Who cares what the locals think

How do we begin to move a community towards sustainability? What role can locals play in shaping their own futures? Surely the lead role. Surely the vast majority of control. Surely their voice, words and actions are preeminent. Local solutions to locally defined problems, in words that are locally not just understood, but acted upon.

But how well do we understand the issues. How prominent are issues of global warming, peak oil, sustainable agriculture and fishing or food miles etc. As individuals perhaps, but a collective perspective?

What are the benefits to reaching outside, harvesting the expertise of others, whether resources, concepts or skills. Experts. I’ve noticed a willingness of others to place their trust in the expertise of officials, guru’s, paid workers or lofty titled individuals, even over their own common sense.

I remember a discussion some time back about the founding “fathers” of sociology. Comte, Durkenhiem, Marx and Weber were the four mentioned. All these Men! contributed to the present understanding of what sociology is. Their ideas and concepts are the foundations that we use to understand modern society. I could see the relevance of their ideas and the need to understand them but I kept returning to a point in my head that its not just the theory that is important but equally relevant is how it is used (or abused) thereafter.

Even a working class man creating theories and/or developing methods of working to allow for social change can only control what is developed in as far as they have some power over it. The reality is that these methods will almost certainly be employed by others for their purposes.

People from different social class – experiences, values, expectations, would use and interpret any sociological research method in relation to their own experiences. They have this notion of being neutral or that they can stand aside from the research but can they?

Ok so apparently this is where research ethics comes charging in to the rescue. The idea being that you put it all out there on the page, where you are coming from, opinions, limits, expectations etc so that the reader can make a considered opinion on your perspective and thus be in a greater position to interpret your research. I have real issues with this though. I mean we can claim anything, pretend to be as honest as we like, but we all carry baggage, issues we are not even aware of, prejudices that we have been reared with. These just don’t get swept aside with an ability to write down a statement of ethics. These emotions /feelings so inherent within these prejudices can take years of working through.

I like the idea though that researchers can be active participants in the project and that they can be promoters and encouragers of solutions. But I have a hang up about say an American coming to Ireland and living amongst a community for a few years and defining the communities problems. I have problems about my own ability to do this elsewhere.

If people want to seriously do social or community research then why not enable local communities to do it themselves, interpret it themselves and define their own solutions, put them into practice and evaluate the outcomes, redefining solutions in light of achievements and difficulties.

Local research of locally defined problems generating local solutions.

I like this notion. I like it for my own concept of what effective community research could be and do. Outsiders do have a role. I acknowledge the ability, experience and knowledge of outside expertise. I can see the need for technical advice, possibly funding, certainly the need to sell outcomes that would require county council approval, govt departments buy in etc. But this outside influence should not create a dependant relationship. It should be at least equal, mutually respectful and recognise the strengths and abilities on both sides. At best it should be firmly rooted in the community being researched and controlled therein too.

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