Human Organization, Vol. 66, No.

3, 2007 Copyright © 2007 by the Society for Applied Anthropology 0018-7259/07/030301-14$1.90/1

Public Anthropology and the Paradoxes of Participation: Participatory Action Research and Critical Ethnography in Provincial Russia
Julie Hemment
This article contributes to discussions of a public anthropology by bringing participatory action research (PAR) into dialogue with anthropology. PAR appears uniquely compatible with the goals of critical ethnography. Deeply concerned with global/structural inequality, it is also attentive to the power relations inherent within the research encounter; its point of departure is the kind of collaboration that the new (critical) ethnography proposes. However, despite these obvious affinities, few anthropologists have engaged PAR. At a time when more and more anthropologists are advocating forms of collaborative research practice, I argue that these two approaches to research can offer each other a great deal and that juxtaposing them is productive. Tracing the stages of her own fieldwork in post-Soviet Russia, the author argues that PAR offers the ethnographer a stance, or a framework to affect public anthropological engagement in the field. Further, it offers a means by which we can bring critical anthropological insights to collaborative projects for social change. Key words: participatory action research, post-Soviet Russia, power, critical ethnography

Tver’, Russia, 17 May 1998


alentina, Oktiabrina, Lena, and Lydia, four members of the women’s group Zhenskii Svet (Women’s Light) sat in my rented apartment, armed with flip charts and marker pens. At my request, the women had formed pairs and sat on the small sofa beds at opposite ends of the tiny one-room apartment, debating eagerly. We had gathered together that day to undertake a process of group reflection. This was a participatory workshop, the first step in a collaborative research process that we had planned for some time. Our discussion was structured around three broad questions

Julie Hemment is currently assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Research in Russia was supported by the Department of Anthropology at Cornell, the Cornell Graduate School and the Einaudi Center for International Studies and the Cornell University Peace Studies Program. Support from the European Field Studies Program at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst facilitated return trips in 2004 and 2005 and a fellowship from the Lilly Center for Teaching in 2003 provided leave time for writing. The author wishes to thank a number of colleagues and friends for their engagement in this work: the faculty of the department of Anthropology at the University of Kentucky where this paper was first delivered in October 2003, especially Michele Rivkin-Fish; at UMass, members of my graduate seminar, Larissa Hopkins, Deborah Keisch, Milena Marchesi, Graciela Monteagudo and Julie Skogsbergh.

designed to assist the group in clarifying its goals and aims; where did we come from? (the group’s history); where do we want to go? (the ideal); how to get there? (the action plan). As the women spoke, interrupting each other in excitement, I struggled to jot down all that they said. The four made interesting pairs: Valentina, founder of the group and feminist historian, worked with Oktiabrina, a doctor committed to issues of women’s health. Lena, an English language teacher,worked with Lydia, a sociologist and researcher who had recently been laid off. I had called the meeting with Valentina’s blessing now because the group was at a crossroad. Until this point, their strong concern with independence had led them to avoid entering into collaborations either with local state officials, or international donor agencies. Early excitement about the potential of partnership with foundations such as Ford and the Open Society Institute had given way to concern at the changes the women saw taking place: the creation of new hierarchies and shifting priorities as mandates were set in Washington or Geneva. But times were hard in the Russian provinces; these teachers, engineers, and doctors who were secure during the Soviet period now struggled to make ends meet as wages were withheld and prices skyrocketed. Some of the Zhenskii Svet women wanted to formalize their activities and locate sources of financial support; they were beginning to make tentative moves toward formal collaboration with external agents and they had competing ideas of how to go about this. At a time of tumultuous social and political

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as many have pointed out and mapped. socially-oriented project. evaluators. my goal is to bring a methodological dimension to these discussions. I argue that these two approaches to research can offer each other a great deal and that juxtaposing them is productive. “engaged” (Lamphere 2003). Stocking 2000). we had a shared and enriched perspective of the history of the group and had reached a broad consensus: the women agreed it was time to formalize the activities of Zhenskii Svet in some way and to set up a women’s center. engaged ethnographers can contribute to creating a space for the realization of new policies. there have been persistent (if marginal) calls from within cultural anthropology to achieve a HumaN OrganizatioN . First. This meant embarking on a new strategy vis-à-vis local and global powerbrokers—moving away from a stance of independence. our project gained momentum. I suggest that they may need each other. 4 In this article. while PAR is not central to graduate training in anthropology. In the context of this discussion. I see myself primarily addressing cultural anthropologists. 10 months into my ethnographic research. As an increasing number of anthropologists find themselves drawn in to NGO work as consultants. cultural anthropologists are looking for ways to forge a more socially engaged kind of practice. I felt I had something concrete to offer: insight into international donor priorities and acquaintance with both donor agency representatives and other Russian provincial groups. Indeed. Deeply concerned with global/structural inequality. more and more anthropologists are likely to come into contact with it as the field changes. In the weeks and months that followed. or to exhort colleagues to a better practice—with Douglas Foley and many others (Foley and Valenzuela 2005.” the “nitty gritty” of every day life (2000:12). I draw on my own collaborative research in provincial Russia (1997-98). Committed to the potential of ethnography and its power to yield insights into what Paul Willis and Matt Trondhem call “lived-outness. Rather. Detailing the different phases of my fieldwork with Russian women activists. PAR is also attentive to the power relations inherent within the research encounter. By the end of that day. Lassiter 2005b) I agree that there are many ways to be collaborative. I have found little dialogue about what constitutes it. and the emergence of new political possibilities beyond what the global economy and its neoliberal rationalizations have set for us” (2003:177). In recent years. Whether in the name of “public” (Borofsky 2000). despite these obvious affinities. PAR has two things going for it. Toward an Engaged. its point of departure is the kind of collaboration that the new (critical) ethnography proposes. In order to do this. by bringing participatory action research (PAR). into dialogue with anthropology. applied and action anthropological approaches have a rich history within the discipline (Bennett 1996. eventually resulting in the decision to set up a women’s crisis center for victims of sexual and domestic violence in the city. I turn to a discussion of my own fieldwork in post-Soviet Russia. or to undertake qualitative research. Indeed. At first glance. and here. “public interest” (Sanday 2003). which combined both approaches and enabled me to work closely with members of Zhenskii Svet. As anthropologists debate the perimeters and terms of their discipline.1 However. I contribute to these discussions. Hale 2006. I came to PAR in my search for a good enough methodology. Second. to enter into strategic forms of engagement.3 While collaboration is (and has long been) promoted as a desirable end for ethnographic engagement. PAR offers a framework through which we can bring critical anthropological insights to collaborative projects with research participants in the field. I argue that PAR offers a means of reconceptualizing the ethnographic encounter to allow for some of the collaborations critical anthropologists advocate. I review some of the debates that have stimulated me in this endeavor. a social change methodology. it offers a methodological dimension to discussions of collaboration as we embark on anthropology as cultural critique. in these challenging neoliberal times. PAR is a method that is widely embraced by international and non-governmental agencies. scholars who engage in PAR are also rethinking their practice. they are likely to find themselves forced to engage with PAR. Public. which would both sustain existing projects and enable Zhenskii Svet women to devise new ones. by which I mean the post-1980s trend within anthropology that is attentive to issues of culture and power. I conceptualized the seminar as a place where members of the group could clarify their personal goals and investment in it. or how to go about it. PAR appears uniquely compatible with the goals of critical ethnography. or Public Interest Anthropology? Since the late 1960s. My goal is not to add to the already burgeoning list of designations. “collaborative” (Lassiter 2005b). I wanted to clarify my own role and commitment. I show how PAR offered a framework to affect public anthropological engagement in the field. few anthropologists have engaged PAR.” as Oktiabrina put it. “Through long-term collaborations with community-based activists. 5 In order to make the case for this synthesis. joining them in a project wherein they made crucial decisions about organizational development. Lyon-Callo and Hyatt 2003). In this article. or “activist” anthropology (Hale 2006. and engaging in an activist project with members of Zhenskii Svet. Combining PAR with ethnographic research enabled a two-fold project. discussions about the scope and purpose of anthropology have animated the discipline. As Vincent Lyon-Callo and Susan Brin Hyatt suggest.change. or what I call “critique plus”: the combined commitment to rethinking and problematizing international aid and cross-cultural feminist interventions. This support would enable them to establish a real “concrete. Before turning to this discussion.2 At a time when more and more anthropologists are advocating forms of collaborative research practice. 302 Singer 2000. new subject positions. the group was unraveling and the women had begun to rethink their activism. Nor do I wish to diminish or erase the contributions of applied anthropology.

despite this. the new vogue for “participation” marks the “commodification” and cooptation of participatory methods 303 . one element of the classical paradigm persists: the split between theoretical and applied. and colonial and neo-colonial relations (Wolf 1982). these shifts pushed us to think about power in the research encounter. PAR recasts research as a collaborative endeavor between outside researcher and community group. or a philosophy (Fals Borda and Rahman 1991b:16). Indeed.s find themselves employed outside the academy. the appetite grows for what I call “critique plus”.” revealing the self in the process of studying the other. existing outside of global relations of power. Our ethnographic work places us in intimate proximity to those who feel neoliberalism’s affects most sharply. participatory action research emerged as a direct challenge both to the logic of conventional social science and top-down development initiatives (Freire 1970). where the inequities and violence caused by neoliberal economic policies grow daily.10 These calls for change are not stimulated by anxiety about its perceived irrelevance.7 This has to do in part with recent high profile issues such as the Yanomami controversy. Freirian inspired methods have been widely used by progressive social movements from rural Appalachia. to Faye Harrison’s call to “decolonize” it (Harrison 1991). the World Bank now asserts participation as a core value and advocates the use of participatory methodologies in its programs. 66. It is presumably this situation that prompted Peggy Sanday to refer to the existence of a “generalized academic taboo against social action” (2003:5).” integrated into the agendas of international development agencies and NGOs (Jordan 2003:186). graduate training may be at odds with the expectations and needs of graduate students.6 Centrally related to this reconceptualization was a consideration of power. or its lack of applicability. Initially prompted by feminist and subaltern epistemological challenges. NO. the “critical” paradigm is now broadly accepted (Burawoy and Verdery 1999. 3. calls to rethink and reevaluate anthropology’s role. As we document these and grapple to make sense of them. the community group invites a researcher to work with them on a project that meets local needs (Greenwood and Levin 1998). many cultural anthropologists are uneasy about the implications of social engagement. Many of us who came of age in the post-Writing Culture period were drawn to the discipline by the power of the critique of anthropological VOL. On another level. As I have noted. it was impossible to continue with business as usual. Variously described as a method. Anthropology programs tend to be clearly demarcated. However. but which enables us to push beyond the deconstructive moment to engage in collaborative projects for social change. In an ideal typical PAR project. The authors argue that agencies such as the World Bank merely pay lip service to these new values whilst they continue their old practices of top-down economic development (2001). but rather concern about its new popularity. a style. political economy. Critical anthropology includes a reflexive imperative—requiring that the analyst undertake a “double move. Clifford and Marcus 1986. scholars working within the critical paradigm can be hostile to activist type research (Hale 2006:101). Bill Cooke and Uma Kothari’s book.more socially engaged.” to use Steven Jordan’s terms. while some clearly identify as “ap plied. distinct. anthropologists were forced to recognize the “connections” between cultures and peoples. the desire to affect a mode of engagement that holds on to the important insights of critical ethnography and the goals of cultural critique. Once a “methodology of the margins.8 it is also connected to shifts within the field itself. Meanwhile. Steven Jordan makes a similar critique. purpose. Neither can we get away with writing ourselves out of our ethnographic accounts. But in recent years this profile underwent a qualitative shift and PAR has seen its fortunes soar. FALL 2007 practice. In the last decades. holding unflattering mirrors to the discipline.11 Although largely overlooked by anthropologists. particularly in these times. hermetically sealed entities. Indeed. The “classic paradigm. it is now “mainstreamed. the job market has changed significantly. prompted by concerns emanating from both inside and outside the academy. Participation: The New Tyranny? offers a trenchant critique of participation discourse in development circles and shows the gulf between the rhetoric of participation and actual practice (Cooke and Kothari 2001). to Latin America. development studies. subaltern and women’s studies. It is this new prominence that gives its practitioners pause. In his view.” many departments of cultural anthropology shy from the designation and offer only sketchy methodological training. These challenges emerged as the discipline of anthropology was buffeted by postcolonial. in this environment.” itself an artifact of the post World War II era. Marcus and Fischer 1986). PAR is a methodology that has percolated far and wide.9 The concerns emanating from the participatory action research literature have a different basis. Rather than assuming that the right and expertise to design and conduct research reside with the expert researcher. and human service studies. yet we want more. the new ethnography requires that we position ourselves as we write about fieldwork interactions and allow for relations of power in the field. We can no longer conceptualize the world in terms of “cultures”—separate. connections of power. A majority of anthropology Ph. PAR is explicitly “applied”—it is a social change methodology that has its roots in popular struggles in the global South to make research a more egalitarian and collaborative effort.D. too. Practitioners and scholars working in fields traditionally seen as applied have used the methodology to devise diverse community-based projects in education. history. was usurped and the critical paradigm took its place. and relevance have become even more urgent in recent years. politically oriented practice—from Dell Hymes’ call to “reinvent” anthropology (Hymes 1972). which raised serious questions about the discipline. We were compelled by the critical insights this entailed. As the former objects of analysis spoke back. But I attribute this new vogue for thinking public to something even more fundamental.

the US. In postsocialist states. In this context. During the 1990s. PAR may need the tools of critical ethnography as much as critical ethnography needs PAR. In an institutional setting. The Postsocialist Context Doing research in the formerly socialist states of Central Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union differs from what George Stocking has called the “archetypal” anthropological encounter (2000). The collapse of the socialist alternative gave rise to a new political environment. their activities are constrained by the circumstances they work within—grant deadlines. participation. history. Their representatives eagerly sought out non-governmental groups—human rights. international agencies such as the Ford Foundation. male HumaN OrganizatioN . or politics of the region and were reluctant to consult their Soviet peers (Bruno 1997. insofar as they bring us into close. too—places limits on our political imagination. However sincere the desire of individual agency representatives to effect positive social change. they become “unmoored” from the struggles in which they were rooted. resulting in massive lay-offs. women’s rights/human rights. “Shock-therapy. the NGO. enterprises. During the early 1990s.12 The same is true of the rhetoric of participation. while “Communism” had lost. During my research in Russia during the mid to late 1990s. the postsocialist condition—which is not restricted to formerly socialist states. rights talk—the “politics of recognition”—displaces struggles over material issues and social justice—the “politics of redistribution” (Fraser 1997). When concepts that originate in the progressive campaigns of the left are mainstreamed. Sampson 1996. I argue that in these times. but manifest in Western Europe and the US. often intimate proximity with research participants (Stacey 1988). The lively discussions of reform and socialist revitalization—the “third way” discussed by many—short-circuited. and practitioners need to be doubly critical. sustained by UN conferences and new budgets for foundations and donor agencies. Wedel 1998). a brief word about the context within my research took place. a new global apparatus for activism set up. women’s rights activists. This initial optimism soon gave way as liberal triumphalism set in—the conviction that “the West” had won. and environmentalists—and encouraged them to apply for newly available grants and funding. these interventions were driven by a missionary zeal that was blind to local knowledge. This is particularly true in Russia. President Ronald Reagan’s “evil empire”. the anthropological encounter is structured by the Cold War and its legacy. This was the age of the non-state actor. Before I turn to discuss my own fieldwork.14 Russian activists viewed these potential collaborations with a mix of intrigue and excitement—they were initially excited to make the acquaintance of foreigners and to enter into the “partnerships” that were promised.13 With Steven Jordan. In the immediate aftermath of Communism’s collapse there was a lot of public rhetoric about the end of history and idealism about the potential for global harmony. I saw this logic amply illustrated. concepts like gender.” In her formulation. bankrolled by the US and West European governments. The encounter is not structured by colonial histories and postcolonial trajectories. In the immediate post Cold War period. and the former East bloc. social indicators plummeted—rates of infection increased.15 Despite the public rhetoric of partnerships and participation put out by these agencies. This authorized a slew of international “democratizing” interventions in postsocialist states. management issues. RivkinFish 2005. This apparatus extended into virgin territory of the formerly second world. Ost 1990). Post-Soviet Russia was considered a blank slate and the project was seen to be one of re-education (Wedel 1998). Claims to empowerment are hard to challenge. These circumstances mean there are issues they do not see and cannot afford to look for (Rivkin-Fish 2005).(2003). This was a time of intense economic dislocation. Hyatt 1997. In this new environment. participation and civil society have been successful precisely because they are emptied of their radical content (Snitow 1999:35-42). New master concepts that seemed to mark the triumph of the people over states percolated freely and gave articulation to development agendas—civil society. problems that beset the methodology may be magnified. in Ann Snitow’s terms. Their redeployment can be dangerous and powerful. I share these concerns. and the broader logic within which interventions take place. equally fraught. and bureaucracies to be shut down and privatized. displaced by the project of marketization (Borneman 1992. Wedel 1998). Snitow 1999). Indeed. The North American and western European advisors and experts who brought “know-how” to Russia (such as accounting. these early “East-West” exchanges were unidirectional.” called for state-run factories. During this period. Participatory methods are potentially riskier than conventional ones. Sampson 1996.” the economic policy that was endorsed and aggressively promoted by North American and western European advisors and embraced by Russia’s so-called “young reformers. Recent feminist scholarship has traced the ways notions of “empowerment” and “women’s rights” have become linked to some decidedly illiberal projects. The Central European “velvet” revolutions 304 of 1989 took place in the name of “civil society”—people rising up against tyrannous states. and skills) and who directed this flow of aid frequently had very little base or background in the culture. but it is arguably. they have been deployed in ways that enhance and facilitate the advance of neoliberal state and its restructuring processes (Cruikshank 1999. which feminist philosopher Nancy Fraser has characterized as the “postsocialist condition. here local knowledge was specifically discounted as a communist legacy (Abramson 1999. the MacArthur Foundation and the Open Society Institute arrived in Russia and other formerly socialist states with a mandate to assist civil society development. expressed by actors in Western Europe. management. organizational technologies. Lyon-Callo 2004.

” This then was the contradictory and challenging terrain where my research was situated. Secondly. 66. to highlight the gulf between public rhetoric and actual outcomes. Despite rhetorical commitment to working collaboratively with Russian “partner” organizations. or perhaps it is more accurate to say “socialized. As I contemplated my field site from the dual vantage points that my training had encouraged. and how Russian women made sense of the Western feminist discourses and models that these agencies brought with them. Here. FALL 2007 concerning Russia’s state socialist history. that is. where the cultural collisions and mismatch were most apparent. However.” into the methods of cultural anthropology. had relatively little to say about ethnographic practice (Enslin 1994). I turn to discuss three phases of my research and consider the ways critical ethnography and PAR were intertwined through each of them. my project began to take shape as a critical investigation of democratization. frequently from the global south. Concepts were deployed from other contexts. “I have a Masters degree and I know two foreign languages. some deeply unpopular policies were enacted in its name. The economic “shock therapy” that was prescribed by IMF advisors and international lenders led to the downsizing of state industries. 3.” Thus as I prepared for fieldwork. and mother-in-law and have no hot water. Many of the women activists I spoke with in the mid to late 1990s were dissatisfied with the international seminars and training programs they attended. leaving populations struggling to deal with unemployment. For complex reasons VOL. my goal was to problematize the concepts and technologies that undergirded international interventions in postsocialist states. how should I position myself as a British. I realized that “democratizing” interventions. PAR I had been trained. western feminist insights didn’t add up or make sense to most Russian women. women’s rights. US trained and based anthropologist? How could I avoid replicating these same patterns through my own research practice? I came to PAR in my search for a good-enough methodology. in the 70 years of state socialism. As a result. They interested me firstly because they were starting to make one of the most audible critiques of democratization. NO. etc. their economic disenfranchisement and the mounting public rhetoric about women’s role (Gal and Kligman 2000. the dismantling of the social security system and sharp cutbacks in the health care system. but an ethnographer.) were frequently dismissed as “communists. To make matters more vexed. Russian actors who were impolitic enough to publicly refer to the economic fallout of “transition” (unemployment. and health costs without a safety net. community empowerment. NGOs. were bound up in a troubling political economy. the objection in part is being positioned as “less developed.19 The critical discussions that excited and shaped me. Posadskaya 1994. discussions of human rights or women’s rights initiated by foundations and donor agencies tended to ignore these structural issues and to focus narrowly on issues of organizational development. and social capital were promoted at the same time as a violent economic restructuring was taking place.17 My preliminary ethnographic work made me aware of the frustration of Russian people who were on the receiving end of these interventions. cuts in social services. Ethnographic PAR in three stages: Phase One— Defining the Project Unlike many who undertake participatory forms of research. I sought to examine the development encounter that was unfurling in the world’s former superpower by analyzing its reception by Russian activists. But I had another concern too that was prompted by the reflexive imperative of the critical ethnographic project: as I contemplated my research design. and which had so much to say about deconstructing western hegemonies and the importance of self-reflexivity and positioning in ethnographic writing.18 That is. did not seem appropriate to Russia or to her life. by the 1980s there was a commonly held perception that socialism had emasculated men and over-emancipated women and both men and women yearned for these policies to be reversed. This is not because the issue is in any way new—on the contrary. My topic was to examine the cultural processes of “transition” in Russia. such as programs that promoted women’s rights. When the object of inquiry is “western” or international intervention. which she associated with rural. however. the “how” question grew louder. agendas were set outside—in Geneva or Washington—and often had little local salience. I was particularly interested in the encounter between international aid agencies and women’s groups. With other scholars of postsocialism working during the 1990s. As one of my woman activist friends once memorably put it. hyperinflation. gender equality was a prominent goal of Bolshevik era social engineering. There is no commonly held perception of gender discrimination in Russia and the notion of women organizing as women is greeted with suspicion. Am I a grassroots woman?” This term. I was committed to the project of cultural critique.16 Meanwhile. 305 . Russian women’s groups thus became particularly interesting to me for a number of reasons. civil society. but I live in a two room apartment with my two sons. women’s groups interested me because I understood them to be one of the most fraught sites of international interventions. Watson 1993). husband. these draconian steps were promoted by some of the same agencies that promoted women’s empowerment projects.mortality rose dramatically and a majority of the population found themselves to be impoverished. Many groups were set up out of concern about the gendered aspects of transition—the steady decline of women’s political participation. third world contexts. and to draw attention to moments of ill fit and disjuncture at the point of reception. I was not a practitioner seeking a site for an intervention. In this next section.

but as a framework for conceptualizing collaboration and for keeping critical anthropological concerns within my sights. issues of reciprocity and the terms upon which this research relationship would take place. guided by Federal Funding patterns and the strategic objectives of sponsoring governments (Gupta and Ferguson 1997).20 The PAR literature contained specific models. she was critical of the policies of international agencies. As I began to survey the vast literature on PAR.The PAR literature addressed these concerns. Without money. case studies and tools I could draw on and adapt. although it had recently gone online. but to participate in our activity. it was not rigid but quite elastic. an autonomous individual who stumbles across. the group’s founder. as I have explained. I had a particular interest in the work of the new crisis center network that was appearing in Russia). but we have skills. Petersburg. In the summer of 1995 when I traveled to Russia. This small. I was drawn to what some have called “southern” PAR—Marxist influenced participatory approaches. it was located in a provincial city. but instead used participatory action research methodologies to achieve contingent. I had a list of provincial groups to visit. nor PAR practitioner. as in the popular education work of Paolo Freire. First. or AR. You have no money. The rite of passage that is participant observation presumes a lone fieldworker. Explicit in my research proposal was a concern to work through PAR. critical ethnography led me to select women’s groups as a general site. I have no money. or chances upon. But what about my selection of a specific field site—Tver’ and Zhenskii Svet? Neither solely participant observer. In the end. what can we do together? To find a possibility to come to us. Gibson-Graham 2006. people or places that capture their imagination. I embraced it not merely as method. this serendipity is overdetermined and these “accidental” selections take place in a field structured by power. As I laid out my goals and objectives and interest in collaboration (negotiating collaborative research relations). As I’ve explained. and work out ways to resolve local problems. collaborative—this answered the calls of critical anthropologists since the 1980s. in the first wave of independent organizing in Russia. to negotiate my role and the terms of our relationship and it became a means of initiating a productive “conversation” (Gibson-Graham 1994:220) with Zhenskii Svet participants. but talking about PAR helped me negotiate access and an invitation to one in particular. and a crisis center for women victims of sexual and domestic violence (as a former-crisis center counselor. I wished to understand what this meant to its participants.21 I was particularly drawn by the work of scholars who have drawn on feminist and post-structuralist theory to creatively reformulate PAR. Valentina told me she was struggling with similar issues. We are very resourceful people. or to embrace it wholesale. Valentina. the PAR literature gave me a framework through which to conceptualize my fieldwork. and attention to issues of power within the fieldwork encounter. We began to dream about the possibility for western feminists to come not only to organize round tables. 306 My selection of Russia as fieldsite was. PAR conceptualizes the research process as dialogical. Prompted partly by her engagement with feminist literature and her own organizing strategies. Phase 2: The Selection of a Fieldsite Archetypal accounts of fieldwork within cultural anthropology emphasize the serendipity of the site selection. As the diversity of participatory approaches I discovered attests. and I shared similar interests and concerns. a provincial city located 170 km outside Moscow. But what caused this to gel was that across our different locations. strategic forms of alliance and collaboration with research participants (Gibson-Graham 1994. these approaches did not assume a unified identity (“women”) or a unified form of oppression (“patriarchy”). my idea of PAR was that it could be a discursive space wherein anthropologist and informants could discuss. Second. its feminist identification was unusual. activist oriented form of scholarship. The PAR literature prompted me to think very seriously about the politics of negotiating access to a community group. and I was specifically interested in exploring the experience of groups outside Moscow and St. sample questions. my selection of field site came about through a synthesis of both. who have advocated new relations of research where informants and anthropologists work together at the level of writing. of course. We decided. and work with us. eat with us! HumaN OrganizatioN . as I set out for the field. As Gupta and Ferguson have pointed out. university-based feminist oriented group dedicated to women’s education and consciousness-raising was founded in 1991. live with us. Third. but also by the changes she saw taking place within the Russian women’s movement. made possible by the unraveling of the Cold War and new possibilities for travel this offered. annual women’s week. I was inspired by the work of some anthropologists and feminist researchers. and—although as a non-US citizen I was not eligible to apply for it—by the federal money directed towards social scientists to encourage them to do this. recording. to bring it to ethnography and to see what it could enable. who have turned to PAR to achieve a more socially responsible. It helped me to locate a fieldsite and a women’s group to work. or to tell something about fundraising. The online announcement I received listed a number of interesting educational and socially oriented projects—a women’s Oral history project. or in action projects. One was Zhenskii Svet a women’s group located in Tver’. identify. long before the arrival of international foundations. I was drawn to it for a number of reasons. it was outside the loop of international funding. There was much here in common with critical ethnography—a concern with global connections and relations of power. My goal in short was not to “do” PAR. As she put it in a joint presentation we subsequently gave to the PAR Network at Cornell University in 1999. Paley 2001).

I wasn’t seeking to work toward an already defined goal such as a public health issue like HIV prevention. around this personal intimacy and trust a new “partial but shared. I was not working to promote a pre-existing notion of “women’s empowerment. Zhenskii Svet formed out of already existing networks of acquaintances—in this case. Sometimes I was an envoy. Finally. Despite the fact that we had broadly shared values (an identification with feminism and a critical perspective on the effects of international aid on the Russian women’s movement) and both expressed the desire to collaborate. No longer the observer. however. the westernidentified outsider.For sure. It wasn’t even clear with whom it would take place. returning with stories about other crisis centers. The group had no fixed premises.” My point of departure was that “Russian women” had a perfectly good grasp of their issues and needs. While my critique stemmed from my positionality as a US-based anthropologist. attending group meetings and getting to know the women participants. This became the basis for a collaborative research project. I was not a “practitioner” with an already defined question or intervention to make. Other times I made connections of my own. I attended local meetings and seminars with them. it wasn’t at all clear what this “collaboration” would look like or how it would take place. Valentina’s critique was not of aid per se. she was not unreflexively critical of grant making bodies or their representatives. Feeling somewhat undone. She preferred to call it a “club” not a group. which were transformed for me. In fact. carrying letters and passing greetings to friends in other cities. she insisted that she was not its leader. the group didn’t have a clearly defined question or issue or project either. it was that in Zhenskii Svet as a fieldsite. While I embraced this fluidity intellectually. she was determined that Zhenskii Svet would be independent and fluid. During the year I was in the city. How would a democratic group oriented project actually play out? Could my method allow for this? Clearly this called for a shift of stance. Like most of the women activists I encountered in my research. Valentina’s students. IREX) and became acquainted with their representatives. hence no address and no telephone. Over time. I specifically sought to work against the universalizing strategies and solutions—the institutional feminism if you like—that were asserted by international agencies. formalization. Phase 3: The Research Process I returned to Tver’ in 1997 and spent one year with the women of Zhenskii Svet. Still. our preliminary discussions persuaded us that we could work together and forge a contingent alliance across difference for the duration of my research. by affecting a different kind of gendered intervention through collaborative research. I got involved in the stuff of life that took place between meetings. it didn’t look like a group at all. Once again. The women activists I knew had always asked questions of me—they frequently appealed to me. 66. it was open to the public. she did not speak in terms of colonization. NO. 3. And although it had a founder in Valentina. other forms of activism. it met weekly or bi-weekly in a room in the municipal library. or neocolonialism. a sense of shared purpose grew. other women’s projects. but of what she viewed as its unintended effects. Valentina’s critique emerged from her positionality as a highly educated member of the intelligentsia who had been opposed to the Soviet regime and was deeply interested in democratic projects for social renewal. I traveled to other cities—bringing back information and brochures. Although critical of the processes she saw unfolding. as in some of the cases I had read about. the American Bar Association. Thus. I began to form friendships with the women. In response to decades of top-down hierarchical party controlled organizations. Zhenskii Svet had no staff and no budget. she insisted that she would much rather trust an American or European partner organization than nasha vlast’ (our authorities)! Unlike some of the critical recipients of democratization aid whose accounts I had read. we were differently positioned and we had a very different interest and level of engagement in these issues. Although a self-identified feminist. to help them interpret the technologies and 307 . Like many Russian obshchestvennyi organizatsii (societal organizations). and colleagues. and to enact this. she was interested in the use and applicability of western concepts and remained deeply convinced of the potential for good in the East-West encounter. which it was granted for a couple of hours. It defied even my culturally VOL. externally related identity” formed (Gibson-Graham 1994:218). Therein began a new phase of my research wherein I devoted myself to the standard practices of participant observation. former students. Gradually. on occasion. I was a graduate student undertaking dissertation research. At the same time. the questions that interested me were matters of personal and organizational survival to members of Zhenskii Svet. and to friends who were engaged in other forms of societal work they thought I would be interested in. she referred to it as a “corridor. Valentina was ideologically opposed to the idea of hierarchy. It had no clear membership base and participation was fluid. We discussed these findings during Zhenskii Svet meetings. My friends introduced me to other local associations and groups.” through which women would pass to undertake their own social projects. between 6 to 20 people showed up to the approximately 20 meetings I attended between 1997-98. My westernness enabled me easy access where it was difficult for most of my provincial colleagues to tread—I visited the offices of international foundations and agencies (the Ford Foundation. the two threads of my project promised to come together: to rethink and problematize international aid and cross-cultural feminist interventions. concerned with culture and power and the analytic of neoliberalism. I found it methodologically challenging. I attended meetings of Zhenskii Svet and other local groups. I joined them in their discussions and plans. who invited me to their homes and into the rhythms of their family lives. FALL 2007 relativistic expectations of what a non-governmental group should look like. Unlike most Russian groups. I retreated from my participatory intent.

the campaigns against gendered violence were supported by most of the agencies that funded women’s groups in Russia. They recognized points of disconnect and ill fit between the transnational feminist campaign and local constructions. As our sense of shared understandings grew. the Zhenskii Svet women pushed me to assume a more active role. and we pretend to be grateful”(Wedel 1998)—we retained conviction in what we were doing and were committed to using these resources locally. the likely costs and possible benefits. Indeed. unemployment. Beyond the dialectic of professed idealism and cynical engagement I’d seen elsewhere—that anthropologist Janine Wedel describes as “you pretend to help. alcoholism and the draft. Foundation support financed the production of easy-to-use materials—brochures. to what Valentina called a “strategy of involvement” with local and international power brokers. the crisis center model. the Open Society Institute). too. their wages. many of which were translated from English or German. based on rape crisis center in the US and Western Europe offered a blueprint and a framework. However. I realized that these were not just abstract discussions. engineers. the HumaN OrganizatioN . they served to deflect attention from structural issues in the postsocialist period. Rather. IREX. Most group participants were employed in the crumbling state sector as teachers. For activists. Together. What did civil society look like in Britain and the US? as it right that nongovernmental groups should provide social services? What then was the role of the state? As I came to better understand the fragility of their lives. The Zhenskii Svet women conceptualized a crisis center as a site from which they could address a wide variety of local concerns. Over the course of four meetings. As Oktiabrina. we debated these issues. As a result of these changed circumstances the Zhenskii Svet women were moving away from an ideal of independence.” Valentina told me. which had been largely philosophical. the questions changed and became more urgent. we made the decision to engage the international campaign against violence against women strategically. we entered into partnership with international agencies and local state officials with our eyes wide open. while I lived in the city. Their questions. Our decision to set up a crisis center was strategic—it wasn’t a process of discovery according to which the women recognized a set of objectively existing “needs” (Fraser 1990. The Zhenskii Svet women perceived the material crises that beset local women—the crisis of living space. a crisis center for women victims of sexual violence represented their best hope to establish a formal women’s center in the city. one of the group participants felt strongly that it was a mistake to accept the campaigns’ focus on interpersonal violence and preferred to conceptualize the project as a crisis center for victims of economic violence. posters. or had their consciousness raised to understand 308 a feminist issue (“gender violence”). were routinely withheld for months at a time. One of the outcomes of this process was the decision to set up a crisis center for women victims of sexual and domestic violence. we all came to better understand the history of the group and the contemporary needs and interests of its participants. In making “gender” the explanatory variable and in focusing on interpersonal relationships between spouses. Our PAR project—or “our seminars” as my friends recall it—became a collaborative process wherein we considered issues of organizational development and how to relate to. I brought insights derived from ethnographic fieldwork: information about donor priorities and grants and funding. Neat. the women hoped to be able to address these wider issues and saw the crisis center as a kind of diagnostic. the women saw the crisis center model as a resource we could negotiate and adapt and draw on as we made sense of local issues. unpaid or withheld wages. forcing them to taken on additional jobs or engage in elaborate forms of barter. disseminated by international donor agencies. or cramped and unsatisfactory living space without amenities. the crisis center had become a kind of do-it-yourself NGO kit. “but never for me. already absurdly low. including domestic violence (Hemment 2004). and handbooks. By 1997. we discussed the pros and cons of engaging with foundations. Through our discussions.22 As our collaborative project got underway.23 Through our PAR process. alcoholism and military service—to be far more pressing. including women’s anxieties about the crisis of living space.concepts that by 1997 percolated in the Russian provinces. Our discussions were not uncomplicated or without conflict. Initially. we pooled our perspectives and resources. namely the “liberalizing” structural adjustment processes that exacerbated all forms of violence. became more direct: what can you do to help? Our Collaborative Project and the Decision to Set Up a Crisis Center in Tver’ It was at this point that I called the first group seminar I described in the opening section of this article. In the course of our seminars. the mayor): “Their doors will open for a western visitor. easy to learn.” As I contemplate it now. The Zhenskii Svet women were all struggling with the economic dislocations of the immediate postSoviet period—unemployment. but the local mayor’s office. I want to stress that this was not a cynical move. lobbying and making calls both to the representatives of donor agencies and to local powerbrokers (the head of the municipal social services. and manage international aid. The gendered violence campaigns that agencies endorsed exhibited many of the troubling characteristics I outlined above. gain. Foundations provided startup grants for fledgling crisis centers and training programs for their staff. Gal 1994). the president’s representative to the oblast’. What could we do to gain support? How could we formalize these activities? And it was here that attitudes changed towards me. I see how our collaborative project combined insights from PAR and critical ethnography. In practice. doctors. Rather. we decided to set up a crisis center because we knew this was the project agencies were most likely to support. the Zhenskii Svet women had their doubts about making gendered violence the main issue. we eventually won the support not only of international agencies (the American Bar Association.

there has been relatively little discussion either of what constitutes collaboration or how to go about it. commentary is often relegated to footnotes. beyond broad endorsements. How do we evaluate its outcomes? As Charles Hale notes. In these discussions. to enter into the partnerships and collaborations with international agencies that the Zhenskii Svet women had held back from. We made the decision to work in this contradictory environment in the pursuit of collectivist goals and projects and in an attempt to make gender matter. Indeed. “aha effects” that have greatly influenced the way I write about international aid. a project of samoobrazovanie (self education) as Valentina and Oktiabrina describe it. this dimension of ethnographic work often remains on the periphery of anthropological texts. It acted as a kind of support center. 10 months of participant observation was a necessary precondition for the collaboration to take place.” She conceptualized the crisis center as a pilot project through which we could learn more about women’s real and most pressing needs and a new site from which to continue the educational and enlightenment work of Zhenskii Svet: “When women come for assistance and consultations in connection with real problems in their lives. it emerged organically. Then it’s not abstract. How to Start and Manage a Women’s Crisis Center. Oktiabrina. but has some real basis. we traveled (united briefly in this temporary.” enabled me to take this next step. in interaction with members of the group. Ultimately. I have suggested that the synthesis of these approaches offers a framework through which we can fruitfully engage in what I’ve called “critique plus” the combined commitment to anthropology as cultural critique. Rather than a static method that I brought in. also. the problems they face. Participant observation typically stops there. It is deeply aware of power. It has proved to be transformative for all of us. Finally.24 Oktiabrina said that she had a lot of respect for the crisis center model. It is reflexive. and I continue to devise projects across different fields. Our collaborative research was dialogically negotiated.26 As far as social science is concerned. FALL 2007 It enabled intimacy and trust to build between us. Through revisiting my own fieldwork. Participant observation allowed PAR to happen. however.25 Conclusions: Participatory Ethnography or Ethnographic PAR Discussions of a socially engaged. “We don’t yet know the extent to which domestic violence is the most important issue facing women. PAR is committed to local knowledge. and what actually materialized in Russia. activist research has dual loyalties—to academia and to the political struggles with which it is affiliated (2006:100). the crisis center flourished and was the source of great pride and inspiration. Through tracing the phases of my own fieldwork. It involves different stakeholders in a group research process. or ethnographic PAR yielded rich ethnographic knowledge. In this article. activist. I learned about how people do activism. until it was forced to shut down in 2003. Through my involvement in Oktiabrina’s sustained attempts to establish the crisis center. it has been relatively seldom engaged by anthropologists. engaging in this 309 .doctor who emerged to be the director of the crisis center put it. Via our collaborative project. yielding rich ethnographic knowledge about lives and sensemaking processes. at the same time as it provided services to women victims of sexual and domestic violence. or public anthropology have animated the discipline in recent years. the crisis center was forced to shut down. contingent alliance) from a critical stance as outsiders. designed to uncover the structural causes of problems through collective discussion and interaction. the eventual shift as I’ve described was summoned forth by Valentina and members of Zhenskii Svet. or a “philosophy. ethnographers come to their own private solutions that may or may not involve action. “70 percent of all problems now in Tver’ have a material basis. as I have explained. I learned a great deal about the continued importance of social networks and systems patronage in Russia. and to engaging in collaborative projects for social change. Indeed. many have advocated the desirability of collaboration with research participants. However. I have suggested that PAR and critical ethnography can be combined in productive synthesis. subject to the shifting winds of donor state priorities and to local politics. PAR as a rubric. As far as the Zhenskii Svet women were concerned. the decision to formalize their activities and work with donor agencies led to some major. often uncomfortable. the differences between the civil society imagined by international foundations. 66. insofar as it forces one to confront the self that observes. reconfigurations for the Zhenskii Svet women. What I call “PAR” and what my friends call “our seminars” enabled us to undertake a mutual learning process. I’m not sure what crisis centers can do to resolve that. this participatory ethnography. and the transition to professionalized NGO work was neither smooth nor unambiguous (2007). Valentina. other Zhenskii Svet participants. Further. it was the basis of my familiarity with the group and facilitated my understanding of their own problems. I am denied the “complacency of closure” that predominates in social science analysis (Mertz 2002:362). NO. ours is a story of subtle and ambivalent gains As I detail elsewhere. PAR allowed this involvement to take center stage. since this is an ongoing story that has no end. But while it existed. Like ethnography. needs and interests. but that she had a lot of questions about it too. 3. VOL.” After reading the foundation-sponsored book. I’ve sought to intervene by bringing a methodological dimension to these discussions.” Indeed. Together. providing a sense of community and practical training for local women (both clients and those who volunteered or worked there). I have shown how the two approaches were interwoven in my research. Despite this. then we can tell them about their rights. the crisis center served as an exemplary women’s center in the spirit we had intended. at the time of going to press. anthropologists frequently advocate for their friends/informants and this activity may make up the bulk of research time.

As the Hackenbergs have noted. it is the project of those who are primarily employed within universities. 3 I understand public anthropology to be primarily a project of the academy. This means comprehending the local and conducting our place-based investigations whilst always being concerned with the “broader political geography” (Gal and Kligman 2000:4). my sense too is that these boundaries are increasingly hard to maintain. 11 PAR breaks the binary of researcher and researched by involving community members in research design. 9 Charles Hale makes a similar argument in his recent article (2006). perhaps more than ever. Daniel Goss and Stuart Plattner (2006) argue that this would represent a slippery slope into “social work. I depart from those who would advocate PAR as a one-size-fits-all solution. many of whom are aware of the contradictions I have described yet cannot afford the luxury of disengagement. PAR is not a field. I do not grant PAR uncritical endorsement. In this piece he addresses the question of social engagement in anthropological research. While plenty of ink has been spilled on the points of divergence between feminist and postmodernist approaches. value the importance and formulation of cultural critique. 5 My project has much in common with the “ethnography from below” these authors propose. calling for greater dialogue between cultural critique and activist research. 2000). Rather. My relationship with group members acts as a check at each moment of representation. is valuable to participatory projects. it is an approach—whether construed as method. 7 I should add that there is no consensus around this. which accused well-known anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon of complicity in serious human rights abuses involving the Yanomami Indians. the relations of power within which places. it may be that our social movement-based informants already embrace participatory methodologies and approaches in their organizing strategies (Paley 2001). who analyze the structural causes of problems that they identify through collective discussion and interaction (Greenwood and Levin 1998). because of the bold claims it makes.” 8 The Yanomami controversy was stimulated by the publication of journalist Patrick Tierney’s Darkness in El Dorado. converging with the same central focus of ethnography in postmodernist anthropology” (Lassiter 2005a:51). For a detailed discussion of the issue and its fallout within the discipline. PAR is perhaps particularly vulnerable to these forms of cooptation. I am grateful to an anonymous reviewer for drawing my attention to this piece. yet alone it does injustice to those who work in NGOs. I have chosen to place feminist and postmodernist approaches within the same “critical” paradigm. or social movement (Hales 2006. don’t always agree with or recognize each other. the new agents of the new order. Notes 1 With Lassiter. Further. and founded the interdisciplinary network PARNET at Cornell. It is designed to be an educational process for both researcher and participants. 2 There have been a few notable exceptions. A typical PAR project invites and involves different stakeholders in a group research process. Hyatt 1997). It is less easy to imagine that this methodology could work in contexts where researcher and community members do not share certain core values. perhaps. but who feel that alone it is insufficient. I offer this discussion to those. the split between applied and academic anthropology is an artifact of the Cold War (Sanday 2003. Critical anthropology insists that we keep both local and global in view. but who seek to affect greater community engagement in their research and teaching lives.27 In sum. power and representation is now. no methodology is perfect. the PAR community is characterized by big splits and fissures along ideological lines. particularly in these “unmoored” times of mainstreaming. and it has no unifying professional association. That is to say. Neither do I wish to suggest that PAR is suitable for all research contexts. like any method or concept—such as “gender” or “social capital”—is prone to cooptation (Jordan 2003). the “nitty gritty. It may be particularly well suited to “activist” research. or as philosophy—that unites individuals across academic departments (Greenwood and Levin 1998). I came to see it as a zone of contestation. during which questions will first be discussed and collectively agreed upon. who like me. Indeed. One of my arguments has been that in these times. the PAR community is wide and differentiated. 10 It would be problematic to try to speak of PAR as a unified object in the same way one can address anthropology. see Borofsky (2005). Louise Lamphere refers to some of these trends and argues that the discipline is moving towards a “convergence” between cultural and applied anthropology (2004). these categories. and practices are situated. and can easily be deployed to other ends (Cruikshank 1999. 310 HumaN OrganizatioN . I thus write with and against the current vogue to critique NGOs. PAR desperately needs the insights of critical ethnography. and their deployment.” and its insistence that we keep political economy within our sights. 6 As many scholars have reminded us. Let me be clear. As Lassiter puts it. “feminist ethnography’s central focus on voice. In the power-laden field within which research takes place. Stocking. non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Critical ethnography’s commitment to local knowledge. In a recent article in Anthropology News. may soon be the largest employer of anthropologists (Hackenberg and Hackenberg 2004). 4 In a recent article. or a discipline. group. Lyon-Callo and Hyatt 2003). people. PAR.project has caused me to change my view of international aid. where researchers work closely with an already formed organization. I felt strongly that my fieldwork demanded more of me. At a time when women’s rights are asserted as a justification for military interventions (as they were in Afghanistan and Iraq). or where power differentials are greater. Anthropologist Davydd Greenwood has long engaged PAR in his own practice. to lived-out ness. The critique of international aid is important. as evidenced by resistance expressed both by those who have long engaged in “applied” work (Singer 2000) and by those who cannot countenance the idea of anthropology becoming socially engaged. it is all the more important to hold onto these insights and keep up the project of cultural critique—problematizing and questioning this knowledge. it has made me more aware than ever of the strategic and contingent nature of knowledge and our choices as we figure out what to foreground. those who do it.

see Hemment (2007). Verdery 1996. academic ones tend to rely upon the immersion technique. 5000 copies were distributed to nascent crisis centers and women’s NGOs (Zabelina 1996). While this may not be true of all graduate programs. Sampson 1996. to emphasize technical issues (Escobar 1995. NO. and “coalition” (Grewal and Kaplan 1994). The mayor who supported the project died in 2003. Both projects involved making outside alliances. Hemment 2004.” or a “critical anthropology of NGOs and civil society. The Center for Women’s History and Gender Studies fared much better and is still operating at the time of going to press. Rivkin-Fish 2005). Barbara Cruikshank (1999) and Vincent Lyon-Callo and Susan Brin Hyatt (2003) have traced the ways the rhetoric of empowerment is deployed in such a way as to legitimate the retrenchment of social services. this excludes things such as free day care and maternity leave rights. They have posed critical questions about these processes and interrogated both the assumptions that drove them. adopting a Foucauldian approach. the opposite has proven to be true. Many of us chose to focus on NGOs. the role of the state). despite this. a “permanently open democracy. For a more detailed discussion. For more discussion of the differential histories of these two projects. certainly it was true of my own and I have met the same lament from many peers and colleagues. New Mexico (1987). entitlements they came to take for granted under state socialism (Gapova 2004). funding agencies require precision and privilege certainty over open-endedness. At their prompting. Family. Sampson 1996. “speaking with” (Alcoff 1994). It is not altogether clear how to interpret this.12 For example.” in which civic activity is “based neither in the state nor in the marketplace. Gibson-Graham (1994) synthesized what they call a feminist poststructuralist participatory action research. international foundations defined women’s issues in narrow and selective ways. support for this issue had been substantially cut back. but in a vibrant political public sphere itself” (Ost 1990:30-31). Some analysts. K. too. retooling PAR methodologies as “feminist PAR” in her work with former battered women and in subsequent community-based work in Gallup. these East European advocates saw civil society as a sphere of expansive civic participation. This logic deflects attention from structural issues (poverty. To the consternation of many Russian women activists. J. 17 For detailed discussions of state socialist gender arrangements and the resulting resistance to western feminism. we won the support of two key political figures in the city—the mayor (who was preparing for reelection) and the president’s representative to the oblast’ (a woman journalist with an insecure political base who had begun to dabble in the “women’s movement” in order to generate support for herself in the city). while there has been ample funding for projects that focus on computer networking. 23 “Crisis center” had entered the lexicon of government officials and social services personnel and was on the books as a service local authorities were mandated to provide. For example. FALL 2007 311 . The project was also affected by cuts in international funding. 24 The book was edited by Russian scholars and crisis center activists Tatiana Zabelina and Yevgenia Israelyan. Wedel 1998). The issue of gendered violence was a central policy issue for international donor agencies through the 1990s. 14 For extended anthropological discussions of the democratization project. Gal and Kligman 2000. Here. I should come clean and explain that the initial phase of my research was not funded. 1992). by 2001. read as a desire to join the capitalist west. and in their work on community economics (Gibson-Graham 2006). It was suggested to me that this path was professionally risky beyond the dissertation. led by Valentina. the creatures that had been brought into being by international agencies—in what Steven Sampson later dubbed “NGO-graphy. Embracing participatory methodologies at the doctoral level is challenging. Anthropologist Julia Paley learned Freirian inspired techniques of popular education from her colleagues in the shantytown-based Chilean women’s health group Llareta. or can “make a difference” has been explored in the burgeoning literature on democracy assistance. as there were other factors that came into play (my citizenship status. As David Ost describes it.” 18 19 I don’t mean to discount methods training and the large literature on qualitative methodology. few grants support activists to combat the structural forms of dislocation women may be experiencing. particularly those receiving foreign funding. Here the divide I’ve referred to is most apparent. information technology and self-help oriented support groups. since the Putin administration has begun to cast suspicion on NGOs. especially retrospectively. my fortunes changed. and Gender Studies. 20 Some wrote of “collaboration”(Clifford 1988. Anthropologists were swift to intervene in discussions about democratization and transition. 25 The most immediate reason for the closure was the loss of mayoral support. 66. Paley learns these techniques to run a history workshop (Paley 2001). Ultimately. methods training within programs of cultural anthropology is notoriously sketchy. by which I mean they provide only limited methodological preparation and expect students to learn as they go. 16 Within these projects. led by Oktiabrina. see Hemment 2007. 13 The question of the extent to which individuals working within such structures have agency. This mirrors trends throughout the Russian federation. which built on the educational work of Zhenskii Svet. The Canadian Embassy funded its publication. are constrained by the logic of governmentality. I was hired at UMass due to my interest in activist anthropology and because of my engagement with PAR. for example). this civil society was an imagined “third way” between communism and capitalism. However. While “applied” programs teach method. and put together by the Youth Institute’s Center for Women. Sharpe. Wedel 1998). see Funk and Mueller (1993) and Gal and Kligman (2000). I have been working with my Russian colleagues in a new project that investigates the promotion of youth voluntarism in Russia. They were only too happy to make the acquaintance of a community group willing to undertake such an endeavor. 26 Since 2004. 22 Our original goal—to found a women’s center—morphed into two main projects. placing a greater burden on the poor. This group has used critical education as a tool to empower participants and to challenge systems of oppression. in their work amongst Australian mine workers’ wives. 15 Though commonly. Ferguson 1990. taking steps toward some kind of formalization and seeking support from both international foundations and the local administration. 3. or “directions” as the women called them: the crisis center. 21 Anthropologist Davydd Greenwood’s action research in the industrial labor-managed cooperatives of Mondragon is an example of PAR’s VOL. see ( Hann and Dunn 1996. According to one of its authors. use to achieve democratic change within organizations (Greenwood et al. and the often-unintended effects of their implementation (Borneman 1998. individuals working within these systems have little possibility to reshape them. and Cohen 1989). Patricia Maguire is an early pioneer of this feminist appropriation. his successor was far less persuaded of the importance of societal groups. others of “conversation” (Haraway 1991). have shown how development projects in postsocialist states as well as in the so-called developing world. and a Center for Women’s History and Gender Studies. Mascia-Lees. The other side of the coin is that once fieldwork was completed. 27 There are other obstacles.

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