Our guest today is Dr. Andrea Cornwall. Dr. Cornwall is a political anthropologist who specializes in the anthropology of democracy in participatory research, gender justice and sexuality, and citizen participation. Her work focuses on what needs to change to give those affected by decisions, a voice in those very decisions, particularly focusing on the rights of women and sexual minorities. She calls for "troubling masculinities" in PAR, expecting powerful men to examine how their doing of masculinity impacts and informs their PAR. Dr. Cornwall has written and worked extensively on the issues of participatory approaches to transform relationships of knowledge and power, and this is from and in participatory development, participatory rural appraisal, participatory action research. You can find a more comprehensive bio and a partial publications list on our companion website, parfemtrailblazers.net as well as a link to a magnificent Wikipedia entry about Andrea.
In this episode, Pat and Andrea discuss Andrea’s work, struggles, successes, bringing participatory values and ways of being to PAR, and we hope that these conversations really help all of us re-vision a participatory and action research that's deeply informed by intersectional feminisms.
This episode is brought to you by host Patricia Maguire and is produced by Vanessa Gold. Music is by ZakharValaha from Pixabay.
Participatory Action Research – Feminist Trailblazers and Good Troublemakers Podcast with Andrea Cornwall & Host Patricia Maguire
Episode 5 – Nov 29, 2022; Transcript revision and end note* 12-6-2022
[00:00:00] Patricia Maguire - Welcome. You're listening to the Participatory Action Research Feminist Trailblazers Podcast. I'm your host, Patricia Maguire. I'm a long-time advocate of feminist- informed, participatory, and action research. Our podcast amplifies the contributions of early feminist trailblazers, and to use John Lewis's term- good troublemakers - to participatory and action research.
Our guest today is Andrea Cornwall. We're going to discuss her work, struggles, successes, bringing participatory values and ways of being to PAR, and we hope that these conversations really help all of us re-vision a participatory and action research that's deeply informed by intersectional feminisms.
Andrea, before I get started, I want to say welcome.
Andrea Cornwall - Thank you very much. It's a privilege to be here.
Patricia Maguire - It's great to have you. Let me do a brief introduction. Dr. Cornwall is a political anthropologist who specializes in the anthropology of democracy in participatory research, gender justice and sexuality, and citizen participation.
[00:01:16] She has written and worked extensively on the issues of participatory approaches to transform relationships of knowledge and power, and this is from and in participatory development, participatory rural appraisal, participatory action research. So overall, her work focuses on what needs to change to give those affected by decisions, a voice in those very decisions, particularly focusing on the rights of women and sexual minorities.
Now just describing her accomplishments could fill up the whole interview. So let me highlight a few things. While at the Institute of Development Studies with colleagues Elizabeth Harrison and Anne Whitehead, Andrea convened leaders in the gender and development field to reflect critically on the gender agenda in development, and particularly to examine feminist approaches to development, to critique those.
Later as the head of Sussex University School of Global Studies and Professor in Global Development, she worked to decolonize the way international development is taught, and we're going to circle back to that later.
And then particularly, I like that as the Deputy Pro Vice Chancellor for Equalities and Diversity at the University of Sussex, she's been described as “an activist bureaucrat.” She came back to the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies where she first studied. She came back as Pro Director Research and Enterprise, and she's now at Kings College London as Professor of Global Development and Anthropology. Now you can find a more comprehensive bio and a partial publications list on our companion website, parfemtrailblazers.net, and you'll find a magnificent Wikipedia entry about Andrea.
[00:03:14] So let's get started. It seems to me that many feminists in participatory action research started out in international development and then that brought them over to or introduced them to participatory action research. So tell us some about your journey from participatory development, particularly women and gender and development to participatory action research. How did those fields converge for you?
[00:03:39] Andrea Cornwall - Well I started doing participatory research before I knew it was called participatory research and before I knew that there was a field that was gender and development. Because I was a teacher in a school in southern Zimbabwe and a lot of were getting pregnant in the school and elsewhere, people were talking about, you know, these young girls. They're getting pregnant; what, what can we do about it?
I went to go and talk to their mothers. And their mothers first of all said, Well, we don't talk to our girls about sex. It's the aunts that talk to them about sex and they've stopped talking to them about sex because they keep on having sex all the time. And so we think it's encouraging them; it's making it worse. And they, but then they asked me, because I was a white person, I was the only white woman living in, in that kind of area. They said, you know, but we're taking these pills and they're making us feel really unwell. Can you explain what's happening?
[00:04:40] So I began this project, which was to find out from them, what they understood the pills to be doing in their body. These are the contraceptive pills. And their understandings of how they worked in their body were really different to the way that biomedicine describes the pill and describes reproduction.
It's their own knowledge which they'd acquired by feeling how they felt in their body, and also by dissecting animals, preparing them for cooking. They, many of them hadn't been to school. And I began to realize that the stylized version that's taught in family planning is so far away from any of our experiences of how our bodies actually feel.
And I developed a way of working inspired by an anthropologist called Carol McCormack of getting people to draw pictures of what was in their body, and then to use those versions of the body as a way of explaining what the pill does, because there's, there was no way I could explain in terms of hormones. All the kind of scientific explanation just didn't really make any sense. And so I began to do this work and I began to do advocacy around the lack of information being given to people, that women were not making informed choices. And I began to find out about the extent to which those that lack of informed choice was going on.
[00:05:54] I ended up being investigated for the work that I was doing because I brought it to the attention of an international organization. And some people came down from the, the capital city to investigate me. And when they saw the pictures that women had drawn, they just laughed and went away. And that was also part of it for me, is the derision and lack of respect that's given to people's own knowledge of their own bodies and the kind of attitude that, you know, these are just folk beliefs. That these are just, you know, these people are uneducated. And so that brought out a kind of anger in me about who, whose knowledge counts, who gets to be known to be a knower? Why couldn't women have the right to their own knowledge?
Why can't we negotiate the forms of knowledge that we have from a place that we're recognizing other people's knowledges? And so that took me into international development through a very particular and very amazing and wonderful person. Particularly because he's been such a driving force behind participatory methods, Robert Chambers.
[00:06:57] So he got to find out about this technique, and I called it body mapping. And he invited me to one of his amazing workshops where people would just gather and talk about methods, participatory methods. And so I got swept up in his enthusiasm and he put me in touch with lots of people. And before I knew I was working in participatory development and knew what that word, all those words meant. I came to gender and development much later, once I was actually in working in development.
[00:07:24] Patricia Maguire - Let's talk about that, of what then, how you, I mean, because that sounds like you were already on the road in gender and development and participation and participatory methods. So, where'd you go next?
[00:07:40] Andrea Cornwall - Well, I started working at the Institute of Development Studies with Robert Chambers and also with John Gaventa who has done amazing work around power and participatory research. So these two people were really, really important to me and they got me thinking and talking a lot about power. About, you know, powering the process of the production of knowledge.
But it did seem to me to be a real need at that moment, to be looking at, you know, who, who counted as the community, who was being part of these participatory exercises when I came across your work Pat and was very inspired by that as well. Sort of the feminist critique, I think, of the ways in which participatory research at that point had been heavily dominated by men. And then the ways in which some of these methods, these participatory methods had been used in such a way that there was no reflection on the fact that if men used the methods, then the people they're going to talk to are probably men. And they're going to not necessarily take women's knowledge seriously.
[00:08:40] There was a colleague who was very influential, the work that they did showing that participatory methods are poor at recognizing gender difference. And my critique of that was actually, it's the people who are poor at using them rather than the methods themselves. But I could see that the field needed a much stronger critical perspective on all dimensions of difference and particularly gender difference, because there were versions of the community being used as if the community was a single thing, and the dominant voices that you could hear in the community were not located as dominant, they were just seen as the community's voices.
So that gender perspective became really important to say, well, who's speaking? Who's not being heard? And that very much connected with my feminism, which was very much about voice, about not being taken seriously, not being heard, not having the space for voice as a woman myself, but also I could see that was happening to other women.
[00:09:37] And so the need to develop a way of working with these participatory methods that respected the fact that actually when you put the community together, particularly in highly patriarchal context, you won't hear the voices of women. They'll be silent or silenced. And so I began to make those connections between a feminist perspective inspired by you and inspired by also the feminist conversations I was being part of in other spaces.
[00:10:03] And then by looking at participatory methods and their liberating and transformatory character and thinking, you can't really get transformation if you don't start addressing these kinds of dimensions of difference, which are so powerful and so deeply rooted in people's understandings of themselves in the world. And so, that was where I made those, those kinds of connections and started to work more with people in the field of gender and development.
And from that, I then, I'm an anthropologist by training and I began to be quite critical in that field of some very stereotype views, particularly around men, but also around women - the predominance of a very, very rigid gender binary and assumptions about women that were being reproduced by the very people who were promoting women's engagement, women's participation, women in development. And so that's where the work with Buzz Harrison and Annie Whitehead came out of, is the kind of critique of those myths around gender that are mobilized to try to make an argument for gender, but they end up reproducing a set of binaries and a set of assumptions that come from a very particular historical period and a particular part of the world - which is the global north and are visited on the global south and end up with lots of effects in terms of disempowerment.
[00:11:20] Patricia Maguire - What I want to circle back to is you said that at the time you were being influenced and working in, I guess one might say the feminist movement in other spaces. And what were some of those spaces? I mean, how did you bring together your feminist values and beliefs to participatory research?
[00:11:42] Andrea Cornwall - I think some of those other spaces, so some women-only spaces where I was meeting with other women - I'm talking about discrimination we were facing, talking about the ways in which we've been brought up to think of, I suppose in some ways feminist consciousness raising, not so deep, and by another name we never referred to it as such. But you know, what was things like for us as women inside academia? What were things like that we could see in our field work where issues of gender were not being taken seriously or where we'd put our hand up in a seminar and it'd be like, Oh, well she goes off again. You know, it's the gender lady talking about, she always raises these questions, and it's like, oh, it's boring. As an academic, we are in those spaces, heavily male-dominated spaces. Development studies was then and still is the remains in some ways a space where it is quite dominated by men and dominated by a perspective that doesn't look at difference particularly easily.
[00:12:28] I think now it's much more about race than about gender in terms of what doesn't get looked or taken seriously, and that's a whole other conversation. So for me that was part of it. There was also my activism. So I was involved in various kinds of activism. One was around abortion rights and about the right to abortion, and I worked in the clinic. I worked together with other feminists about the importance for us having the right to make decisions about our own bodies, and that was a very powerful space in terms of contesting other people's appropriation of our bodies.
I also was involved in at different points of AIDS activism. So again, in that situation it was about women not being seen. There was a slogan we used to chant, “AIDS is a disaster. Women are dying faster.” Because women weren't getting any access to any of the treatments and trials. We didn't want to deny anybody else access to it, but there was a gender dimension to all of that, which was important, let alone the dimension around the ways in which gay men were being treated by the medical establishment, which also, shot through with gender.
[00:13:28] So I guess it was those activist spaces and then the academic activism coming together and being in a space in the Institute of Development studies with Robert and John and others who joined us in that space. It was a very creative space. A lot of people came to join us from around the world. So we were able to have really good conversations with people, which also opened up that space a bit more, so we'd have these big convenings. So I came to meet lots of people who were engaged as well with feminist issues. And were who part of that dialogue as well on participatory research.
[00:14:00] Patricia Maguire – Over time you worked on projects such as you talked about this earlier, contraception from a women's point of view, indigenous medical knowledge and women's experiences of infertility, and sexually transmitted diseases in Nigeria and Zimbabwe, the rights of sex workers in India, domestic workers in Brazil.
A lot of our listeners are really hungry for *details of that sort of “how to” of PAR and, and you talked a little bit about that earlier with the body mapping work you were doing, the use of the creative arts. Give us some more examples of how you were able to use your intersectional feminist lens on PAR projects. What that would look like? (see note below – 12-6-2022)
[00:14:45] Andrea Cornwall - One example maybe from the work with domestic workers in Brazil. So I came to work with domestic workers in Brazil because I had an email from some Brazilian activist colleagues who said that the leader of the domestic workers movement had no money to live on, had no salary.
[00:15:03] Domestic workers are really poorly paid, as everybody knows, and so paying dues to a union is really difficult. So the union had very little money and they said, “Did I have any project that she could get involved in?” And I said, “Well, you know, I don't really have a project as such for her to get involved in, but why don't we hire her as a research assistant to a project that she would make herself?” And then she can design that project and go out and do interviews for that project, gather those interviews herself and use them for the movement. And so we created an opportunity for her to do that. So she became a researcher. We used the term research assistant because that was the means through which she could be paid.
[00:15:43] And she went off and got really into it. Interviewed loads of people all over the place. She interviewed people in Brazil, but also on her international visits. She was the leader of the Brazilian Domestic Workers Movement - Creuza Oliveira. And she was amazing. I mean, just got really excited about asking questions herself because she had asked her questions when she was younger and starting as an activist, she was experiencing all of the racism and discrimination and visibility that her struggle as an activist came to be framed by. And so she could talk to people from a proximity of lived experience, but also had a real activist passion to get their stories told.
So she inquired particularly into sexual abuse and sexual violence particularly a lot of that happens in context where women have got no recourse and they're actually in the homes of the people who are perpetrating the violence. So I took that up as an issue, created some evidence around it that she could use for advocacy.
[00:16:43] And out of that project, which became, you know, it became an advocacy project rather than a research project as such, a piece of it, which I really loved the work that we did on was on photography. And that came about by, just by sheer serendipity. I was in a camera shop buying a lens for my camera, and they had a sale of instant cameras. So I bought a big bag of them and I took them, I was going to Brazil. I took them on a trip to Brazil and I said, Look, can we find a way of using these? Wouldn't it be cool if we had an opportunity for domestic workers to take pictures of their lives and use it as a kind of Photo Voice, Freirean kind of creating codes, looking at the photographs and analyzing them, and then thinking about how they represent their own lives and how they're represented.” And it could be a really interesting project and might be a fun project and also something for the movement because it would provide a set of representations that maybe could be used for advocacy. Anyway, that's my imagination going off as I'm getting this big bag of cameras. And I take them to Brazil and with colleagues in the University of Bahia. They wanted to do a project where they brought a photographer and the photographer taught women to take photographs, and they developed a kind of skill in taking photographs rather than just give these cameras out in a kind of one-off thing, which was a really important part of the process. So they ran a series of workshops with a photographer, training women in taking images, bringing the images back, getting them developed and looking at them.
[00:18:06] We went from having little throwaway cameras to having cheap digital cameras. People could share the images. The throwaway cameras were cameras had to be developed. So it gave people much more access to the images and a chance to look and reframe. Through these workshops they used this photography as a way to talk about the conditions of work, to talk about representations and about racism and about classism, and about all of the stuff that was to do with the way that their lives were represented by others and what mattered to them themselves.
[00:18:35] It was a very powerful project and what came out of it was an exhibition which was hosted in a gallery in the middle of town in Salvador Bahia, and it was called Revealed Cities. And it was, the idea was cities that people live in, that actually there are loads of bits of the city that people who live in the richer parts of the city never get to see.
And they're also areas of their own houses that they don't necessarily view things through because they have servants’ quarters that they don't go into, these very, very cramped, small spaces that servants are meant to live. And so it was a story both of the areas through from which women were commuting into the rich areas, but also from inside out, from the places that they were given as places to sleep and to work.
[00:19:19] So I like the project because it was very creative. Each stage got people thought about, “Well, what do we do next?” It was very participatory in that regard. But also, it was strongly aligned to a movement and it was generative of insight into the conditions that people are under, getting them to create a space to have leisure as well as a space for organizing.
[00:19:43] So part of it was the pleasure of taking photographs. And some of the things that came out as well, very much for me, strongly part of what participatory research is all about - is people beginning to reframe their own lives and see themselves differently.
So one of the things that moved me most when I talked to the people involved in the project was one woman. She said, “Well, I've become a photographer now. This is who I am.” And that the project had given her an opportunity to be creative and to find that in herself, and then to reframe her identity because she came to see herself as somebody who could take pictures. So that it had, for me, lots of kind of key elements of participatory research in that way.
[00:20:15] Patricia Maguire - In that way, I think you're one of the, you might be the main voice if not among some of the main voices who've been examining men and masculinities in participatory development and participatory research. And when you were at some point in gender and development, you called for a new masculinities agenda. What would that focus on what does that focus on masculinities and in combination with your feminisms? What does that mean for PAR?
[00:20:55] Andrea Cornwall - I think there is, I've never been part of a conversation with participatory research practitioners where they focused, where the men in the room focused on their own gender and on the impact that their gender had on the ways in which they worked as a facilitator, were part of participatory exercises.
[00:21:13] I was once part of a very powerful experience where we brought together about 50 participatory development practitioners in a retreat. We were looking at the history of participatory rural appraisal, and one of the women in the group said one of the men in the room had sexually harassed her, and everybody froze.
[00:21:31] And we had this extraordinary departure from this otherwise very kind of, you know, the workshop was going on. People were talking about the methods and so on. And then suddenly whoomph, there's this thing in our midst and it's all about gender and it's about violence and it's about threat and it's about masculinity, and that was a very powerful experience.
[00:21:51] We talked about what that meant in terms of our own ethics, in terms of our own principles, what knowing that somebody in the room had sexually harassed somebody else in the room, what that meant for us as practitioners in terms of our ways of being. And there was a term I remember that somebody came up with a Spanish term, I can't pronounce it properly, but the idea of being a person of consequence, a person who follows through, person who can hold themselves to account is a very important moment in lots of ways, because it related metaphorically to lots of the practices in participatory development at the time.
[00:22:24] But at no point did we reflect on the varieties of masculinity and about masculinity and power in the movement itself, even though obviously it's associated with sexual harassment. So for me that was a missing conversation. But also, as I had mentioned earlier, something I found really frustrating in the gender and development space was a set of kind of assumptions about men - where men were framed as being the problem, you know, men were being regarded as being all the same and, and, you know, women could do better without men or men are always getting in the way. And when women are trying to do things progressively and it just didn't match with my experience. I knew quite a lot of really progressive men, John and Robert, amongst them.
[00:23:03] You know, I've been around these very positive, very enabling men. And I knew that this was, this agenda was never going to work if you couldn't get people like them on board. They were on board because they are, you know, really good human beings. But it was the way the gender agenda was framed I thought was quite hostile to men and it stereotyped them And I think it didn't pay attention enough to the ways in which women reproduce particular kinds of masculinity in the ways in which they behave towards men and the way in which they bring up their sons. And so it wasn't troubling masculinity in the way in which I would like it to have been troubled by everybody looking at this and saying, Well, you know, do we want to be like this? Well, not necessarily. So what do we do to change it? Many men don't want to be the kind of macho man that's given in these kind of stereotypes. Lots of men want to stay at home and spend time with their children, not stay at home, give up their jobs, but, you know, have more of a role in care. And in some cultures, it's very difficult to do that because of all the assumptions and stereotypes about it and so on.
[00:24:03] So that's where that came from. And I found a really engaged and interesting group of people who were also troubling these assumptions of men. And they were looking particularly at care and particularly at the personal sort of men's interpersonal relationships. And I, I find it a really interesting space to be in as well, it’s theoretically interesting. It was politically interesting in a way that I think at that time I didn't feel the gender and development debates were particularly either politically or theoretically interesting. They were very kind of stuck in a particular way of thinking that was getting older and older, getting more and more distant from the way people were thinking about gender in the social sciences, in philosophy and so on.
[00:24:41] The other aspect of it, I think as well was that, and I think this is something which is still underemphasized and under nuanced in the masculinities field, which has now become huge , And when I first worked on it with Nancy Lindersfan in the early nineties, you know, you go to the bookshop looking for books about men and masculinities, and there were literally only about three books. I mean, they're now massive, massive loads of articles, loads of books. It's become a massive field, but very little of that field looks at men in power and looks at spaces which are dominated by men, which are powerful spaces. So, for example, the amount of studies that look at masculinity and politics. It's been something I've been complaining about for a long time, but I've only ever seen a few studies that look at masculinity in those domains.
[00:25:24] While there's a lot of studies about men in poverty who are the problem, who then need to be changed. And the root to change is working on their interpersonal relationships and around violence and care, massively important, but it's the men who are in the economy and in politics that are creating the structural conditions that produce poverty. So I guess, I think the area where it would be good to see some more participatory research, if at all possible, is to work with those kinds of groups, the people who are in these positions of structural power, and to use participatory research to disrupt some of the assumptions about masculinity that are going on in those spaces. And I think as a feminist project, that's a really important one.
[00:26:09] Patricia Maguire - Let's talk some about what's happening in the world of participatory action research now. And you alluded to this, where men might be looking at how they do masculinity impacts how they do PAR. I don't see much of that happening, but maybe from your perspective, you see more of that?
[00:26:25] Andrea Cornwall - Never seen any of it, no.
Patricia Maguire - Okay.
Andrea Cornwall - I think it's a missing conversation still. I mean, apart from that conversation I was part of around the sexual harassment incident and that didn't talk about gender, so it's, it's interesting. Gender is something that women do, and it certainly was the case when I was involved, you know, more involved in participatory research.
[00:26:45] It's like doing gender requires then saying, Look, here's a group of men. You know, they will give you the version as if it's from the community, therefore you must talk to women and other minorities because at least then you get to see what they might feel and think. But the idea that you'd look at the men's version as a men's version rather than just a version or the dominant version. And think about the masculinities of the men who are going in and facilitating the dominant version with the men. That's something which didn't seem to be any conversation about. It'd be very interesting to see if that's changed. I feel as if I'm not exposed enough these days to participatory action research communities, but to see the extent to which men working in participatory research are also reflexive about their own masculinities or writing about it.
[00:27:32] Certainly in the masculinities field, we don't see many things being written by people about participatory research. So the links between those two fields are not there in the way in which they were for us very strongly between feminism, gender, and participatory research. So it's quite an interesting question to go off and find out, well, have there been things written? Are people doing things? And if not, why not? And then what can be done about it.
[00:28:00] Patricia Maguire - And from my perspective, I don't see much of that happening. I mean, part of the reason that I called this podcast Participatory Action Research - Feminist Trailblazers, was that it's not about some field over here called Feminist PAR. It's about PAR and intersectional feminists with a focus on gender, race, class, caste. And I think that's a conversation to keep having.
So let's move on a little bit. In an article you wrote, Reclaiming feminism, Gender, and Neocolonialism, you observed that many once activist feminist organizations had become over time depoliticized service providers. [00:28:42] Using that same lens, because I know periodically you teach PAR, you're writing a book now on PAR basics. What's to keep participatory action research from becoming depoliticized?
Andrea Cornwall - It’s a challenge, isn't it? I think the critique in, and you know, there was a group of us looking at some of the thinking from Sonya Alvarez and from others about the NGOization of social movements and the extent to which feminist organizations had been bought in the service of delivery of development and become effectively then subject to a lot of ways of working that were depoliticizing them. From a participatory research point of view, it's, I guess, a similar kind of dynamic could be found where you get people commissioning participatory research.
[00:29:31] They want an orderly kind of participatory research. They don't want anything that questions things too much because they've either decided it needs to sound as if it's soft and fluffy and nice and community oriented for their own rhetoric or because they've been told that participatory research is the right way to do things or whatever reason they might have for commissioning it, which isn't actually wanting to engage people.
[00:29:54] I had an experience which was very formative for me many years ago working on a, a housing estate in London doing participatory research with a brilliant commissioning person from the health promotion agency. She was absolutely wonderful and she saw what I was suggesting that we did and saw it as a radical opportunity.
[00:30:14] But the man who was commissioning GP services didn't think that at all. So the most senior bureaucrat in the room saw the work that we were doing as really disruptive. At a certain point when things started coming out about what was going on this estate and the extent to which people were being mistreated by the medical services, he tried to close the whole thing down and shut me up.
[00:30:37] It was brilliant because even though I was the hired hand, I was commissioned to come in and do it. I just stayed quiet and opened up to the group of researchers because we were working together with people from residence and people in the services and I was like, this is not my research anymore. It's ours. How are you going to shut everybody up? Everybody's seen and heard the stuff that we are looking at. It's a problem and we can't run away from it because it's become visible.
[00:31:03] But that's sort of, there's a question of depoliticization on the one hand is then about commissioning, about what you're hired to do. Maybe a way that we navigate it is by making it really clear in contracts that we have got the right to our own voice. We've got the right to publish the material ourselves. We can't just be bought as a hired hand to kind of do something if we feel that ethical. What's being done is something that needs to be questioned, then we should be able to reserve the right to do that. It's tricky when people's livelihoods depend on it, and I guess the professionalization of participatory research feeds into that.
[00:31:32] Maybe what we need to do as well is when we're training people, and particularly in universities, is that there's a very strong focus on ethics and also some, a focus on what you do. How do you get out of this situation? You know, what if this happens? What if that happens? What would you need to say or do to be able to retain your integrity in a situation where you are being used as a pacifier or you are being used to kind of tick a box without any genuine intention of anything changing.
[00:32:00] And so I guess it's that question of, when people want participatory research, that they're really clear what it is that they're signing up to, and that this kind of terms are set in such a way that they need that in order to work to do participatory research you are able to say to people, this is where it might land up. These are the kinds of things that could happen. And again, doing some scenario development with them as to what would happen if - in order to clear the space for this work to happen.
I think just lastly, one thing which would make participatory research depoliticized is for it to be completely absorbed within the realm of the university and disciplined by being taught on a methodology course. And so taken into that very sort of sometimes sanitized space with all the ethics clearance you need to get and all the kind of bureaucracy there is around research in the university. And I think that's also a great risk to participatory research because it implies an owner. So then the academic needs to take the ownership. That's problematic. There are things around what the academic might be expected to do. They might be expected to publish, sole author journal articles rather than something that's collective or collaborative, maybe don't even get published because they've got too many names on it, because that's the way in which that world works.
[00:33:24] And so the kind of gradual sanitization of participatory research by being sucked into the academy is probably the greatest risk. And I guess at that point, people just need to, I guess, either work inside - outside and, and do the work with community groups that they would want to do anyway. Or again, negotiate, navigate. There's room in I think in academia to break with some of those, the ways of publishing in pay wall journals and publishing as a single individual. But as a very, very strong culture that's linked to rewards and linked to all kinds of other structures to do with the way that academic institutions are run. So again, that's a fight that's got many dimensions to it and it's a tricky one.
Patricia Maguire - I want to circle back to something that I said in the introduction about you that while you were at Sussex University, the School of Global Studies, you said that you worked to decolonize the way that international development was taught.
[00:34:22] Let's talk about what does that mean, and again, to link it to PAR, what does that mean to decolonize the way that PAR is taught?
Andrea Cornwall - So decolonizing the teaching of development studies was something that came connected to participatory research and participatory ways of doing things. In many ways, I think, early participatory research was all about that.
[00:34:44] It was all about enabling people's knowledges. Making it clear that there isn't only one knowledge, questioning dominant ways of framing the world, questioning the kind of attitudes there are towards people who are considered to be ignorant, considered to be other. So some of the roots of the current decolonization conversation are in those, I think in the early conversations about participatory action research.
[00:35:09] But in this particular context and the big push to decolonize our universities has come from the students. It's been really amazing. I found it so inspiring and empowering to be around all of these real activist students saying, this is not how we want to be taught. This is not what we want to be taught. What you are erasing from these versions that you are giving us? Why are you promoting a particular version and view of the world? And so our students were opening up and questioning everything. And for those who got engaged in it, like myself, we’re very excited by what the students were saying. Saying actually, this is a real opening for us to think really critically about how we teach, as well as what we teach and who we teach, and who our teaching is for and what our teaching is supposed to produce. And also about a different kind of relationship with our students that’s much more collaborative. So not that the, the teacher says the student, [00:36:00] Oh, that's very interesting. Can you go and find me some books so I can put them on my reading list? You know, thank you for decolonizing my reading list. But the students questioning the academic and they're thinking, Okay, what do I need to go and do? What homework do I need? Where do I need to go and look for alternative sources of knowledge? What, how am I reproducing particular ways of framing the world, seeing the world, and how am I just, you know, through my teaching and the ways that I'm teaching furthering the kind of divides that we have.
[00:36:27] So I think it was a consciousness raising process that was led by students, and was coming from some very brilliant activist students questioning the whole way in which the institution of Western knowledge and the ways in which that's reproduced in our universities, and of course for Britain, this is a really powerful thing because we are, we were such a colonizer.
[00:36:48] At a certain point, a quarter of the entire land mass of the Earth was under the British Empire. And the relationship, the imperial relationship that Britain has had with knowledge production in many of these countries, the power of the English language that came from this tiny little island that can’t govern itself and is in a complete mess at the moment, is quite extraordinary.
[00:37:09] So there's work that we need to do as white English people. I need to do, people like me need to do, that looks into our own history and, and sort of understands where does that come from? And then begins to radically question the ways in which we reproduce taken for granted ideas about the way things work in the world.
[00:37:26] As an anthropologist, it appealed to me as a feminist, as an activist, appealed to me, but it particularly appealed to me as a bureaucrat because I thought, if universities are good for anything, this is the kind of stuff they should be good for, is enabling movements of students questioning the old generation. Upturning ideas are taken for granted, bringing out new ways of seeing, new ways of framing, and acting as civic bodies in that regard, bringing those ideas into society and on the media. And I think that's a really important dynamic with participatory research as well, is that because participatory research questions and breaks with conventional ways of doing and being and invites people who haven't been heard and haven't had a voice into a conversation where they can, their voices can get amplified, and they can start to hear each other. And that again, is about shaking things up. That's, I think participatory research has a lot that could be shaken up through participatory research in this space of the university.
One other example, just while I may. So as a bureaucrat, I was able to commission, or not necessarily commission, but initiate little bits of research that were participatory. And I think one of the things that I was involved in, that I learned a lot from and was a really powerful exercise, was engaging people with disabilities across the university and people who worked with people with disabilities in mapping the university and showing how life is lived in the university through the lens of people with different kinds of disabilities.
[00:38:53] And so with a co-leader who was partially sighted, I trained up about 50 people. There were service providers in the university and students, and they went out and about in the university, engaging people in conversations, and particularly engaging people who were working and studying with disabilities. They used cameras. They used visuals of different kinds, drawings, and we coupled it with thinking about kindness and about how kind or unkind the university was towards all its members. But particularly about the unkindnesses and the kindnesses that were about the ways in which we worked with difference in the university and that we made it possible for people who experienced mobility or sight or hearing or any other kinds of disability, a lot of invisible disabilities, to be full participants of our university. The team created this incredible exhibition which had all kinds of things like the accommodation that somebody had been put into because they were a disabled person, where their very disability meant that they couldn't use all the specially adaptive equipment, or the difficulty getting across the campus [00:40:02] for people who were partially sighted, because even though the campus supposedly had routes, obstacles were constant being put in the way that they could have tripped over and hurt themselves on. So this kind of thing where you're actually taking the stuff into the university space and using it to question whether it's about decolonizing, whether it's about feminism, whether it's about other kinds of rights, but using the collective power of the research community. So students as well as staff, and in this case professional services staff who don't usually get to do research.
So giving people a sense of their own agency as researchers is very much part of that practice for me as well. Because those people who are living, they're living at the service- delivery interface or they're living as the people who are the so-called consumers of the services, being able to shape their institution and speak back to something that doesn't usually hear them. It’s also very, I think, a very powerful example of how participatory research can change things for people.
[00:41:00] Patricia Maguire - I’ve been a fan of feminist Jill Morowski, and she said many years ago that one of the most important things feminist scientists could do was to change the environment in which they created science. I think part of what you're referring to there is that one of the. powerful and important things that participatory researchers or people with those values can do is change the spaces in which we do our work. That our research isn't just for those people over there. It's about us and our own spaces and how we use those participatory values in the spaces in which we're working on a day-to-day basis.
[00:41:40] I think we're going to have to wrap some things up here. I want to ask you sort of a broad question because we're in really some rough times historically. You know, we have pending world recession, the emergence of white nationalism, neo fascism, climate change with subsequent climate migration, the rise of misogyny, sexual violence, violence against the LGBTQ plus community. And all of this we know disproportionately impacts women and gender fluid people. It disproportionately impacts women of the south, communities of color. So with all of this, why does it matter to try to do feminist-informed participatory action research?
Andrea Cornwall - Oh, it matters more now than ever. I think for all of those reasons, and I think, as you said, what's going on in our world has a huge effect on the lives of the most marginalized people. [00:42:43] So actually people who are marginalized from heteronormativity, marginalized from the various ways in which power works in society, various ways in which structural power works economically and otherwise, and you know, the movements to that are organizing those people are incredibly important. So unions become even more important. And transnational movements that are organizing people become important, but they need material to advocate with. And also, they have members who could become part of the movements who are not yet part of the movements because they don't feel empowered, they don't feel they're engaged in terms of the kinds of their possibilities of being part of those things.
[00:43:24] So for me, I see social movements are how change happens. Participatory research is a way in which social movements can equip themselves both with more information to use for advocacy, but also can raise the consciousness of people, and particularly as a way of speaking truth to power and engaging the powerful with the versions that come from people who otherwise don't have a voice. I'm thinking of situations I've been in where powerful people have been brought to the room because there's a large amount of people who have a version of something that they want to tell and the powerful have had to listen. One small example of working on a project in London and the director of this big multimillion pound regeneration program. He said he was having bad dreams, remembering the visual diagrams that people had drawn of all the, the stuff that was going on with them, which he hadn't even paid any attention to before because he hadn't seen it. He hadn't heard them. He hadn't had a chance to meet them. So actually, there's something, I think that is both about confronting power and about addressing the people who've got an opportunity to make change happen. They're sitting inside the state or sitting inside other agencies, but more important than ever, I think bringing people together in forms of collective action that enable them to be able to take the power and to shape their own futures where they're being left out of the current conversation.
[00:44:39]And I come back, I guess, to definitions of empowerment. And I think for, for me, I've come to see empowerment as being both about seeing the world differently and seeing your place in the world differently. So raising your consciousness and also about acting collectively. You know, this is not a new thinking, this is thinking that's come from generations of feminists reached by Luanna Naila Kabeer, other people worked on this and, and raised the broader questions that link consciousness and collective action. But in the current situation that we're in, in the world, that's what we need - raising consciousness, collective action. And what we need more than anything else is people in power who are elected into political office, who can form part of governments. so that we end up with government that we want, governments that actually do something for us. It's something that I think I've come, I came from a very kind of working with communities and movements is the way that you make change happen. And I think in recent years I've come to see the space of formal politics as being one which is more important than ever.
[00:45:44] So I think participatory research can be harnessed by candidates. I think their participatory research can be used to open up the lies that we're being told to give people a chance to find out for themselves what's going on.
[00:46:00] Patricia Maguire - As we wrap this up, uh, anything else you would like to say to people beginning in participatory research, emerging scholars, people who are going like, wow, I'd like to jump into this field but it just seems overwhelming. It seems like too much. What message would you like to leave aspiring participatory action researchers with?
Andrea Cornwall - I think the most important thing to learn when you are learning how to do participatory research is just to be able to be with people. Sometimes to ask questions and to ask the right questions and to ask open questions that let people speak.
[00:46:36] But there's something in that thing of research is very busy. Usually it's full of kind of creating things and questionnaires and lists of questions and so on. And I think one of the things that's really powerful about participatory research is being able to just ask a question and open up a conversation and see where it takes you. Not to be too attached to where it might take you, because it's not really your choice about where it takes you. It's the choice of those who engage in the conversation.
So that goes against all of the ways in which people are taught. You're taught to come up with a research question. I'm supervising dissertation students. We met today and they have to come up with an outline even before they start their research. They have to come up with a clear sense of what it is that they're doing before they're even doing it.
[00:47:22] So if you are one of the people who is teaching research methods, something which I think is really important is to include a way of doing research that's about being responsive to the concerns that people have themselves. And these aren't things that you'd know in advance. So all those forms that have to be filled in at universities, all those outlines that have to be written.
[00:47:44] There needs to be a way that we can manage situations that are unpredictable, that are owned by the people who participate in them. So that students don't fear doing something like that. Otherwise, everything in the university is set up in such a way that it's going to punish them or make it difficult for them.
[00:48:00] I think also part of it is just to start and to trust yourself. And most of all to listen, to be able to be with people and to take things at their pace. Things don't always work. That's fine. You learn something. Often you learn more when things don't work out than when they do. People don't always want to get involved. I'm working with a participatory researcher in Sweden at the moment, and they’re finding it really tough to have co-facilitators because they're volunteers, and they don't have time and it's quite a challenge. But you, you know, adapt yourself to the situation that you'll be in.
[00:48:34] And I know I've said there are lots of important things, but for me, this is probably the most important thing, is that we're all human beings and I think it’s being able to work with people in such a way that we see the whole human being rather than treat them as a problem or only take a little bit of their life and find that to be interesting.
So participatory research forces you to do that in lots of ways because you're bringing people into a situation where they're shaping some of the stuff that you're learning. But also being human around it is also recognizing where stuff gets too much for people, where things are difficult, and actually being respectful of that.
[00:49:07] So at every level, it's about trying to find ways in which you can make the research something that is enjoyable or fun or enabling, but also, which is also supportive. And to provide that kind of support for yourselves and also to make sure you get support yourself. Because participatory research can also be really emotionally and politically and mentally and everything taxing because you get into a situation where it's quite uncontrollable. That's really positive, but it can also be quite frustrating and difficult at times. So not to beat yourself up if things end up in a place you didn't expect them to be, but also to be good to yourself and make sure that you care for yourself as well as others.
Patricia Maguire - Well, thank you so much. Thank you, Andrea, for sharing a part of your life's work and your beliefs with us today.
[00:49:56] I want to give a huge thank you to our listeners. We hope you’ll help us by sending out the link to this episode to your colleagues and friends. Give us a boost on your social media. A transcript from today's podcast, some select citations of Andrea's work, and additional information about her will be posted on our companion website, www.parfemtrailblazers.net.
[00:50:25] And if you missed earlier podcasts, you can find them there. That's it for today's episode of Participatory Action Research - Feminist Trailblazers and Good Trouble Makers. And as John Lewis would've said, Go make some good trouble on your own.
*12-6-2022 Dear Listeners –
In the podcast – and some subsequent announcements - around minute 14, I (Patricia Maguire – host) used the phrase “nitty gritty” details. A thoughtful member of the PAR network, pointed out to me that the derivation of this phrase come from the slave trade. Hence I used – however unintentionally - a racist, hurtful phrase. I have revised the announcement, deleted the term from the transcript, and offer my deepest my apology. While I deleted the phase from the written transcript, I offer this note* as I re-commit to continue learning.
In the initial announcement, I used the phrase “nitty-gritty” details. I own my ignorance in not understanding that this phrase is racist and deeply offensive, having roots in the slave trade. I deeply apologize for using it, and more so, for causing offense and pain. I understand the importance and power of language. Please accept my apology and re-commitment to do the work to continue learning.
Please know that Andrea Cornwall had NO role in my using this term in a PAR-FEM Announcement. She was very deliberate and intentional in her respectful use of language. This is fully on me.
With deepest apologies
Dr. Andrea Cornwall is a political anthropologist who specializes in the anthropology of democracy, participatory research, gender justice and sexuality, and citizen participation. She has worked and written extensively on the use of participatory approaches to transform relations of knowledge and power – from participatory development, participatory rural appraisal, to participatory action research.
She has worked on topics ranging from understanding women's perspectives on family planning, fertility and sexually transmitted infection in Nigeria and Zimbabwe, public engagement in UK regeneration programs, the quality of democratic deliberation in new democratic spaces in Brazil, the use and abuse of participatory appraisal in Kenya, domestic workers' rights activism in Brazil and sex workers' rights activism in India.
Andrea Cornwall is currently Professor of Global Development and Anthropology at King’s College London.
Learn more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrea_Cornwall
Cornwall, Andrea and Ian Scoones (2022). Revolutionising Development: Reflections on the Work of Robert Chambers. Routledge. Open Access https://library.oapen.org/handle/20.500.12657/53681
Cornwall, Andrea, and Nancy Lindisfarne. (2016) Dislocating masculinity: gender, power and anthropology. In Dislocating masculinity, pp. 27-61. Routledge.
Cornwall, Andrea, and Althea-Maria Rivas. (2015). From ‘gender equality and ‘women’s empowerment’ to global justice: Reclaiming a transformative agenda for gender and development. Third World Quarterly 36, no. 2: 396-415.
Cornwall, Andrea, and Cecilia Sardenberg. (2014). Participatory pathways: Researching women's empowerment in Salvador, Brazil. In Women's Studies International Forum, vol. 45, pp. 72-80. Pergamon.
Cornwall, Andrea, and Mamoru Fujita. (2012). Ventriloquising ‘the Poor’ ? Of voices, choices and the politics of ‘participatory’ knowledge production. Third World Quarterly 33, no. 9: 1751-1765.
Cornwall, Andrea. (2011) The participation reader. Zed Books.
Cornwall, Andrea, Jasmine Gideon, and Kalpana Wilson. (2009) Introduction: Reclaiming feminism: Gender and neoliberalism. IDS bulletin 39, no. 6: 1-9.
Cornwall, Andrea, and Ann Whitehead. (2007). Feminisms in development: Contradictions, contestations and challenges. Zed Books.
Cornwall, Andrea, Elizabeth Harrison, and Ann Whitehead. (2007). Gender myths and feminist fables: The struggle for interpretive power in gender and development. Development and Change 38, no. 1: 1-20.
Cornwall, Andrea. (2004). Spaces for transformation? Reflections on issues of power and difference in participation in development. Participation: From tyranny to transformation? Exploring new approaches to participation in development pp 75-91.
Cornwall, Andrea (2003). Whose voices? Whose choices? Reflections on gender and participatory development. World development 31, no. 8 pp. 1325-1342.
Cornwall, Andrea. (2001) Making a difference? Gender and participatory development. Institute of Development Studies.
Cornwall, Andrea, and Sarah C. White. (2000). Men, masculinities and development. Open Access
Cornwall, Andrea. (2000). Missing men? Reflections on men, masculinities and gender in GAD. IDS bulletin 31, no. 2 18-27. Open Access
Cornwall, Andrea. (1997). Men, masculinity and 'gender in development'. Gender & Development 5, no. 2: 8-13.
Edwards, Jenny, and Andrea Cornwall (Eds). (2014). Feminisms, empowerment and development: Changing women's lives. Bloomsbury Publishing.
Gaventa, John, and Andrea Cornwall. (2008). Power and knowledge. The Sage handbook of action research: Participative inquiry and practice, 2 pp.172-189.
Jolly, Susie, Andrea Cornwall, and Kate Hawkins (Eds.) 2013. Women, sexuality and the political power of pleasure. Bloomsbury Publishing.