Abstract: Epistemic Justice, Power, and Oppression in Community Based Participatory Research (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Epistemic Justice, Power, and Oppression in Community Based Participatory Research

Friday, January 13, 2023
Laveen A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Catalina Tang Yan, MS, pre-doctoral candidate, Boston University, Boston, MA
Samiya Haque, MA, Research Assistant, Boston University School of Social Work
Devin Atallah, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Massachusetts Boston
Linda Sprague Martinez, PhD, Associate Professor, Boston University, Boston, MA
Background and Purpose: Participatory Action Research and Community-Based Participatory Research (PAR/CBPR) approaches present potential epistemological paradigms associated with equitable action-oriented knowledge production processes. In PAR/CBPR, research participants act as co-researchers and make significant contributions to all research stages enhancing scientific rigor, validity, and translation. While research employing PAR/CBPR is growing, numerous social inequities persist. Limited research has explored in-depth manifestations of interlocking systems of power and oppression in PAR/CBPR collaborations. Although researchers have used critical reflexive methodologies to examine these issues in PAR/CBPR, limited attention has been given to examine the perceptions of community partners and the ways PAR/CBPR may promote and/or hinder the pursuit of social justice. This study explores individual narratives and perceptions of manifestations of power and oppression within PAR/CBPR collaborations between social work faculty and community stakeholders while mapping micro, macro, relational, and positional discourses.

Methods: Online individual in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with social work faculty (n=13) and community stakeholders (n=10) from multiple cities in the U.S. with experience in PAR/CBPR. Interviews elicited participants’ understandings, experiences, and recommendations to redress power and oppression within PAR/CBPR. Drawing from decolonial, critical race theory, and intersectionality, data was analyzed using thematic and situational analytic approaches to explore how interviewees conceptualized power and patterns of factors reinforcing or shifting power imbalances within the PAR/CBPR partnerships. Iterative readings of the data were performed by the research team followed by the development and application of a codebook. Emerging themes were identified and relationships between each theme were further examined. Situational analysis was performed through the use of mapping, memoing, and theoretical coding.

Findings: Using the river parable, findings revealed two major overarching themes in PAR/CBPR: 1) downstream approaches that reinforce hierarchies of dominance, oppression, and epistemicide; and 2) upstream approaches that promote embodiment of sentipensante praxis that disrupts epistemicide through the enactment of counterspaces and counternarratives of refusal, resistance, and self-determination. Key downstream practices that maintained colonial knowledge production processes to maximize capitalism and perpetuate normative whiteness, othering, and disembodiment included production, extraction, gatekeeping, manipulation, limited transparency, and racism. Conversely, upstream practices that sought to dismantle epistemicide included humanizing and redefining relationships, engaging in brave dialogical and vulnerable conversations, and embodiment of reflective, ethical, and accountable collaborations.

Conclusion and Implications: Findings illustrate multiple positioned actors’ diverging and converging understandings of PAR/CBPR and the ways it can potentially support or hinder the pursuit of equity and justice. In addition to confirming existing literature suggesting researchers to engage in critical reflection and action to increase awareness of social locations of power, findings suggest the integration heart-centered ethical relational commitments among all implicated actors to shift the gaze, unearth, and challenge uncontested discourses and contradictions in PAR/CBPR to achieve individual and structural transformation.