There has been a growing interest in community-engaged research across fields and industries. This part of the eLearning hopes to open provocations around the community-as-research frame: to interrogate what is assumed, self-defined and imposed on communities in relation to power. This module will also look at considerations you should take when looking to undertake community engaged research.
Communities is a word often used, sometimes they occur naturally or evolve with no preset plan yet communities are also identified by those wishing to challenge or change those plans. Community-led practice specifically puts community at the forefront of the process(es), whereas, community-engaged involves participation of community but this could look a number of different ways, a common example is co-design.
What does community mean in your context? What communities are you a part of in your daily life? What constitutes communities? On what grounds can intentional communities be framed or constructed?
What is community?
What community/s do you consider yourself a part of?
How might your practice (be it research or arts) shift when identifying for, with, or as community?
How might critical community frame enable us to rethink methodologies of practice, rather than looking to community as simply a group to apply research to, make object of groups of people, capture and extract from?
What might this mean for understanding community-led research as well as thinking about the intentionally of community-engaged research and the why of community engaged research? What sites of encounter are you creating? On what terms? What part of a process are you expecting community to be part of? An important shift to begin community work is to shift from ‘where do I find communities’ or I want to work with ‘x’ community to your positionality, relationality and intention.
Listen to how Hoang thinks about it.
So we hope this first step is less about reproducing the problematic pathways of ‘finding’ a community and thus constructing, enforcing or demanding such in doing so. It’s about not what community but how community, and hopefully applicable to those with lived-experience, or working as community. Moving away from the idea of capturing and extracting.
Community engaged research is not just a translation exercise at the end of the project. There is so much participatory, decolonial and institutional critique possible through community engaged research yet it is not a full proof methodology and still subject to the extractive methods of research and in some cases even instrumentalised to justify upholding power.
WATCH With that in mind I’d like to share a poem by interdisciplinary artist Grada Kilombra “while I write” or in this case why community research. Also note that ‘self’ here is the collective self.
TASK write 200-500 words, similar to the video above, as a form of mini-manifesto that speaks to why you research/wish to research in this way?
In order to understand the limitations and possibilities of community as frame lets delve into what others have said. Have a think about what each of these processes might mean for a model or process of working.
Miranda Joseph in Against the Romance of Community unpacks how membership of community seems to involve being in negotiation about the terms of inclusion in that community. They also note that participation in this negotiation is what defines community rather than ‘community’ that kind of pre-exists that in some way.
“But the questions of belonging and power that identity-political invocations of community produce are not always framed as questions of purity or authenticity. Many participants in identity-political movements have recognized that rather than simply referring to an existing collectively, invocations of community attempt to naturalize and mobilize such a collectivity: on both left and right community is deployed to lower consciousness of difference, hierarchy, and oppression within the invoked group. And thus the questions, the resistances, offered in response to incitements to community can be and often are framed as smart questions about tactics and strategy. Sophisticated participants will ask, who wants to know? Before labeling themselves, before, for instance, identifying themselves as a “targeted minority”: in a given bureaucratic context. The presence of such antifoundationalist, strategic approaches within identity-political movements suggest that such move-ments cannot simply be dismissed as “essentialist” and in fact, nothing that struggles over boundaries, over what one of my interviewees termed “ownership “of the community, may actually be constitutive of identity-political movements, as a number of theorist have attempted to redefine community to include all who participate in the constitutive battles whether with the acceptance of or resistance to the implied parameters and duties of communal membership.” (2002, p.xxiv)
In the text Research is Ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods Shaw Wilson describes community as relationality.
“It’s collective, it’s a group, it’s a community. and I think that’s the basis for relationality. That is, it’s built upon the interconnections, the interrelationships, and that binds the group…but its more than human relationships. and maybe the basis of that relationship among Indigenous people is the land. It’s our relationship to the land. There’s a spiritual connection to the land. So, it’s all those things” (2008, p. 80).
Wilson goes on to talk about relations with people, relations with environment and land, relations with the cosmos and finally relation with ideas.
Jonas Staal in Community as Commitment provides a perspective of community as commitment and world making rather than postcode in terms of locale. The article unpacks how allyship and ethics might be understood. Read article here.
Refering to Miranda Joseph’s quote on community as negotiation – think of a moment you’ve asked ‘who wants to know’?
Linda Tuwhiwai Smith in Decolonizing Methodologies: research and Indigenous people (1999) offers the provocation of whether one is advancing the academic field or if one is engaging in the work with community in mind and at the centre.
“Community-engaged practice is not an art form. It’s not an add on. It’s a way of working: a deep collaboration between practitioners and communities to develop outcomes specific to that relationship, time and place.” (The Relationship is the Project 2020, p.9).
For some examples of how community engaged practices have worked at the intersection of creative practice check out these projects:
ViệtSpeak’s Small Axe Forum’s produced by Hoang Tran Nguyen
In-conversation Tasmin Sammak and Folole Tupuola on creating a children’s picture book
All in all, community engaged practices will look different from project to project, as one changes one works with /alongside groups in different ways and as priorities change with time. There is no one right answer, which make this kind of work so complicated, so nuanced, so frustrating and yet so enriching.
“I cannot provide for myself and others “the answer.” Nonetheless, when faced with the complexity of social processes as I find them, I have to refuse, can only fail, to satisfy the desire for such a programmatic conclusion. As Eve Sedgwick might say, we cannot know, it is in fact crucial not to know, in advance, where the practice of community might offer effective resistance and where it might be an unredeemable site of cooptation, hegemony, and oppressive reiteration of norms. What we can do though, and must do, is bring our experience to bear; that is, we can try to learn from our mistakes by equipping ourselves with the analytic tools to read the implications of our practices”. (Joseph 2002,p.xxv)
The term in community is used in all kinds of ways. It really does come back to our own participation in it and our own experience in many modes of community which perhaps allows us to build more robust collations which the term community might offer us.
Tuck, E (2009), ‘Suspending damage: a letter to communities’, Harvard Educational Review, vol. 79, no. 2009, pp. 409-427
ViệtSpeak (2022) Growing up bilingual in Australia – việtspeak podcast, ViệtSpeak – Vietnamese Bilingual Advocacy – Our voices must be heard. Available at: https://vietbilingual.org/podcast/
Wilson, S. (2008) “Chapter 5 ‘Relations with Ideas’ ,” in Research is ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods. Black Point, Nova Scotia: Fernwood Publishing.
Wilson, S. (2008) “Chapter 5 ‘On Accountability’ ,” in Research is ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods. Halifax: Fernwood Pub.