Voices of Change: Participatory Research in the United States and Canada

By Peter Park; Mary Brydon-Miller et al. | Go to book overview

3
If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em: The Professionalization of Participatory Research

THOMAS W. HEANEY

The origins of research as a human activity have been lost in our distant emergence from a prehistoric swamp. Undoubtedly, survival of the species set an endless agenda for creating new knowledge. Today's experience of "knowledge as commodity" is probably not a useful guide to our past ( Hall 1979a). For example, it is most unlikely that one of our ancestors held a patent on fire or the wheel; knowledge which was useful was, by its nature, common knowledge, being a reflection of shared activity. Each person was free to improve upon such knowledge and, happily, did so. We do not know when knowledge production became a specialized task for "experts." It probably occurred when someone recognized that considerable advantages accrued to those who could interpret the stars or master the lore of wild beasts.

Despite these vested interests of priests and huntsmen, our survival suggests two aspects of early research. First, much early research must have been participatory--each person contributing what he or she could to the store of what was known. And second, discovery must have been closely linked with dissemination--the group coming to know in dialogue and passing on accumulated knowledge to the next generation.

Of course, by the time early historians first began scratching and painting on the walls of caves, appropriations of secret knowledge had fairly well established the prestige and power of religious leaders. Not to be outdone, tribal chiefs, kings, and subsequently national governments developed their own secrets, sometimes linked to divine revelation, and almost always related to the emerging science of war. With the writing of history, knowledge became power, or rather an expression of power and a tool for maintaining it. History, and later, science, were frequently used not

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