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Collaborative Research Invites Partnership and Empowerment

Monday, February 12, 2018   (0 Comments)
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Bonnie Bade and Noemi Jara, CSU San Marcos Anthropology Department

 

Bonnie and Noemi are presenting on this topic at NWRPCA's Western Forum for Migrant and Community Health

 

In the Anthropology Laboratory at Cal State San Marcos, members of the indigenous migrant community of San Jerónimo gather to meet with students to share their migration and work histories. The community belongs to the Coalition of Indigenous Oaxacan Communities, a grass roots organization dedicated to raising awareness about the cultural and economic contributions of indigenous migrant families in San Diego County. Doña Rosa tells her story about working the avocado groves in North County and how she fell off a ladder and injured her arm. Students listen and write intently as she describes her current work as a room cleaner in a local hotel. Her colleagues, also working with student researchers, are telling their stories while everyone eats the delicious mole brought to the class by the San Jerónimo community. Their wish is to share their stories to create a book, so that others may learn about the lives of migrant workers and the valuable roles they play in the local economy. The community expresses concern that the current anti-immigrant climate is due in part to a lack of information about migrants and what they do, so they requested that the research we do with them produce a book they can use as cultural capital. Rosa laughs while explaining to students how to grind chili to make mole, a spicy traditional sauce from the Mixtec region of Oaxaca, Mexico.[1]

 

COCIO Group

 

In the areas of research surrounding migrant and farmworker communities, a new paradigm, Collaborative Anthropology, promotes partnership and empowerment. Collaborative anthropology involves long-term community-based research projects with community partners living regionally. Fundamental to the collaborative anthropology method is that research— the topics to be examined, the purpose of the research, the data resulting from the research, and the organization and presentation of the results of the research—are determined collaboratively, with the needs and priorities of the community directing the goals of the researchers. Depending on the site of the researchers, appropriate community partners for collaborative anthropological research projects might include farmworker and other occupationally based communities, grassroots organizations, indigenous migrant associations, health care agencies, tribal communities, nonprofit philanthropy organizations, and health/social service agencies. The Collaborative Research Method trains new researchers in research methods that are mindful, relevant, ethical and sustainable.

In collaborative research the collaborating community is transformed from the role of subject to that of participating collaborators[2]. The objective of collaborative anthropology is to promote complementary exchange of resources to examine global phenomena as it happens locally and to generate on-the-ground cultural, social, political, and economic tools to address issues of health and community well-being. Thus Collaborative anthropology ensures the relevance of the research to the community under investigation.

 

The appropriate model for collaborative research unites the education of new researchers with the purpose of qualitative and quantitative research and the needs of the local community. A pragmatic approach recognizes the needs and priorities of the parties engaged in collaborative research projects, namely the researcher, the community, and the university or public/private agency whom the researcher represents.  For example, the researcher working at a university or health agency has specific needs that must be met when conducting research. These needs involve the researcher’s professional career and include performance expectations from the academic discipline and the university/institution/agency. The community collaborators have needs that can be met through engagement with the researchers, needs which might include cultural preservation, cultural revitalization and promotion, political and economic recognition, health and health care, general well being and human rights, and establishment or fortification of a regional and therefore global presence.  At the same time, the needs of the university or public/private agency, such as the education of students, promotion of image through community engagement, name recognition, and marketability to funding sources are met through collaborative research projects focused on regional communities.

 

The needs of the researcher, university/agency, and community are united by the students or agency workers conducting the research who gain a meaningful learning experience in the field with the community. Each participating entity brings to the table valuable resources applicable to the execution of the research design, implementation, analysis, write up and distribution. The researcher brings qualitative and quantitative research training, acts as teacher/trainer to students and other participants, and serves as a liaison between the community and local health/social service agencies. The community research partner brings the resources of the community, including knowledge bearers, cultural and political leaders, and cultural knowledge involving everything from health to history to organizational models. The institution, such as a health care agency or university, brings technological and monetary resources and access to a work force, such as students and agency workers.

 

The students are central, linking the other three partners in the research project through labor and because many are from the community itself. In collaborative research projects like the documentation of Mixtec traditional recipes and the health benefits of ingredients (see Figure 1), many of the students themselves are Mixtec, studying aspects of their own community in the context of a collaborative research project, participating in the generation of cultural capital, and contributing to the shape that cultural capital takes and how it is used.

 

 

Figure 1. CSUSM students working with members of Universidad Popular to document health benefits of traditional recipes.

 

 

The Collaborative Anthropological Method consciously seeks to cultivate an approach to research that places the researcher’s goals in line with the interests and needs of community collaborators.  Field research in migrant and local communities takes time and, even when participants are compensated, becomes tiresome to the community if not linked to tangible outcomes that are accessible and useful to the community. Collaborative Anthropology is mindful of the historic role of researchers in the lives of indigenous and other communities and that much research knowledge generation has occurred in the context of a continued colonial mentality in which the researcher extracts resources—cultural knowledge, demographic data, etc.—from the community in the form of qualitative and quantitative data. Without the cultivation of collaborative links with the community, researchers can damage the prospects of future research with a community when their research projects involve a helicopter approach that dips into the community for resources (information), extracts those resources, and then disappears from community view as the results are published in journals and periodicals that do not advocate change or produce tangible effects from the perspective of the studied community. Regional and transnational migrant communities in the U.S. are technologically and culturally sophisticated, engaging to promote their interests and needs via acquisition of non-profit status, celebration of culture and history, advocacy for social, economic, and cultural justice, and social media. Purposeful collaboration deconstructs the hierarchical structure in which research and the production of research knowledge takes place. Additionally, it provides multiple perspectives to research and ensures more accurate data. The Collaborative Anthropology Method is relevant, mindful, reciprocal, sustainable, and ethical and has great potential to inform and drive research initiatives related to migrant and underserved communities. It is guided by the needs of the community and purposely incorporates the resources and voice of all participating collaborators.

 

Bonnie Bade

 



[1] The authors wish to thank COCIO, Universidad Popular, the National Latino Research Center, the CSUSM Anthropology Department, and the many migrant families who have collaborated with us across the years. Some elements of this article are elaborated and previously published in “Full Circle: The Method of Collaborative Anthropology for Regional and Transnational Research,” in Migration and Health: A Research Methods Handbook, Marc Shenker and Xochitl Castañeda Eds. University of California Press, co-authored with Konane Martinez, 2014.

 

[2] Collaborative anthropology differs from community-based participatory research (CBPR) CBPR in that it employs a holistic approach, taking into account the ways in which history, economics, politics, religion, kinship, gender, ethnicity, and class impact all aspects of human life. Further, a collaborative anthropology project, by its location in a university or social service agency, is uniquely positioned to establish and sustain longitudinal research in local communities. CBPR projects can wax and wane within a community depending on funding availability, research priorities of both funders and researchers, and the inherent structure and timeline of any intervention. A collaborative anthropology research program makes a long-term commitment to work with the community with or without funding, making sustainability of partnerships possible.

 

 

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