Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Collective Voices: Engagement of Hartford Community Residents through Participatory Action Research

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Collective Voices: Engagement of Hartford Community Residents through Participatory Action Research

Article excerpt

This article details a 3-year Participatory Action Research (PAR) Project in which Latino and African and Caribbean American residents partnered with research educators (REs) from the Institute for Community Research (ICR) in Hartford, CT. (1) Four different groups of residents researchers (RRs) began by meeting with REs once a week, for 16 weeks, to select an issue, receive training in research methods, conduct research, analyze and disseminate the results and design action strategies. Throughout the project, groups continued to meet with researchers and work on their issues. Project participants worked together to design research projects on economic opportunities and trainings for Spanish speaking residents, the social, environmental and physical conditions of neighborhoods, and the educational outcomes for Hartford schoolchildren.

Once one of the richest cities, Hartford ranked as one the poorest cities in the nation with a population of over one hundred thousand. Surrounded by fairly white, wealthy towns, Hartford has a population that is forty-four percent Latino, thirty-eight percent African American and Caribbean American, and roughly eighteen percent white. Though increasingly Latinos have been moving into the African American North End of the city, and African Americans have moved into the Latino South End, the perception is still of the North End as our respective subject positions.

African American and Caribbean American and the South End as Latino, predominantly Puerto Rican. Both African Americans and Latinos perceive each other as more organized and able to gain more in city investments than the other, leading to deepening mistrust between the groups. These misperceptions lead to increasing distrust between Latinos and African Americans in the city; in reality they are both marginalized and share similar issues. Huge public investments are made in downtown luxury housing to lure young, primarily white middle-class professionals and divestments in public affordable housing continued across the city. Overcoming misperceptions, bringing groups from different ends of the city together for discussion and focusing on identifying structural factors were also objectives of the project.

This article discusses the process of developing a PAR project with different groups over a sustained period of time, reviews the results of from the overall project, and the impact of PAR on the participants. In addition to engaging residents and taking action to change their communities, the project also had critical impacts on the development of individual and collective voices of residents. The increased popularity of PAR has led to the name being coopted and used in ways that fail to address the structures that oppress and marginalize people (Fals-Borda, 2006; Reason, 1994). The article refocuses the utilization of PAR to address issues of inequality and oppression on behalf of marginalized groups, through the work of Paulo Freire and Orlando Fals-Borda, who were instrumental spreading PAR to international audiences.

Literature Review

By placing research and methods in the hands of those most directly affected, PAR attempts to democratize knowledge production and utilization in addressing and attempting to change local problems (Appadurai, 2006; Fals-Borda & World Congress of Participatory Convergence in Knowledge, 1998; Fals-Borda, 1987; McTaggart, 1991, 1997; Schensul, Berg, Schensul, & Sydlo, 2004; Schensul, Berg, & Williamson, 2008). The roots of PAR go back to social scientists seeking alternative approaches to traditional social science approaches and ways to create change through action research (Lewin, 1946; McTaggart, 1997). In the traditional model, the objective researcher conducts research on subjects in communities and returns to the university to reap benefits by publishing research in obscure journals, while the research subjects would neither read, hear about, nor benefit from the research (Blakey, 1999). …

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