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


KEYWORDS deductive, inductive, empirical, theoretical, qualitative, quantitative, hierarchies, authority, emancipation, self-determined, participatory

How do theory and action unfold? Finding answers is not the easiest part of this thesis. It is difficult because I conceive my idea of knowledge and its production as diverging from the common academic concept.

By choosing Action Research as research framework (p.27) , I defined that my aim of knowledge production and theorizing is neither universal validity nor genera- lized abstraction. Thus, I do not intent to formulate a general theory from the insights gained during my research actions in São Paulo nor do I intend to prove or disprove any existing theory.

My thesis is a locally embedded, its research actions are geographically limited to just a couple of districts (p.16) in the centre of São Paulo. One of the thesis objectives aims to raise awareness and consciousness (p.46) about the realities on the streets, from the standpoint of the people that are living in situation of the streets (p.53) . Another objective aims to mutual nurture (p.46) academic space and movement space in order to benefit the theorizing emerging from those very different spaces.

I argued already (p.35) that I narrate from a subjective position, a position influenced by the people I collaborate with, by the position of the cities urban social movements, my own position, a position that is biased because it represents know-ledge produced in struggle, that is situated in the reality of struggle, that is not aiming for academic objectivity nor for systematic surveying and research in order to become valid in academic terms. Narrating facilitates to articulate Who are we? and What do we want? , expressing our perspective of the space we live in (p.53) .

Narrative inquiry (CONNELLY & CLANDININ 1988) allows us to explore our personal histories in an effort to understand how who we are impacts on what we value and what we do. The “evidence” consists of narrative accounts of significant moments in our past which helps us understand our values and provides insight into current decision-making. There may be elements of documentary evidence, but on the whole the evidence consists of the narrative reconstruction of incidents which we believe to be important for understan- ding who we are (Newman, 2000, web) 40.

On the other hand, I do not completely deny the significance of academic theorizing, I only argue that I do not intend to follow academic norms during my process of theorizing and knowledge production because I consider that utilized knowledge is embedded in a particular social space, constructed from the standpoint of people and collectives that are living and struggling in the real urban space in São Paulo.

In the same way, a primary use of ‘‘social construction’’ has been for raising consciousness. This is done in two dis-tinct ways, one overarching, the other more localized. First, it is urged that a great deal (or all) of our lived expe- rience, and of the world we inhabit, is to be conceived of as socially constructed. Then there are local claims, about the social construction of a specific X. The X may be aut- horship or Zulu nationalism. A local claim may be suggested by an overarching attitude, but the point of a local claim is to raise consciousness about something in particular. Local claims are in principle independent of each other. You might be a social constructionist about brotherhood and fraternity, but maintain that youth homelessness in real enough (Hacking, 1999, p.6 ).

In São Paulo, many people are frequenting the centre of the city, a part of their lived space that the centre represents, but ones own knowledge about that space is certainly different if one is seeking day by day a place to sleep on the streets, being repressed by police and institutional agents, seeking for cardboard to collect and sell, or if one is frequenting the bars, the shopping malls or the offices, running ones own legal business there. In those few examples I perceive already different perspectives of the same space, different lived spaces so to say, which are resulting in the production of different knowledge about them, knowledge of those that are repressed and knowledge of those that are benefiting, for instance.


But coming back to the initial question. I will first take a look at common options I could choose of for approaching theory and practice in academic terms. My selec-tion here refers to the so called ‚inductive-deductive‘ approach.

    from                      Theoretical                      to
Deductive    Qualitative Quantitative     Inductive
      to                           Empirical                     from

Figure 7.13 Scientific approaches to research

What I feel contradictory in applying an inductive-deductive approach is that it usually means to analytically and systematically prove or disprove a theory [or a research question] or to formulate a new one.

What can academia and research do with all this? They can leave restrictive disciplines behind and begin to listen ethnographically to everything that speaks, screams, cur- ses, makes noise, blasphemes, at the same time as it inau- gurates, invents, energizes, liberates, emancipates, and creates. We are being compelled to think in a new way—one that, amid the frenetic globalization that threatens cul- tures, demands that we “reconstruct our local meanings,” even those belonging to the most globalized practices and dimensions of social life. Every cultural interaction is always carried out by situated actors, and the meanings of enacted practices or reclaimed rights will ultimately lead us to social uses rooted in time and space. From this per- spective, we discover that social ways of knowing do not exist simply to be accumulated and transmitted, but to be exercised as citizens, to be enacted performatively. (Bar- bero, 2009, web)


When choosing action research I have chosen my standpoint and defined what I intend to do by narrating, by (re)producing qualitative but unsystematic accounts of experiences and gained insights and practice. Those narrations do not serve to prove or disprove a particular theory. They serve to narrate and theorize from a par- ticular standpoint, to filter out particular concepts and ideas that are embedded in struggle [embedded in the sense that people aim for genuine participation , the right to the city , self- determination , thus notions that are also subject of academic theorizing for instance]. By [critically] reflecting on each standpoint we can probably benefit movement and acade mic theorizing, trying to find ways of converging both spaces, trying to benefit our struggle.

   Theoretical                         source
   Qualitative                        Reflection
Narrative Inquiry                  source

Figure 7.14 My proposal to approach research actions


(40) I found this quote appropriate even though it expresses an approach to action research from a personal perspective of a teacher


what should I do? << theory//versus//practice >> methods//partici[pating//pant]//obser[ver//vation] 

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