Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Community-Based Participatory Research and the Co-Construction of Community Knowledge

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Community-Based Participatory Research and the Co-Construction of Community Knowledge

Article excerpt

A community-based orientation (Murphy, 2014) promotes a phenomenological view of a community as a lebenswelt or "life-world" (Schutz & Luckmann, 1973), which is an interpretive realm formed by community members' beliefs about their histories, norms, and values. What is recognized is that human action, rather than objective knowledge, is key for identifying a community (Butcher, 2007). With dualism undermined, a community is therefore not a thing. Through participation and interpersonal confirmation between members, particularly dialogue, a community is created and sustained (Buber, 1965). In this sense, discourse is a community, and language is essential for understanding its reality.

All that is known about a community, including its values and assumptions, is thus obtained through language (Lyotard, 1984). Accordingly, knowledge of a community is never encountered, but constructed via a social process of recognition and coordination of action (Gergen, 2009). And given this intersubjective engagement (Buber, 1970), a community should not be considered to have objective parameters.

But how, exactly, is knowledge socially constructed and revealed in community-based projects? This article addresses this question by focusing on the use of narratives to understand a community (Andrews, Squire, & Tamboukou, 2013). First, the importance of stories for gaining insight into a community's reality is presented, followed by an examination of how this information should be accessed and engaged. The principles of Community-based Participatory Research (CBPR) that are consistent with this narrative approach are then discussed. Next, reflexivity is described to be the key for reading properly a community's story (Murphy & Schlaerth, 2014a). Finally, the conclusion points to the cooperative component of knowledge creation.

Knowledge and Narrative

Realism is passe in community-based work. Consistent with the principle of participation, epistemological assumptions are at the root of a community. Human action, accordingly, is essential to differentiating fact from fiction. A community is thus not objective and necessarily associated with empirical referents. Local knowledge, instead, is a product of these assumptions and viewed to be constructed.

When constructivism is invoked, however, a community may consist of multiple realities (Guba & Lincoln, 1994). Rooted in relativism, a community begins to reflect a confluence of perspectives that provide both harmony and conflict. In this way, a community may be difficult to identify but is not ethereal. The presence of multiple perspectives does not necessarily obscure the reality of a community.

But this rejection of objectivity does not imply that a community must be viewed subjectively. The problem with subjectivity is that this position ultimately treats community knowledge as something that can be grasped directly, if the proper sensitivity is operative. Given the linguistic turn (Lyotard, 1984), however, everything is known indirectly through speech and must be enticed into the open. Nothing, even subjectivity, escapes interpretation and is readily encountered.

According to Heidegger (1962), discourse is poetic. What he means is that language can be interpreted in many ways, and, moreover, speech does not have a logical structure or parameters that allow reality to be mimicked in a precise way. Knowledge, therefore, based solely on culture, communication, or some other manifestation of human action is never readily apparent. Rather than relying on the "representational thesis" that assumes the world can be reflected by language, dialogue is needed to ensure a common understanding of reality (Rorty, 1979).

In light of this emphasis on language, a community-based framework (Butcher, 2007) recognizes that intersubjectivity and reflexivity are necessary to construct, and understand, the reality of a community (Delanty, 2010). …

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