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Accepted Paper:

Longing for the participatory church: power and helplessness in participatory design of research  


Marek Liška (Faculty of Humanities, Charles University in Prague)
Barbora Spalová (Faculty of Social Sciences, Charles University in Prague)
Vojtěch Pelikán (Masaryk University)

Paper short abstract:

Insights from applied anthropological research in a Czech Catholic diocese. We analyse the positions of observers and observed in participatory design of research as the positions of power and helplessness, reflecting on theory production as empowerment.

Paper long abstract:

In the Czech Republic, known as the "most atheist country in Europe", it is not "normal" to belong to the Church. It requires a legitimation on personal, social, and political levels. Especially now, a few years after the so-called restitution law returned a considerable amount of property and financial means to churches (against the will of the majority of society) to "mitigate the damages" caused by the communist regime. In this situation, two years ago, we started an applied anthropological project in cooperation with one of the Czech dioceses. Our research team, consisting of members and non-members of the Church, explores the participation of different actors in the Czech Roman Catholic Church's decision-making processes while also seeking to support such efforts. We are also looking for ways in which a church can become more meaningfully involved in secular society. In the participatory design of the research, we are both observers and observed. It is more the ascribed power to change something and intervene at the powerful positions in the church or society, which sometimes pushes us to observers' position. It is often the anthropological theory that empowers us to return to the field with some applied output. In this paper, we want to analyse the dialectics between our ethnographic openness (achievable only when acting not as pure ethnographers but also as engaged actors in the studied topic) in the field and the production of theory, between immersion, distance, and re-immersion.

Panel Know12
Symmetrical and experimental ethnographies: the dialectics of the observer and the observed.