Critical Participatory Action Research in a Rural Community Committed to Peacebuilding in Times of Crisis

Critical Participatory Action Research in a Rural Community Committed to Peacebuilding in Times of Crisis

Lina Trigos-Carrillo, Laura Fonseca
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6922-1.ch009
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Conducting critical community research during the COVID-19 pandemic has brought unexpected challenges to academic communities. In this chapter, the authors analyze the obstacles faced in a Critical Participatory Action Research (CPAR) education project with a rural community of former guerrilla members in the Amazon piedmont in Colombia. After this analysis, the authors present four CPAR principles to support critical community work during difficult times. The authors argue that communicative action, horizontal community participation in all the stages of the research process, time commitment, and the leverage of other competing needs should be guaranteed and maintained during times of crisis. CPAR offers opportunities to advocate better conditions for the most affected communities in moments of increasing inequality.
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In the context of the 2016 Peace Agreement signed between the Colombian government and the FARC-EP guerrilla group, 24 Territorial Spaces for Training and Reincorporation (ETCR in Spanish) provided a space for the former guerrilla members reintegration to civil society (nearly 6.000 people). In the Caquetá region, ETCR Héctor Ramírez (ETCR-HR) became a successful rural community of former guerrilla members and their families who based their economy on sustainable projects. In December 2019, the community transitioned from ETCR to the new-born town Centro Poblado Héctor Ramírez (CP-HR). Due to a growing children and young population who attended half-day school in distant towns, there was a need of an education project that incorporated the community values, empowered children and youth in the community, and could further promote social cohesion in the Colombian post-conflict setting.

The partnership between researchers from a private university near the capital city of Colombia and the CP-HR community started in July 2018 with an agreement to cooperate in projects of mutual interest. The community, organized by former FARC-EP guerrilla members and their families, expressed their desire to collaborate with the university in the co-construction of an education project for this rural community committed to peacebuilding in Colombia. In April 2019, a group of researchers and university students visited CP-HR, located 614 kms away from campus in the Caquetá Department, near the Amazon piedmont. Grounded in the tenets of Critical Participatory Action Research (CPAR), the university team started an alliance with the community to co-construct an education project aimed to provide relevant education that sustains the community cultural values. During 2019, the university team travelled four times with students and research assistants to CP-HR. The community also conformed an education committee in charge of working collaboratively in the research process. However, in March 2020, the pandemic crisis unraveled in Colombia with a strict lockdown for six months.

The COVID-19 pandemic has posited several challenges for the community and for the research process. In this chapter, we analyze the challenges of the CPAR methodology while working with a rural community in process of reincorporation in times of crisis. Throughout the text, the reader will find some of the challenges of working with a geographically distant community in a complex sociopolitical landscape during the pandemic, as well as the CPAR principles (communicative action, horizontal relationships, time commitment, and the leverage of other competing needs) that have supported the critical community work during these times. These four principles will be elucidated further throughout the paper.

The analysis revolves around the action research spiral before and after the pandemic. We reflected on the different stages of the spiral process within the research project: 1) Planning a change, 2) acting and observing the process and consequences of the change, 3) reflecting on these processes and consequences, 4) replanning, and 5) acting and observing (Kemmis, McTaggart, & Nixon, 2014). We analyzed three loops of the spiral process: 1) the initial phase of trust building with the community members, and the beginning of the systematization of the community values and principles that served as the basis for the education project; 2) the consolidation of the research team and securing funding for the project; and 3) the consolidation of the community education committee through virtual meetings since March 2020, due to the pandemic and the national regulations that prevented the planned visits to CP-HR. Then, we present four principles that have supported our community work during these difficult times: (1) Communicative action is more than a theoretical concept; (2) horizontal relationships should prevail; (3) time is of the essence; and (4) other competing needs should be leveraged. We hope other groups of researchers and community leaders find some light in our experience, and institutions become more aware of the challenges communities and researchers face when conducting critical research in times of crisis.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Peacebuilding: From a critical lens, peacebuilding is not reduced to the absence of war. Peacebuilding is related to achieving social justice and transformation in Colombia.

Reincorporation Process: This process is geared at people who laid down their arms within the framework of the Final Peace Agreement and transitioned to legality.

Guerrilla Member: It is a member of a small independent group taking part in irregular fighting, typically against larger regular forces. In Colombia, the FARC-EP guerrilla group was created in 1964.

CPAR: Critical Participatory Action Research is rooted in the belief that those most impacted by research should take the lead in framing the questions, design, methods, analysis and determining what products and actions might be most useful in securing social change.

ETCR: In English, Territorial Spaces for Training and Reincorporation are spaces created by the government to facilitate the reincorporation process of former FARC-EP guerrilla members in the context of the 2016 Peace Accord in Colombia.

Crisis: A time of great disagreement, confusion, or suffering.

COVID-19: Coronavirus disease or COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus in 2019. Most people infected with the COVID-19 virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment. Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer are more likely to develop serious illness.

Rurality: In Colombia, rurality implies social and political dimensions. Rural people or campesinos are affected by lack of land ownership, violence, limited access to basic public services, health and education, and other social inequalities.

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