Over the years
an attempt has been made to include both participatory and
quantitative research approaches for solving environmental
justice problems. Spanning these two research approaches has
not been easy because quantitative research is the most dominant
and respected research paradigm at the University. To be held
in good standing with colleagues demands that information
be obtained by using traditional scientific methodologies.
While researchers of the positivistic tradition profess to
be value-neutral and detached in order to maintain their objectivity,
they--not the subjects under study, determine the direction
of the scientific inquiry. Through their own bias, they determine
the content of questions to be asked in the interview or on
the survey. The randomness of the sample allows them to extrapolating
information well beyond the boundaries of the sample itself,
and thus empowers outside agency more so than the givers of
research methodology (generally known as positivism) has generally
confined Western intellectual tradition to a single method
of finding "worthwhile knowledge"-- the quantification of
observation. This research methodology, which is based in
the physical sciences, tends to restrict the focus of social
scientists to short-run and isolated events. Thus, their research
results often yield a limited range of meanings, creating
an oversimplification of complex social phenomena (Smulyuan,
1983). Even though this research paradigm has short-comings,
it is perhaps the most widely used paradigm in western civilization
and perhaps the world. Because policymakers and corporate
managers lend their ear consistently to those researchers
that can share with them information in the positivistic tradition,
this research paradigm has had a tremendous effect upon the
world; it is the backbone to government policymaking and of
the market system in that it helps in the creation of new
product lines and "better" ways of doing things, particularly
for the business community. It also has it downside as evidence
by the amount and extent of pollution we experience in our
cities and in the heartland; the disproportionate amounts
of pollution that people of color communities and low-income
communities experience in their daily lives. Yet, policymakers
and corporate managers are finding that people in communities
across the country are resistant to policy decisions from
the top down. Well-intentioned policies from the top often
lack emotional support at the local level; they lack emotional
support because people affected by these policies have not
been involved in the decision-making process.
research (PR) is committed to egalitarianism, collaborative
enlightenment, and consciousness raising to increase potentials
for self-affirmation and the ability of community people to
make informed decisions. In order for PR to work, we must
train researchers in the PR methodology; we must train them
to humble themselves in order to be able to work effectively
with community people in order the help them make informed
decisions. Participatory researchers are not trained to be
detached from or noninvolved in the research process, but
they are trained to be an integral part of it. Community people
must be an integral part of the research process in the articulation
of the problem, the construction of questions, and the collection
and analysis of data. Through a rigorous and continuous methodological
process of planning, observation, reflection, and evaluation,
truth or a course of action emerges. Participatory researchers
must not abdicate the control of information to outside agency--an
agency that will perhaps make policy decisions that will affect
not only the givers of the information but people in communities
far beyond the boundaries of interviewees.
is important that the locus of control remains with those
who generate the knowledge to be used in their best interests.
The purpose of PR is to solve immediate problems of a specific
neighborhood or community-- and not to extrapolate knowledge
learned to other communities, although such research outcomes
may have broader implications. Policies that result from PR
will have more significance and emotional support than policies
made by professionals alone. Such policies have more emotional
support because the locus of control of both the research
results and policymaking remains with the community. While
research in the positivistic tradition relegates decisionmaking
to outside agency, research done in PR tradition relegates
the decisionmaking to the people involved in creating the
knowledge. The PR research paradigm supports the principles
of democracy, while the positivistic paradigm undermines the
principles of democracy; decisions regarding research outcomes
are lifted from the village square and made by experts or
outside agency. University scientists concerned about community
groups being empowered to make informed decisions through
the PR process often find themselves in a dilemma. Where should
most of their time be spent? Should it be spent empowering
communities to problem-solve which is not look upon in high
esteem in the university community and perhaps have implications
for promotion and merit increase? Should they concentrate
upon resume building by doing quantitative research that is
highly revered by their colleagues? Or should they do enough
quantitative research to get the confidence of funders and
policymakers in order to position themselves more time on
PR endeavors. These are questions that each researcher will
have to answer. For some there is no easy answer.
Freire, P. 1974.
Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: The Seabury Press.
Palmer, P. J.
1983. To Know as We are Known: Spirituality of Education.
San Francisco: Harper and Row.
Shaiken, H. 1980.
Detroit Downsizes U.S. Jobs. The Nation, (October).
1983. Action Research on Change in Schools: A Collaborate
Project. A paper presented at the Annual meeting of the
American Education Research Association, Montreal , Canada.