Abstract: Community Building without Agenda: Reflections on Building a PAR Collective for Social Justice Dreaming and Action (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Community Building without Agenda: Reflections on Building a PAR Collective for Social Justice Dreaming and Action

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Dominique Mikell, MA, Student and Graduate Student Researcher, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Background and purpose: Participatory action research (PAR) is an approach utilized by scholars across disciplines attempting to move beyond the traditional extractive dynamics between individuals situated within the academy and individuals located outside of it. To accomplish this task, the current paper advocates that the PAR process must incorporate community-building, before traditional research activities such as the development of a research question.

Methods: In this paper, I critically reflect upon my experiences of community-building with several activists and artists in the Los Angeles Area from the Fall of 2018 to the Spring of 2020. To do this, I qualitatively analyzed journal entries, photographs, and other historical articles. The research collective in this paper consists of several Black and Latino artists and non-profit leaders and is united by the shared dream of creating opportunities for family healing after state intervention, with a focus on families of color and low-income families.

Results: During the formation of this research collective, community-building efforts consisted of demonstrating our commitment to collective social justice efforts, engaging in collective care, and participating in collective dreaming. These three community-building acts create sustainable relationships which are essential for PAR to occur in a manner that moves beyond extractivism, by establishing the foundation for power-sharing and collectively acting.

Demonstrating our commitment to the collective social justice dream of creating artistic outlets for youth impacted by state intervention was a necessary step towards building rapport among members of the collective. Before my arrival, members of the collective had spent years building deep relationships. To demonstrate my commitment in early moments of engagement, I began regularly attending, volunteering, and eventually aiding in the planning of events, such as film festivals. Through this, I demonstrated respect for existing goals and relationships.

Next, participating in activities of collective care solidified our commitments to each other in addition to our broader social justice goals. This was done through simple acts like cooking for each other, providing judgment-free spaces to share past traumas, and celebrating each other during times of personal triumph. Through seeing and treating each other as humans with emotional and physical needs rather than as purely means to accomplish our personal goals, we created sustainable relationships based on collective care.

Finally, collective dreaming brought us into dialogue on a world in which our communities, those of Black and Brown families, could thrive. To do this, we raised questions to each other, completed stream-of-consciousness drawing, creative writing, and videos, and openly debated what we collectively imagined as an ideal future and how to enact that future.

Conclusions and Implications: Due to a history marked by extractivism between the academy and communities on the margins, it is essential for researchers to think radically about how they will build community when engaging a participatory ethos in collective projects. As such, researchers should plan how they will build community before initiating traditional research activities. Through building a community for collective dreaming and action, a foundation for PAR and broader social justice goals can be achieved.