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Accepted Paper:

Participation at the crossroads: Ethnographic encounters with participatory approaches and evaluation research  


Proshant Chakraborty (Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Action (SNEHA))

Paper short abstract:

This paper engages with the methodological and conceptual notions of "participation" at the crossroads of applied anthropological research and participatory learning and action (PLA) approaches in the context of interventions to prevent violence against women and girls in Mumbai, India.

Paper long abstract:

The ethnographic endeavor is premised on participant observation, where research becomes possible through the ethnographer's sustained presence in a community, and participation in their social and cultural practices. However, what does "participation" mean in contexts where ethnographic research is "applied," and when such application is further premised on "participatory methods," like Participatory Learning and Action (PLA)? Can the notion of "participation" in ethnographic research and participatory methods be considered coterminous? This paper addresses these questions by drawing on collaborative applied anthropological research carried out in an ongoing cluster randomized controlled trial (RCT) to prevent violence against women and girls (VAWG) in Mumbai, India. The RCT, which is implemented by a city-based non-governmental organization (NGO), adapted six participatory learning and action (PLA) tools to the context of VAWG. The use of PLA in VAWG interventions demonstrates the strength of using participatory approaches to work with vulnerable communities in establishing trust and rapport with participants, and collecting "data" that can be used in evaluating programs. In particular, this paper addresses, and builds on, critical appraisals of participatory approaches, especially the limitations of PLA to account for intersectional social divisions of gender, age, religion, and caste. It shows that combining PLA with ethnographic research elicits grounded and nuanced explanations of causality and social context from community women, giving them opportunities to articulate concerns over violence, inequity, and their desire for change. This also has utility for designing critical realist evaluation in RCTs which emphasize the context, mechanism and outcome (CMO) configuration.

Panel P012
Applying anthropology across disciplinary, professional and territorial borders: practical and engaging case studies [Applied Anthropology Network]