Engaging Communities in Health Geography? Assessing the Strategy of Community-Based Participatory Research
Lovell, Sarah A.
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Community-based participatory research (CBPR) positions community members on an equal footing with their academic colleagues and makes them responsible for the decisions which shape the direction and substance of research. The approach is founded on ideals of empowerment and the raising of critical awareness amongst stakeholders while contributing to social and community change. This thesis examines the practice of CBPR; specifically, the inconsistencies between its ideals and the achievement of meaningful outcomes, and its relative absence within health geography. While the thesis relies most heavily on theories of social capital for its conceptual framing, it also draws on three key concepts stigma, and critical and oppositional consciousness. Three CBPR case studies were initiated to uncover the challenges, benefits, and shortcomings of the approach involving people living with HIV/AIDS, persons with disabilities, and residents of social housing. The projects were evaluated using a range of strategies including participant observation, interviews with key stakeholders, questionnaires, and focus group discussions. The implementation of these projects ranged in success from being sidelined by managerial difficulties, community mobilization efforts proving unsuccessful, to a fully realized CBPR case study. ii The case studies illustrate the tenuous position of a researcher engaged in grassroots community mobilization and the need for core levels of social capital to precede the researcher’s intervention. Interviews with CBPR stakeholders exposed the sense of purpose and value of being united against a given cause and even the social benefits of connecting with others. The interviews brought into question the imposition of stringent research expectations upon community members who may face multiple barriers to carrying out research and gain little benefit from the practice. I conclude by suggesting that CBPR is a long way from being the perfect marriage of academia and community, failing adequately to meet the needs of both parties. In particular, the third case study demonstrates that stakeholders are critically aware of issues that affect their lives, their capabilities to carry out research and the roles that the researcher might play. Ultimately, this raises questions about what role CBPR might play in community mobilization, especially when the resources of groups are limited socially, economically and politically.