votes to increase benefits.  Neither is interested in the disenfranchised and how to help them.  The disenfranchised are merely pawns for votes or non-votes.  I don’t see hope in the perpetuation of such inequities.

The alternative is an asset-based community development (ABCD) that assesses the knowledge and experience already present in the community, to help people thrive rather than merely survive, to value the skills that are already present in the community rather than concentrate on what is missing.  There is also a more practical reality in this approach:  Most urban communities have no hope of attracting major industries or services that would bring local jobs.  The old saying regarding making lemonade when all you have are lemons is appropriate here.  Use the resources you have and get creative.

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Hacker and Roberts open with what for me is a very prescient idea, the idea of victim-blaming in an organization, and indeed in most Western modern societies, rather than looking for solutions and rising to challenges that can teach one to be stronger.  Their John Stewart Mill quote speaks to current events in government that always seem to be current no matter the year, the decade, or the century, “A state which dwarfs its men, in order that they may be more docile instruments in its hands even for beneficial purposes–will find that with small men no great thing can really be accomplished.”  What have we wrought when each of our mind-sets chain us to ideas of a past and a present that we cannot, nay refuse to (r)evolvolve from?  Mind sets are formulated from life experiences, yes, as Hacker and Roberts indicate, but those same life experiences can force an individual to realize that change is necessary when it prohibits growth.

Yes, some mind-sets cannot be changed because people refuse to change but others are ready to change, forcing it, fearing it but welcoming it, or seeking it. Transformational leadership can and will exploit people in within their evolutionary stage to benefit the organization and the individuals involved, understand where each individual is, and what is best for that individual. Hacker and Roberts indicate the above and four additional mind-sets that inhibit growth, individuals concerned with self-image, the self-absorbed, and the detached and emphasize what is needed to jump start each individual’s evolutionary growth.  The process reminds me of the positive affirmations that I do each morning before meditation to start my day.

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(This is it folks.  I may have found the research method of choice to write thesis and dissertation in social psychology and media studies respectively.  It’s Participatory Action Research.  Everyone teaches and everyone learns, including the study participants.  Stay tuned.)

 

Participatory action and the research that it entails give me hope for the future.  Seeing Pray the Devil Back to Hell was enough to remind me that it takes a group of people to create powerful change (political or otherwise), but it only takes one individual to initiate that change that creates a domino effect in others, whether that be intentional personal propaganda or unintentional propaganda, and while I have hope in the future of humanity, I believe that it will take a great deal for people in the United States to realize this simple fact.  There are many throughout the world that have already realized this.  The women of Liberia give me hope.

Johnson et al’ Naming our reality recalls the torture and murder of a young transgendered woman outside and a few feet away from an upper Manhattan police station that made the rounds of Facebook and Tumblr.  This article was written in 2007, and the murder occurred in 2013.  Activism has improved awareness of these issues, and affected populations have banded together to realize that they are stronger as collectives than as individuals and that everything is connected, “where life histories and social positions – including gender, race, sexuality, age and culture – are taken into account,” making participatory action research more powerful and effective by drawing upon liberation, black, and feminist psychologies. Still, there is much to be done when the so call safety officers of a city ignore the safety of a person whom they do not consider as a human being.

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