Self Determined Participatory Action of Marginalized Groups: The streets of São Paulo


KEYWORDS method, participant, observation, observer, participating, narration, movement content, standpoint, action research, roles

What have I done during my research action(s) in São Paulo? How did I approach AR (p.27).

At the beginning, my role has been certainly that of a passive observer. When I went for instance for the first time to a workshop of the aRUAssa colective (41) [which actually has not given itself that name then], I merely observed what the collective was doing during its meeting, what it was discussing and planning. I talked with the collective about my intentions of being there in São Paulo, what my research was aiming for, to introduce myself. For me this was a normal step because we did not know each other and I felt myself still as an alien in the city, had to cope with my Portuguese skills, thus had to find my way yet.

There has been a shift then at a point I cannot exactly determine any more. A shift from the role of the passive observer to the role of the participating observer, which I became aware of most likely when I had been on streets with Matheus for two days, where we organized our place to sleep in a small understory in the centre, discussed and talked with people and when I experienced, unfiltered and raw, what it means to stay on the streets. Then I also started to understand how to read the city, its excluding architecture and its institutions for the good and for the bad.

A third shift occurred from the role of a participating observer to the participant observing or maybe the activist observing. I can also not define at what point in time this third shift happened exactly, but one situation that probably represents this shift most likely is the interview (42) that we conducted as aRUAssa collective in one of the occupations in the centre of the city. Thus I identified myself with the collective as active member, sharing its attitude and intention.

Those three roles have always been present during the period of research, in different intensities though. Towards the end, there has been probably not much left from the role of the passive observer, because I knew my people, I participated in the flow of their activities, I was much more confident then at the beginning, being capable of actually contributing and being active.

I would also say that the adoption of different roles has been depending on the context I was embedded in. This can be explained by the fact that I participated with different intensity (p.39) in the lived space of different people, movements and collectives and where I was not be able to become fully engaged (p.39) in. I could not because I would have needed much more time, one of the constraints in my research actions that has been addressed already elsewhere (p.17) . Thus…

I would describe my approach to action research as a participating and collaborative approach, where I assume the roles of a participating observer and a participant observing [or activist observing], two roles that are depending on the context I am located in.

Figure 7.15 Capturing my roles in action research.

The written reproduction of my approach to action research consists of several practices. One is the narrative. Narrating stories of experiences, situations, insights, incidents and occurrences can be as beautiful and revealing as in the ‚Street Corner Society‘, an early nineteen fortieth study of a district in Boston characterized mainly by Italian immigrants.

The liquor traffic of prohibition provided many of the prominent racketeers of today with their business experience and financial resources. In the early years of prohibition there were a large number of small liquor dealers in active competition. Prices fluctuated, and spheres of operation were not clearly defined. Competition often led to violence. As time went on, some of the more skilful, energetic, and daring of the dealers gained in financial status and power, so that they were able to push a number of smaller inde- pendents out of business and extend their control over others. This combination movement continued steadily and, in Eastern City, reached its height shortly before repeal under the leadership of a man who became known as ‚the Boss‘ (Whyte, 1993, p.111 ).

By being broad in scope my narrations will hopefully reflect the different roles I have been assumed during my research. I will not focus on one particular action or event but by will narrate a wider range of experiences I made and insights I gained. By no means my narrations will reach literary quality because I am not an experienced writer nor an experienced researcher and by far not proficient enough in English or Portuguese.

My narrations will be complemented by all kinds of movement, street and miscellaneous content and media (p.54) that I find useful to draw a broad and dense picture of the themes (p.44) determined as relevant (p.42) from the standpoint of the streets. Thus…

The scope of narrations will cover a wider range of experiences and insights, complemented by additional movement, street and miscellaneous content in order to draw a broad picture from the standpoint of the streets.

Figure 7.16 Capturing the scope of narrations and content emerging from action research.

In addition to my narrations that are already affected by the experiences and insights I gained through actions and genuine participation (p.36) with my people, I also have access and make use of content produced by movements and people [and by other related sources], thus movement content and theorizing (p.37) enters the scene here, affecting and complementing my content and theorizing, allowing to align my thesis and research actions to the standpoint of the streets in São Paulo. This standpoint is not representative for ‚the‘ streets nor is it impartial, it does not and cannot speak for everyone because I did not have contact with everyone on the streets nor did I visit every square meter of streets. My standpoint is still rooted in the streets, a partial one among many others. I would like to give a short example.

When we passed by the front Cathedral da Sé (43) , the massive cathedral an the south-western corner of Praca da Sé (44), the central place of downtown São Paulo, I saw a cathedral completely fenced by two meters high iron lattice, shiel- ding public space around the building from the people. Public space that prior to that has been used as shelter by the people in street situation, now transformed into closed space to get rid of unwanted subjects (own Source, 2010).

I wrote this example from the standpoint of the streets. I could also have written that the lattice finally solved the problem of homeless people around the cathedral, but I did not because I narrated the situation from the standpoint of my people which has been affected immediately by this destruction of public space as they lost a location where they found shelter. I used the terminology of the people from the streets that describe themselves as pessoas em situacão de rua [people in street situation] an empowering self description rather then homeless person.

The standpoint of narrations and content that reproduces my experiences and insights is that of the people I participated and collaborated with.

Figure 7.17 Capturing the standpoint of narrations and content emerging from action research.

A note about narrating. I posses by no means sufficient skills to poetically write in English. I can certainly tell that a lot of sense and content has been lost by narrating from Portuguese to German and then to English. Especially dialogues will suffer a kind of normalization because I am not able to precisely express them in English. Another point to mention are the notes I have taken in São Paulo. Often I could not and did not like to take notes or record right on the spot while being together with people, as a sign of respect in the first place. Sometimes we also talked so long and so many things happened that the notes I wrote down, often a few days later, lost a lot of what had been said and what I have experienced. Again, a normalized picture remained, often imprecise and missing small flaws that would express what has happened in a more complete manner, would give a better context.


(41) website: https://rtc.noblogs.org/post/2010/05/31/oficina-de-v-deo-workshop-film-making-with-mobile-devices/
(42) website: https://rtc.noblogs.org/post/2010/10/11/entrevista-ocupacao-avenida-ipiranga-pt/
(43) Cathedral da Sé: http://osm.org/go/M@ziKS_1G–
(44) Praca da Sé: http://osm.org/go/M@ziKciPa–


theory//versus//practice << methods//partici[pating//pant]//obser[ver//vation] >> tools//theorizing

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