The Application of the Social Sciences' Contemporary Issues to Work on Participatory Action Research1

By Borda, Orlando Fals | Human Organization, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

The Application of the Social Sciences' Contemporary Issues to Work on Participatory Action Research1


Borda, Orlando Fals, Human Organization


Malinowski Award Lecture, 2008

Dedicated to the memory of my dear late wife, the sociologist Maria Cristina Salazar, who died in Bogatá on July 10, 2006.

No one could have been more surprised than I when at the closing session of the 12th International Symposium on Action Research for Education, held at my home city of Bogotá, Colombia May 14-18, 2007 a number of delegates from Australia, Great Britain and the United States went to the podium to announce that I was the new recipient of the prestigious Bronislaw Malinowski Award of the Society for Applied Anthropology. I should travel to Memphis for this purpose.2

It is a motive of amazement to find my name in the honor roll together with scientists and authors of my considerable youthful reverence, the masters of my professors-a roster with names such as Gunnar Myrdal, Everett C. Hughes, Laura Thompson, Conrad Arensberg, and Margaret Clark. How did I finally fit into this sacred list? I am not going to question the criteria for choosing. My main duty, I feel, is to examine whether I merit such inclusion from the standpoint of continuity and/or accumulation of science, continuing some of the basic tenets of the discipline I learned in my university years in the United States.

Accumulation of Knowledge and Rigor in Contextual Determinacy

I should admit, with rather ease, that I could not have been an actor in the development of PAR in the 70s if I had not available a sound and more or less firm starting ground on which to build alternatives. One early discovery was that the process of accumulation was not lineal, and more complex than what Newtonian physics thought. With my colleagues, we found ourselves in a complex field with many avenues, shortcuts, bridges, and even black alleys. And this multiple horizon, instead of confusing issues, seemed to help us understand the basic complexity of the reality we were observing and intervening in. Thus my first reflexion today goes to my dear professors Lowry Nelson at Minnesota and T. Lynn Smith at Florida, both disciples of the great Pitirim Sorokin, for having provided me with sound foundation for what was to come, even though they confessed to me that they did not agree with the procedures or the frames of references of what we were doing. They tolerated me as their former Ph.D. student, and waited to see results. Alas, they both died before I could present them with clear cut evidence. But without the basic training I received from them, I could not have reached even the first base of respectability and validity for the tasks at hand. Therefore, my first final conclusion today is that PAR did fit into a major frame of experience, knowledge, feeling and intuition which could be traced to Homeric times, if the tradition was Western, or with Popol Vuh if one desired to confine himself to the preCikinbuab era.

Diversity was richer than expected. Perhaps overshelming at times, but it provided us with a full cornucopia of new facts, data and interpretation, including general behaviour observation. Yet we could not find much consistence at the efforts of our teachers for finding universal laws. This was learned soon, even from the Planck. Heisenberg revolution in physics, who learned constructively from the jumping inconsistencies of energy. This indeterminacy was multiplied in the social and cultural world. And such was the great challenge which we had with PAR in our first attempts to make it understandable and acceptable for our academic seniors who still believed in a neutral science and in a sole subjectobject stance. We were already founding that the horizontal relationship of subject to subject was more close to reality, more respectful of the milieux, and a multiplying effect for the transformation of social contexts which we were pushing.

Thus our methodology has overcome the old polemics on scientificity, value neutrality and validity of results. It has proven its utility to local reference groups for social purposes on five continents. …

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