From action research to knowledge democracy Cartagena 1977-2017
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I (Budd) was working in Tanzania from 1970-1975 as the head of the research department of the Institute for Adult Education at the University of Dar-es-Salaam. I was part of a community of young researchers, both Tanzanian and expatriates, who had been attracted to work in Tanzania because of the vision of the late President Julius K Nyerere. Mwalimu (teacher) Nyerere was an engaging intellectual as well as the leader of the Independence movement. He had a vision for building Tanzania from an African political framework. His political philosophy was called Ujamaa, a Kiswahili word related to familyhood. His vision was often referred to as African socialism. Among the principles of this approach was the call to build on the knowledge and skills of ordinary women and men. The Tanzanian approach was one of the earliest examples of participatory development. As he said at times, “Poor people do not use money for a weapon, they use ideas and leadership”. Over a period of time, we began, as an informal network of researchers, to find that the epistemological tools that we had been trained with, positivist, quantitative, and survey research methods, did not fit well with the Tanzanian emphasis on participatory development. Our research methods, developed in the seats of colonial power, centralized meaning making and the naming of the world. Researchers sitting in the capital city of Dar-es-Salaam were thinking up research topics, gathering data in large-scale field survey, only to make meaning of the subsequent findings based on the logical imagination in the minds of the researchers. Over a period of several years, many of us evolved an approach to research that we believed fit the vision, political aspirations, and reality of the Tanzanian context more adequately. We were encouraged in this work by a visit in 1971 of Paulo Freire who spoke to us about his approach to research that he called thematic investigation. His sophisticated theoretical approach to conscientization and the call to both read and write the world were very similar to the vision and practice that Nyerere was calling for. We called this way of working; participatory research. We first published a series of articles on participatory research in the journal of the International Council of Adult Education, Convergence in 1975 (Hall, 1975).