I am applying an Integral Framework on my PhD research and wanted to share a little about how I am conceptualising my research in terms of an “Integral Activist” approach.
My dissertation examines the patterns of behaviour that occur when Tanzanian adults take micro-actions to protect children. Some context … A recent national household study has revealed shocking levels of child abuse in Tanzania. There is increasing political attention about the need to invest in child protection services (Ministry of Community Development Gender and Children, 2011). Currently, there is no formal child protection system nor social service provision and individuals who take action to protect children are doing so are largely unsupported by the State. Whilst practitioners, policymakers and politicians have a strong sense of the problems facing Tanzanian society, they have little insight about how to shift the behaviour of individuals in such a way that they make healthy choices in their own lives and in relationship to their families and communities. There is little understanding within Tanzanian development or political practice about how to go about effecting a large-scale shift in social behaviour. This can be attributed to a focus within development praxis on analysis and engagement with the political economy (i.e the Lower Right quadrant), to the detriment of engaging with the subjective and inter-subjective world of Tanzanians.
My study adopts a theoretical framework that I am calling “Integral Activist Research” and a Classic Grounded Theory method. I will be interviewing 25 Tanzanians who have reported frequently taking actions to protect children that involved some self-sacrifice. From their narratives I will use a Classic Grounded Theory method to develop a theory of altruistic social action.
What is interesting about these people is that given the context of generalised insecurity and the normalisation of violence against children these people are behaving a-typically. Their narratives will hopefully shed insight for development practitioners and policymakers about how one can catalyse large-scale social action.
“Integral activist research” is inspired by Integral philosophy (Wilber, 1996) and Social Activism (Fine & Vanderslice, 1992). It adopts the quadrant approach of Integral Studies in an attempt to rebalance the “re-balance the monological gaze” (Wilber, 1996, p. 87) by exploring and integrating the mind, culture and nature and emphasising the “I” and “we” domains. It also upholds the principles of Activist Research, the characteristics of which are to explore inter-relationships, to acknowledge and honour the place of the mapmaker, to counter the fragmentation of knowledge that was typical of the modern, rational industrialised era and to legitimise alternative narratives. This multi-paradigmatic approach to enquiry aids understanding of complex and paradoxical phenomena, serves to legitimize less mainstream alternatives and broadens conventional definitions of theory (Lewis & Grimes, 1999).
Activist research is similar to participatory action research and shares many commonalities, but it is not necessarily designed with the research participants’ questions at the heart of the study. The desire of qualitative activist research is to “facilitate a set of institutional processes that will generate contexts for change, document processes of change, and create the conditions for participants to engage in ongoing reflections on change” (Fine & Vanderslice, 1992, p. 206). Its purpose is to both provoke and explain change. It is research as change (Lather, 1986), and there is an explicit commitment to disrupt and transform existing social arrangements, and to design research to understand how such change occurs.
The very act of collecting data is an intervention towards change. Integral Activist Research is characterised by
1. Research as praxis: Activist research abandons the idea of an objective, disinterested researcher. Rather it honours the transformative role of researchers in catalysing social change. It acknowledges that researchers bring biases to what they study. Rather than denying or suppressing these biases, mechanisms are created within the research design to reflect deeply and collectively with research participants on how these assumptions are being challenged by data emerging from the field.
2. Research as a political act: Activist research lives at the “intersection of political action and investigation” (Glocal Research Space, nd, p. 1). It is informed by the needs of social movements and excluded sectors of the population. It has an explicitly political commitment to transform the current reality.
3. Research as a way to legitimise multiple world-views: Activist researchers view the world as an inter-connected web and reject the “fictitious academic compartmentalisation of reality” and the search for ‘truth’. They “abandon the illusion that a single piece of research is ever complete, or final” (Fine & Vanderslice, 1992, p. 206). In line with its commitment to social transformation activist research seeks to unearth “multiple perspectives and grant them the legitimacy that dominant perspectives typically hold alone and unchallenged” (1992, p. 203).