M. S. Biemans – Empowered to Achieve Valued Capabilities
Empowered to Achieve Valued Capabilities: Fostering Autonomy and Agency of Palestinian Adolescent Refugees through Participatory (Action) Research.
Mirthe Sue Biemans1 SUMMARY: This paper explores the potential of participatory methods to facilitate the development of autonomy and agency among youth. Using examples from a field study with Palestinian adolescent refugees, where participatory methods such as Participatory Video were used to identify valued aspirations, and opportunities and constraints to achieve those aspirations. This paper assumes that one can only achieve value capabilities when one is aware what capabilities one values and what the opportunities and constraints to achieve those capabilities are. By empowering youth to develop their autonomy and agency, participatory research can contribute to the development of their capabilities. KEYWORDS: Participatory/creative/visual research methods, PAR, Autonomy, Agency, Youth, Palestinian, Capabilities/Aspirations. INTRODUCTION In the summer of 2010 twenty Palestinian adolescents from the Askar camps in the Palestinian Territories participated in a mixed method research to identify their aspirations, and the possibilities and constraints they experience and envisage to achieve those aspirations. It was not anticipated that during the research they would go to a profound change. Initially most of the participants could not articulate their aspirations for the future, while at the end of the three-‐month period they showed videos to their community; not only about their aspirations but also about what constrains and enables them to achieve their aspirations. This paper describes the process of the research and how the adolescents’ autonomy and agency was affected by it. The field study mapped the adolescents’ aspirations, possibilities and constraints and analyzed them in the context of several theories of wellbeing. In the adolescents’ aspirations both their specific social, political and cultural situation is reflected as well as their normality. Often people tend to expect to meet traumatized depressed teenagers
Alumnus University of Amsterdam, Graduate School of Social Sciences: MSc. International Development Studies. King George Street 25/3, Jerusalem, Israel. Email: email@example.com
M. S. Biemans – Empowered to Achieve Valued Capabilities or young extremists in the refugee camps in the West Bank. However, the teenagers in the West Bank seem to be largely similar in their hopes and dreams to the teenagers in any other place. In this paper the emancipating process of participatory research is being analysed, and its value for promoting the achievement of valued capabilities. Particularly in the light of the idea that in order for people to achieve valued capabilities they have to discover what they value and what opportunities they have to achieve their valued capabilities. In the first section the literature on autonomy and agency is discussed. The second part presents the research context and methodology. The third part analyses the effect of the used methodology on the autonomy and agency of the research participants in the field research. 1. AUTONOMY, AGENCY AND WELLBEING. Human development concerns itself with the lives of people, their wellbeing, and their opportunities to fulfil the aspirations they value. As Sen (1999) puts forward with his Capability Approach: in order for people to develop and enhance their wellbeing, they should have the opportunities to develop a range of capabilities that they value and have reason to value. To ensure this, people should have the freedom to choose from a range of opportunities and capabilities. Freedom creates the opportunity to achieve those things that we value, thus it enhances our ability to achieve. Moreover, the process in which achievement comes about is also of importance, in this sense freedom concerns autonomy and immunity (Alkire 2009: 94-‐95). If one agrees with the notion that development comes about through having the opportunities to develop a range of capabilities that one values, then one sees an active role for people in the enhancement of their own wellbeing. Of course, it could be argued that having the opportunities to develop capabilities does not mean that one has to use the opportunities. However, the assumption is made that there is an aim of enhancement of wellbeing. In order for a person to enhance its wellbeing by having the opportunities to develop a range of valued capabilities two preconditions must be met: 1) one is aware of what capabilities one values, and 2) one is aware of the opportunities to achieve those valued capabilities. It is not without reason that development relies on the achievement of valued capabilities and not merely on capabilities as such. Capabilities that are achieved by coercion or without interest in this particular capability that is achieved, do not necessarily contribute to a person’s wellbeing. However, it cannot be automatically assumed that people are aware of the capabilities they value separately from those that are coerced or conditioned. Furthermore, without an active and conscious assessment of the opportunities and constraints in one’s environment one does not have to be readily aware of the opportunities to achieve valued capabilities. In this paper the argument is being made that these two preconditions can be developed through the use of Participatory Action Research (PAR). Although PAR is traditionally mainly used for social and material community development, in this paper the argument is made that it can also have an effect on the dimensions of personal autonomy and agency. PAR is a methodology that aims to collaboratively construct knowledge on the subject at hand with local actors, and subsequently change the situation for the better (Trell & van Hoven 2010; Frey & Cross 2011; Langhout & Thomas 2010). The local actors affected by the research should be involved in defining the problem, gathering the knowledge and determining solutions or interventions (idem). PAR is used to create an emancipating situation and a situation in which not only the researcher gains but also
M. S. Biemans – Empowered to Achieve Valued Capabilities the research subjects, furthermore it can be seen as acknowledging the subject expertise of the local people in development studies. Positive change, led by the local population, can come about not only through social and material change but also by enabling people to discover and exercise their autonomy and agency. The preconditions for personal development by achieving valued capabilities can be conceptualized with the theoretical concepts of ‘autonomy’ and ‘agency’. The first precondition to achieve enhancement of wellbeing in the capabilities approach, the awareness of one’s valued capabilities, is strongly influenced by autonomy. The second precondition, the awareness of opportunities and constraints to achieve valued capabilities are influenced by agency. These concepts are being elaborated upon in the following paragraphs. 1.1 What one values: Autonomy. The notion that human development should be evaluated in the context of what capabilities one values suggests a subjective evaluation of wellbeing. The assumption in this approach to human development is that one can authentically motivate what capabilities one values, or in order words that one enjoys autonomy. Being aware of what one values, making authentically motivated choices between opportunities to achieve capabilities, and thus self-‐endorse one’s behaviour is in the literature coined as ‘autonomy’ (Castillo & Gasper 2011, Ryan & Deci 1985; 2000, Ryan & Sapp 2009). Castillo and Gasper (2011) describe the autonomous individual as a person that relies on its own judgement and makes meaningful decisions in life that cohere with its own values and personality. Furthermore, in making these autonomous choices, a person should be self-‐motivated (idem: 10). The attribution of autonomy to wellbeing is supported by quantitative psychological studies among North-‐American youth. These studies show that consciously formed intrinsic values and the pursuit of intrinsic goals formed by these values lead to a higher life satisfaction (Proctor, Linley & Maltby 2009: 590). These studies were based on North America, thus it could be questioned whether the merits of autonomy for wellbeing are confined to Western cultures, which can be characterized by higher levels of individualism and independence than in other cultures. However, autonomy is not necessarily independent and individualist. Chircov et al (2003: 107) found in their studies that autonomy can be dependent or independent, and individualist or collectivist. The experience of autonomy is dependent on the feeling that one does not experience coercion when making decisions. Nevertheless one can autonomously decide to let its decision being influenced by others or to take the collective needs into account. In order to be able to make authentically motivated choices and self-‐endorse one’s behaviour, one needs to discover what one’s values are and what one wants to achieve in life. This requires introspection and self-‐reflection on one’s aspirations and values. To enable this introspection and self-‐reflection the participatory methods of PAR can be used. Biggeri and Anich (2009) studied the set of capabilities that were valued by children by using participatory methods. They found that participatory methods enable a process of active self-‐reflection that helps children to conceptualize their valued capabilities. 1.2 What one can achieve: Agency. Castillo and Gasper (2011: 10-‐11) see autonomy not merely as the internal capacity to make authentically motivated choices, but also to act according to those choices and have access to entitlements, resources and social and structural contexts to act upon
M. S. Biemans – Empowered to Achieve Valued Capabilities those choices and achieve positive outcomes. Thus, in order to be able to achieve valued capabilities, one does not only need to know what capabilities one values, but also what opportunities one has to achieve those capabilities. Ryan and Sapp (2009: 76) state that ‘experiencing opportunities to express and expand one’s capabilities’ is feeling competent ‘to operate effectively within the environment’. The importance of a feeling of competence to reach desired goals is proven (among North-‐American students) to lead to a higher life satisfaction (Proctor, Linley & Maltby 2009: 590). Not only the actual opportunities and constraints in the form of access to resources and entitlements are important in achieving valued capabilities, but also the ability to negotiate one’s opportunities within its environment (Castillo & Gasper 2011). McGregor (2009: 322) acknowledges that people differ in their ability to effectively negotiate their strategies for wellbeing within their environment. In this paper the competence to operate effectively in one’s environment by negotiating strategies to achieve valued capabilities is being referred to as ‘agency’. Sen explores the relation between wellbeing and agency in the Dewey lectures (1985), his definition of agency is: ‘what a person is free to do and achieve in pursue of whatever goals and values he or she regards as important (idem: 203). What a person is free to do and achieve is restricted and promoted by the resources and entitlements a person has, however, it also relies on the person’s ability to negotiate this freedom within its environment. Basing herself on the writings of Sen, Robeyns (2005) states that there are three conversion factors which influence the relation between having a good and achieving beings and doings; personal, social and environmental conversion factors. Agency is a personal conversion factor: individual characteristics and skills that can convert a commodity into a functioning. Castillo and Gasper (2001: 11) define agency, as ‘physical, intellectual and emotional characteristics that influence the ability to act purposefully and reach goals’. According to them (idem: 12) having agency requires two forms of internal orientation: 1) a temporal orientation towards the future, which is a prerequisite for the capacity to aspire. When a future orientation is expressed it stimulates personal development. And 2) a causality orientation that is internal and based on autonomy, as opposed to external based or control or impersonal. These orientations require reflexive evaluation and can be developed when one is informed, educated and experiences choice (idem: 10). The methodologies used during PAR can contribute to the control that people experience over the resources that affect their lives. By actively participating in research about their lives, youth can gain more control over the resources in their lives (Langhout and Thomas 2010: 61) and also become more able in reflecting on their lives (Trell and van Hoven 2010: 102). Consequently the methodology of PAR can create agency by enabling youth to reflect on the opportunities and constraints in their lives, to gain more control over their resources, and to negotiate their strategies for achieving valued aspirations in their environment.
M. S. Biemans – Empowered to Achieve Valued Capabilities 1.3 What one aspires: Dimensions of human wellbeing and needs. In the field study that forms the context for this paper it was studied what aspirations Palestinian adolescent refugees have in life and what constraints and opportunities they experience and envisage to achieve their aspirations. Different theories from different disciplines on the dimensions of human wellbeing and human needs were used to put their aspirations in a theoretical context. Figure 1, summarizes these theories by incorporating: the five basic human needs of Maslow (1943; 1973): physiological, safety, love, esteem and self-‐actualization; the material, social and psychological dimensions of wellbeing of McGregor (2009); and the universal basic psychological needs of autonomy, competence and relatedness of Ryan and Sapp (2009). These dimensions of wellbeing and needs are used to put the aspirations of the Palestinian adolescent refugees in an analytical context. However, they did not function as a framework for research activities, as it was open for the adolescents to create their own understanding of the different dimensions of their aspirations. Furthermore, the design of the research was explicitly aimed at giving room to the participants to come with less or more types of aspirations than the dimensions of wellbeing and needs presented here. Nevertheless, it was found that their aspirations encompassed the whole spectrum of wellbeing and needs as presented in figure 1. The aspirations as Figure 1. Dimensions of wellbeing and needs identified by the adolescents are shown in text box 1. The universality of these abstract dimensions was substantiated, although the aspirations were framed in the social, political and cultural context specific to these adolescents. There was no hierarchy of needs found, as proposed by Maslow (1943: 387). Which is shown by the security needs of the adolescents Text box 1. Aspirations that were not satisfied, while they Owning possessions/property Material showed to aspire ‘higher’ needs as -‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐ well. Being safe and free Safety -‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐ The initial research question was Having a family and children Love/relatedness aimed at evaluating a hierarchy of Having friends needs and wellbeing dimensions, as Ensuring a good future for my children -‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐ well as studying to what extent self-‐ Social (capital) actualizing behaviour could be Serving the community Helping p eople found among the participants. This paper however, addresses the effect -‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐ Respect and fame Esteem of participating in the research on -‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐ the participants’ autonomy and To study Competence and agency as observed during the field To have a job autonomy study. To travel -‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐-‐ Being religious Self-‐actualization Being a good person Creativity and personal talent
M. S. Biemans – Empowered to Achieve Valued Capabilities 2. METHODOLOGY: PAR IN A MIXED METHODS STUDY During a four-‐month field study in 2010, a mixed method approach was used to collect data the answer the question: ‘What aspirations in life do the Palestinian adolescent refugees have, and what possibilities and constraints do they experience and envisage concerning the fulfillment of their aspirations?’ The Palestinian Territories formed a research context that affected the research participants and the research practice. The effects of the occupation and of life in the refugee camps on the adolescent participants in the research were profound. Because this paper is concerned with the effect of the methodology, and especially the participatory methods, on the participants, the description and justification of the research methodology is extensively elaborated upon. 2.1 Research context: Askar refugee camps in the Palestinian Territories. For a deeper understanding of the �� data presented in this paper it is important to take the political, social and economical situation of the Palestinian Territories into account. A recent comprehensive study of the UNDP shows that the research participants live in a situation of economic and political hardship, as well as in a conservative social environment (Mushasha & Dear 2010). In the Palestinian refugee camps 48% of the people live under the national poverty line. Half of all the Palestinian people feel an immediate fear for their personal safety, and besides the occupation 50% of the people feel that culture, traditions, family and societal restrictions threaten human rights. As a result of the occupation there is a very low level of trust in the Palestinian society, 78% of the people do not have any trust in other people. Furthermore, more than half of the people are afraid to express non-‐political views in public. The research took place in two of the refugee camps in the proximity to the city of Nablus; they will be referred to as the Old Askar camp and New Askar camp. The Old Askar camp is one of the camps that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA 2010) established after the war in 1948. The New Askar Camp however, is not officially recognized as a refugee camp by UNRWA. The refugees themselves established this camp on adjacent land in 1965 as a result of overcrowding in the Old Askar camp. Consequently the Old Askar camp has UNRWA installations such as schools and health care while the new camp does not. However, in recent years UNRWA established a primary school in the new camp. Another important difference between the caps is that the camps are in different authority areas. The old camp falls under the civilian and security control of the Palestinian Authority (PA), while the new camp falls under the civilian control of the PA and security control of Israeli Defense Forces, which results in a more precarious safety situation. As a result of the long existence of the camps, the camps have become like cramped neighborhoods. There is solid housing, connection to electricity, sewage systems, tap water and there are shops. In the old camp all the basic social services are available too. The adolescents living in the camps are not all officially recognized refugees; however, in the society they are all regarded as refugees because they live in the camps. All the participants have been born and raised in the camps; thus, they have not been physically displaced during their lifetime. Old Askar is slightly larger (0.12 km²) than New Askar camp (0.10 km²). However, the old camp more densely populated with approximately 15.900 inhabitants (UNRWA 2010) while a UNRWA official verbally stated that the New Askar camp most likely has only around 8000 inhabitants. The statistics of the Central Palestinian Bureau of Statistics (2009) show that the population in the camps is mostly young (51% under the age of 20), received primary education, lives with a relative large household in an apartment (64% lives in a household with more than 5 members) and is mostly not
M. S. Biemans – Empowered to Achieve Valued Capabilities formally employed (only 27% is formally employed). UNRWA states that the major problems in the Old Askar camp are unemployment, overcrowded schools, high population density and the split from the New Askar camp (UNRWA 2010). Besides these problems it is important to note that enrollment rates in elementary school in the Palestinian Territories is high and there is hardly any illiteracy (Mushasha & Dear 2010). Previous studies on resilience of Palestinian youth show the importance of education as a coping strategy (Nguyen-‐Gillham et al 2008; Barber 1999), which was also a dominant theme in the data of this study. The political situation in the Palestinian Territories also had an influence on the research practice. Although European foreigners are generally trusted, in the Palestinian reality a degree of suspicion is always present. Consequently, it took a longer period of developing rapport in order to create a sufficient level of mutual trust. Furthermore, the ethical considerations regarding safety of the participants and the researcher needed to be constantly considered and re-‐assessed. It was also considered whether this research would have an effect on the participants’ psychological state of being, as they were challenged to reflect on their situation and their possibilities for the future. This level of self-‐reflection can have a psychological impact on the youth involved. Consequently, only personally motivated adolescents, who where already involved in projects of the youth center took part in the participatory phase of the research because they could rely on future support of the center. Adolescents that were not associated with the center were not asked to participate. 2.2 Research participants In this research only the views of the adolescents are taken into account. Although parents, teachers and development workers were informally interviewed in the initial phase of the research, it was decided not to include them because they tended to project their views and opinion on the adolescents. Furthermore, some of the interviewed adults did not agree with taking the adolescents’ views as the dominant indicators in the research; this could have obstructed the research process. Especially because this research aimed to empower the participating adolescents. During the entire research period one interpreter was used. It was found that the use of one single interpreter helped in establishing trust with the research participants. The participatory research and qualitative interviews were held in the cultural youth center ‘Safeer’ in the new Askar camp. The participants in these parts of the research were all residents of the New Askar camp. The participants were recruited through the center and were already active in other activities of the center. They joined the focus groups out of their own motivation. Consequently, the participants in the focus groups were pro-‐active young people, which most likely creates a bias in the research findings, especially for the girls, as there are also many girls that mainly stay inside the house after school hours. The participants were between 13 and 16 years old. Most of the girls were 13 while most of the boys were 15. The respondents to the survey were from both the New and the Old Askar camps. They were 8th and 9th graders in school. The surveys were filled in on paper during class in the four different schools in the camps. The sample was not random; one class per school was asked to fill out the survey. The total population of children from 12 to 16 years old in the Askar camps was estimated by a UNRWA employee at 650 children. The sample consisted of 110 valid respondents that were on average 13.6 years old. Among the respondents there was a slight overrepresentation of boys (54,5%) and of residents in the New Askar refugee camp (56,4%).
M. S. Biemans – Empowered to Achieve Valued Capabilities 2.3 Participatory methods in research with youth Different methods were used for this research. Participatory Action Research was supplemented with quantitative survey methods and qualitative semi-‐structured interview methods. Due to the subjective and explorative nature of the research question, a mixed method approach was considered most appropriate. In a research like this one, which is dominantly participatory and based on regular meetings with the same participants over an extended period of time, there is no objective independent researcher and in the research process the participants were influenced by the research itself. Thus the highest aim of this research was to come to an informed understanding. It was acknowledged that in the Palestinian Territories, knowledge is influenced by power structures, mainly because all the knowledge on those affected by the conflict is in the interest or against the interests of the major political actors. Furthermore, in the Palestinian culture, like in most cultures, adolescents’ opinions are not often heard, also not when it involves their own future. This strengthened the idea that this research should be concerned with having the adolescents’ view on their lives and future heard; to facilitate this, a film project was included to enable the participants to show their views to the community. Moreover, by using participatory methods, the participants were challenged to articulate their aspirations and thus stimulated to think about their own lives and what they are able to do with their lives. The participatory methods were based on methods used for Participatory Action Research (PAR) (Chambers 2007). The idea that those affected by the research should be engaged in every stage of the research was followed as much as possible. Although the topic of the research was established before departure to the field, the participants participated in the problem formulation, in informing the topics of the survey, data gathering and in the presentation of the data in the form of film to the community. Unfortunately time constraints made that the findings could not be evaluated sufficiently with the participants. PAR has its limitations (Mosse 1994), which were taken into account. In this study the following limitations of PAR were taken into account: the participants were not representative for the entire youth population in the camps; the influence of social relationships on research process; and that certain groups or kinds of knowledges could be favored or excluded. Especially a situation of social conformism and the exclusion of different kinds of knowledge would endanger the objective of this research. It was tried to overcome these limitations as much as possible. In the focus group meetings there were different methods used to do justice to different kinds of knowledge and people. The domination of certain participants over others and the social conformism of the responses in the focus groups could not be totally conquered, as these effects can be especially prevalent among teenagers. Nevertheless, through the use of -‐ sometimes anonymous -‐ individual work next to group work the effects of dominance and social conformism were moderated as much as possible. Lastly, to overcome the problem of the representation this research was set up as a mixed method research in which the focus group findings were tested with a written survey among a bigger sample. Different studies acknowledge the power of participatory methods in research with youth. Data collected in a participatory manner by youth regarding their lives can be more reliable and interesting (Grover 2004; Nieuwenhuys 1997). For PAR with youth it is important that they do not only obtain a voice in the research but also in wider settings (Nieuwenhuys 1997). Moreover, when it is acknowledged that youth are social actors, are able to express their views and have aspirations, values and agency (Biggeri & Anich 2009: 74) than they should be viewed by researchers as collaborative agents of
M. S. Biemans – Empowered to Achieve Valued Capabilities change. Participation in the whole research process can affirm youth that they are competent social actors (Crivello, Camfield & Woodhead 2009: 52; Langhout & Thomas 2010: 61). Important for the research is the idea that to enable young research participants to have a voice in wider settings than in the research, they should be given the cognitive tools to give meaning to their lives worlds (Nieuwenhuys 1997). Studies showed that using visual methods, where the participants are able to create their own images, teaches them new skills, improves their self-‐esteem and confirms them in their agency (Trell & van Hoven 2010: 93; Kellet et al 2004). This is why a big part of this research focused on visual techniques. With the use of visual methods the idea that there is a ‘correct’ answer plays less of a role. In addition, the participants tend to be busier with the process of generating an image than with the researcher (Woodhead & Faulkner 2000; Young & Barret 2001). Filming and taking photo’s can be an empowering experience because the participants are in charge of the process (Trell & van Hoven 2010: 96) and the power relation between adult-‐researcher and adolescent-‐ participant is less of influence. However, when using visual methods it is important to realize that for visual images to become reliable data the images themselves are not sufficient, their interpretation and explanation in addition to the knowledge of what is not portrayed is essential information (Young & Barret 2001). For the research to allow for the participants voices to be heard, and to develop their autonomy and agency, it was experienced that having a researcher that is an outsider can be an advantage. An outsider role gives, on the one hand, an excuse to ask for explanation about virtually everything without offending anyone. On the other hand, the participants’ perception of the researcher as being outside of social roles and norms can make them feel safe enough to be open about their values and views, even if they differ from the dominant societal norms and values. 2.4 Mixed methods This research pas not purely participatory but consisted of mixed methods: participatory focus group meetings, quantitative surveys, participatory video project and in-‐depth interviews. All these methods have their advantages and disadvantages concerning representation, emancipation and types of data and knowledge acquired. It was chosen to mix these different methods in this order to be able to engage research participants in the problem formulation, research design and knowledge gathering (focus group phase), to test the gathered knowledge on a wider sample and perform statistical analysis (quantitative survey), enable participants to articulate their views within the wider community (participatory video project), and to fill gaps in the knowledge on the part of the researcher with in-‐dept individual interviews. Mixed methods are often advocated because of the assumed validation of the findings of one type of data with the findings of the other type of data. In the case of this research the different methods were more enriching than validating as the different data challenged the researcher to inquire one type of data with the understanding acquired from other data. In most instances they could complement each other and provide different angles and insights. However, they were hardly validating each other because of the differences between the methods and the influence of the research on the research participants. By using participatory methods the participants get involved in the research process; they do not only influence the results, they also influence the topic and the methods. Hence, participatory data can hardly be considered similar and comparable to interview and survey data. To be able to acquire similar and comparable data the research should be more predetermined and standardized. However, this
M. S. Biemans – Empowered to Achieve Valued Capabilities would interfere with the core of participatory (action) research, namely that the participant should be an active agent in the entire research process. 2.5 Methodology The field research consisted of four phases; focus groups, questionnaire, semi-‐ structured interviews and the film project. The research started with informal interviews with development workers, teachers, parents and adolescents to get a deeper understanding of the local environment and find an appropriate place to conduct the focus group meetings. After contacts with a youth center were established ten focus group meetings took place with a small group of local adolescents to establish what their aspirations for the future were and what constraints and possibilities they faced. The lists of aspirations, possibilities and constraints created during the focus groups formed the basis for a written survey conducted in four schools in the camps. In addition semi-‐structured interviews were conducted with the focus group participants and other adolescents to deepen the understanding of the meaning of the aspirations, possibilities and constraints. Last, eight participants of the focus groups made personal videos about one of their aspirations. Phase 1: Participatory methods: focus groups: The focus groups meetings provided information on the lives of the adolescents and their aspirations, possibilities and constraints and the meaning they give to them. The methods used were drawing, writing, ranking with cards, making timelines and photographing. Several of the methods can be seen in Figure 2. The use of visual research methods with adolescents had distinct advantages. A practical advantage of these methods is that they were experienced as being more fun and thus the participants were less easily bored during the research. On the other hand, the visual methods, and the explanations provided by the participants gave provided more information. Furthermore, all participants engaged actively in the visual methods.
Figure 2. Participatory research methods. Top from left to right: girls taking pictures; boys overseeing the translation work of the translator after a focus group meeting; one of the pictures: mural ‘freedom Palestine’. Bottom left to right: drawing of ‘what does your life look like in 20 years from now’; timeline of future life; list with possibilities and constraints per aspiration.
M. S. Biemans – Empowered to Achieve Valued Capabilities As a result of the meetings the participants started to think more about their lives and what they aspire to do; they clearly developed a reflective way of thinking about themselves and some even started to act upon their aspirations for the future. The data from the focus groups formed the basis of the survey and instigated the in-‐depth interviews in which the meaning of various themes was further explored. Phase 2: Quantitative methods: survey research: To counterbalance the non-‐ representativeness of the focus groups there were also written questionnaires administered in the 8th and 9th grade in the four schools in the camps. The surveys were developed according to the topics raised by the participants in the focus groups. The survey included open questions, rank-‐order questions and likert-‐scale questions about aspirations in life, and opportunities and constraints to reach those aspirations. A total of 140 surveys were filled in, of which 110 surveys were used for analysis. Since the surveys were not administered to a random sample, the results of this survey can give an impression of the population but are not representative of the entire population. In this paper the emphasis lies on the qualitative data and not on the quantitative survey data. Phase 3. Participatory Action: Film project: Due to the idea that the research should give the research participants a voice, also in wider settings, a participatory video project was included. Film can quite easily be shown to others, whereas more mainstream research techniques do not always lend themselves for display in wider settings. During the film project the participants learned how to articulate and frame their ideas. Eight adolescents (4 boys and 4 girls) who participated in the focus groups also participated in the film project. During the project they made short personal videos about one of their aspirations in life, how they could achieve this and what the constraints were for them. They wrote a short autobiographic story that formed the narration of the films. Subsequently, they learned to translate their stories into images by drawing a storyboard and they learned to use the filming equipment, which consisted of small one-‐button digital cameras, tripods and an external microphone. After the material was shot and the stories were recorded, the film was edited for them. The participants could approve or disapprove of parts of the editing and shoot extra material or suggest changes during several meetings. Once the short films were finished, a screening was organized for which the participants invited around 30 friends and acquaintances. Unfortunately, they decided not to invite their parents, although most of the participants had a family member present. It could be that they did not invite their parents due to the criticism that some of them expressed towards their parents in their movies. Still they were very proud to show the movie to others and to have the movie themselves. Of the adults present, most of them were impressed that the teenagers had made the movies themselves, and they were surprised about the well-‐articulated aspirations of the teenagers. Consequently, the participatory video project was empowering because that the participants reflected on their own lives and what they are able to do with it, and it enabled them to let their views be heard in the community.
M. S. Biemans – Empowered to Achieve Valued Capabilities
Figure 3. Film project. Participants in the film project discovering how the camera works, making scenes and filming.
Not only did the participatory video project empower the participants, they also made it possible to make the data visible together with the photography used in the focus groups. However, visual data has its advantages and disadvantages. The advantage of using visual data with adolescents is that they all felt empowered by the camera; images connect to their lived worlds. Many of the quiet participants in the focus groups revived during the visual assignments. Their images provided a good context to address topics and questions that would not readily come appear in other focus group assignments or interviews. However, additional qualitative data is needed to understand the meaning of the images. Furthermore, visual data is restricted to the visual. Topics that are not easily captured visually will not emerge when using these methods. Phase 4. Qualitative: In-depth interviews: The research was concluded by conducting 12 semi-‐structured in-‐depth interviews to investigate those topics that were not sufficiently clear from the other research methods and to investigate the meaning that the adolescents ascribed to the different topics. Eight interviewees were the adolescents that participated in the film project that participated in the entire research for three months. Two other interviewees did not take part in the film project but did participate in the focus group meeting, so they were aware what the research was about and they had previously thought about the topics. The two last interviewees did not partake in one of the previous research methods at all. It proved that these last two interviewees did not have enough trust for a fruitful interview. Furthermore, they did not show a similar level of self-‐reflection as the other interviewees, which caused the interviews to lack additional information. This also confirmed that participating in the research had an impact on the participants concerning their level of self-‐reflection on the topic of future aspirations as well as their ability to articulate those aspirations. The data was analyzed in two different stages. First of all the data from the focus group meetings was analyzed in the field to prompt the questionnaire and the interviews. This analysis was done without the use of scientific computer software. The second stage of analysis took place after returning from the field. For this final analysis the software Atlas.ti was used to code and analyze the participatory and qualitative data, while the statistical software SPSS was used to analyze the quantitative data. Unfortunately, there was not enough time to evaluate the research findings with the participants in the field. In this paper the focus lies on the participatory and qualitative data. 3. AUTONOMY AND AGENCY AMONG PALESTINIAN ADOLESCERNT RESEARCH PARTICIPANTS Text box 2 shows examples of aspirations of two of the research participants that participated in the focus groups and participatory video project. Throughout the research period they articulated their aspirations and how they can achieve these aspirations within their environment. Their aspirations to become a photographer and a journalist are rare in the Palestinian refugee community. However, they are aware of the
M. S. Biemans – Empowered to Achieve Valued Capabilities constraints and opportunities they have to achieve these aspirations within their environment. Mohammed resolves his lack of money to study photography by learning how to fix cameras so he can still work with cameras, and Janine resolves between the social expectations of women and an aspiration to have a career by being very devout so people can not say she is a bad Muslim. Figure 4. Aspiration – Movie still. (Boy, 15) Not all participants and respondents showed this degree of autonomy and agency, or even the ability to articulate their valued aspirations in this way. In this part of the paper the observations on youth as knowledge producers, and autonomy and agency among the research participants are discussed. Text box 2. Adolescents negotiate their aspirations within their environment “I want to become a photographer. I already sometimes make photos. I like this job since I was little and I understand this job.” “I am poor, so I cannot buy a camera. I have to be rich to start photographing. If you are poor you don’t have any money to buy a camera and to study photography.“ “…when the camera is broken I will be able to fix it. “ (Mohammed, 15). Mohammed is 15 years old, he was always shy until we started to make pictures with the focus group; he came back with pictures that showed talent. Then he told that in the past he went to every activity of the youth center where he could make pictures because his dream is to become a photographer. Unfortunately he does not think that his family has the money to let him study photography. However, now his plan is that he will learn how to fix broken cameras so he can still work with cameras. “Now they [my family] know that I am going to become a journalist, but they don’t know yet that I am planning to set up my own news channel. But if that will happen and I become a journalist they will be convinced of the idea to open a channel. And my parents know that if it is for your future you should do it.” (Janine, 13). Janine is 13 years old. Throughout the different meetings it becomes clear that she is very ambitious; she aspires to set up her own news television channel. Furthermore, she is very religious and shows much care for the community. She does not only want to have a successful career for herself but she also wants to help the Palestinian community to become free by providing truthful information through her television channel. She hopes that the people will accept that a girl will have such a career. That is also one of the reasons why she is very devout, because when she follows the rules of Islam she knows that what she does is good and people will not convince her to do something else.
Youth as knowledge producers: ability to articulate valued aspirations 3.1 After the first focus group meeting it was feared that the open and participatory approach might not be appropriate for young adolescents to investigate their future aspirations. Although the participants could talk easily about their present lives, in the initial phase of the research they had difficulty speaking about future aspirations. Frequently participants responded during the first focus group meetings with: ‘I don’t know’, or ‘there is no reason, it is what is normal’ (Haneen, 13 & Achmed, 16). However, after several creative and associative assignments the participants became more aware and articulate of their valued aspirations. Also in response to the open questions in the survey the majority of the respondents also did not give any valuable answers concerning their aspirations and motivation for
M. S. Biemans – Empowered to Achieve Valued Capabilities those aspirations. The effect of participation in the research on the ability of the participants to articulate valued aspirations also became clear in the interview stage of the research. Of the twelve interviewed adolescents, ten also took part in the focus groups and/or the film project. Only two of the interviewees were adolescents that did not previously participate in the research. They proved to be poorer informants, which could have been a result of a lower level of trust between the interviewees and the interviewer, but they also showed less reflection on their aspirations, opportunities and constraints. This resulted, for these two interviewees, in information that did not provide a deeper understanding than the focus groups already had done. For the remaining ten interviewees the interviews provided a deeper understanding of the focus group data. These experiences indicate the importance of (participatory) research activities to facilitate and stimulate self-‐reflection and articulation of valued capabilities among research participants of this age group. The videos that were made by the eight teenagers showing one of their most important aspirations demonstrated that many of them have an idealistic notion of what they aspired to do. Almost all of these videos pointed towards the development of their own talents. Three of the girls wanted to teach and train talented children in the future in dancing, music and languages to help these children to live up to their talents. The fourth girl had the aspiration to establish the first independent Palestinian news channel to create a Palestinian free press and bring people the truth. The boys wanted to become a photographer, a police officer to establish a peaceful and safer Palestine, a doctor and a paramedic to help people in emergencies and serve the community. All these aspirations seem to be no more than children’s dreams at first sight. However, the interviews showed that they were all aware of the limitations they faced and almost all of them were active, or became active during the research, in creating the possibilities to achieve their ambitions. During the research their introspection made them more aware of what it is that they wanted and what possibilities and constraints they faced in reality. As said before, it should be kept in mind that these eight teenagers are not representative for all Palestinian teenagers, as they are the ones that are always active in the activities of the youth center and this indicates that they are more active than average teenagers to broaden their horizon and develop themselves. The videos show the ability that adolescents can have to articulate their valued capabilities and strategies to achieve them. Using participatory methodology over an extended time seemed to increase the ability of the adolescents to articulate their valued capabilities. 3.2 Autonomy: authentically motivated choices It should be taken into account that is hardly possible to establish to what extent adolescents are autonomous in their opinions and to what extent they are externally influenced. Especially because the research was not initially designed to establish degrees of autonomy. However, most important for the experience of autonomy is that one at least does not feel coerced. While some teenagers showed a great degree of autonomous decision-‐making, apart form their parents and societal values, others seem to be influenced largely by their parents and society. Janine (13) explains: “I will do whatever I want. If it is the right thing, not wrong things. But if somebody comes to me and says that I shouldn’t do it because it is not right or true, I will say: ‘no I will do it’.” She expressed ability for autonomous decision making based on her own values. On the other hand, Dhalia (13) shows the struggle between making her own decisions and following the pressure of her family or environment: “I am thinking to take of the Hijab (headscarf) … I am thinking about taking
M. S. Biemans – Empowered to Achieve Valued Capabilities it of because my parents pressured me to wear it and I want to make my own decision about it.” In the open survey questions the influence of parents and environment was one of the main motivations for wanting to achieve certain aspirations, for example a fourteen year old boy responded: “to achieve my future by becoming a policeman, which is my and my parents goal.” However, Figure 5. Parental influence, movie still. the participants in the participatory phases showed greater autonomy over time. One of the biggest constraints for the participants’ autonomy is the social pressure they experience. In the community of the Palestinian adolescents receiving and giving respect is very important. The participants felt that one of their biggest constraints was that people gossip when one does not follow the traditional way of life. This ‘social pressure’ to follow norms is mostly damaging because “respect is very important … so gossip is a big obstacle” (Ezra, 13). The obstacle of being disrespected and social pressure are thus interrelated and have a profound influence, as one of the other girls explains: “I will be afraid to do something because of the people. I wouldn’t do things because people would talk about it.” (Rana, 13). As, for example, Janine explains about the reactions girls can face when they go to university: “Some bad people in the community and the gossip. You will have someone that is not educated and he will see a girl going to university and he will say that her place is in her husbands house so she should not go to university.” (Janine, 13) Although, as stated by Chirkov et al (2003), an autonomous decision can also be influenced by your environment, when someone experiences coercion the decision is not autonomous anymore. Consequently, the social pressure to follow traditional norms impedes on the autonomy of the participants. Even though social pressure influences the aspirations that participants and respondents have there were also clear tendencies to break free from societal traditions. Although none of the interviewees’ mothers worked, all the girls expressed an aspiration to work, at least part-‐time, even when they would have children. According to a Palestinian researcher (interview)2 this is a recent trend among the young generation in conservative areas mainly caused by exposure to working women on television. Television is -‐ as was also found be Nguyen-‐Gillham et al (2008) -‐ the major source of entertainment, especially for girls. On television the modern woman is situated in an office with a career; this is the world that many of the young girls want to join in on. The aspirations to study and to have a job were most common in the qualitative data; the focus group participants were mostly very passionate about the subjects they wanted to study and their aspired jobs. The adolescents saw these as enabling them to develop their personal talents. However, ‘having a job’ was also seen as a means to generate income to finance other aspirations and needs in life. Hence, there is a clear in intrinsic as well as an instrumental value in them. Although most of the teenagers aspired traditionally valued jobs (doctor, teacher and lawyer), most of them could authentically motivate why they wanted this particular job, which shows self-‐ endorsement: “The most important goal that I want to achieve is to become a successful
M. S. Biemans – Empowered to Achieve Valued Capabilities teacher in the future and to be their [the students] role model and to be well-educated.” (Rasha, 14) Some aspirations expressed in the qualitative data were hard to fit in other categories, but they involve a wish to develop personal talents and creativity. Creativity and the pursuit of specific personal passions and talents are not absent among the teenagers. A desire to improve in playing music, dancing, art or other forms of creativity was mentioned several times as an important aspiration. The aspiration to develop personal talent was also present in a desire for learning and understanding that goes beyond studying for a certificate. Honesty, creativity and thinking about the meaning of life were valued highly by the participants. Which shows that the participants have authentically motivated values that influence their decisions. Although the use of participatory methods over an extended time stimulated the participants’ autonomy, the environment in which the participants live plays a big role. Although aspirations in life are of course always influenced by one’s environment, to experience autonomy it is important that one does not feel coerced. 3.4 Agency: negotiation within the environment The participants in the research showed a very strong orientation towards the future and their personal development. The possibilities that the participants identified to achieve valued aspirations (text box 3) show a strong internal causality orientation as they see their opportunities mainly in their own actions. Thus it seems that these adolescents see their own agency as the main driver for their personal development. Text box 3 lists the possibilities and constraints for achieving aspirations as identified by the participants in the focus groups, the average importance were attributed with five-‐point likert-‐scale survey questions. Also the movie stills (figure 6) show the constraints that the participants experience and envisage. The data indicated that besides the direct and indirect constraints of the occupation, social norms and pressure constitute the major constraints for these adolescents. Concerning possibilities, on the other hand, the adolescents are largely agency oriented, and it seems that they try to overcome institutional constraints with their personal efforts and characteristics. However, their agency is constrained by the social pressure, which limits their autonomy and freedom. It seems that the adolescents rely on their agency, because formal institutions -‐ besides the educational institutions -‐ are not sufficiently available to meet their needs. Text box 3. Average importance of possibilities and constraints to achieve aspirations.
Possibilities Being respected or respectful Being honest Praying and going to mosque Study hard Work hard To be a socially valued person Having good friends Having a house Having a job Doing community work Having money Being married Getting help from people
4.73 4.60 4.60 4.58 4.40 4.27 4.26 4.25 4.02 4.00 3.56 3.15 3.11
Constraints The occupation Being disrespectful or disrespected Being uneducated Being a liar Having bad friends Social pressure/gossip Cronyism Not being a socially valued person Being poor Being unemployed Not doing community work Cultural traditions Playing and having fun
4.39 4.09 4.03 3.98 3.92 3.78 3.65 3.54 3.49 3.46 3.12 2.39 2.18
M. S. Biemans – Empowered to Achieve Valued Capabilities Many aspirations and possibilities to achieve aspirations overlap. Sen (1999: 35-‐53) pays attention to the idea that dimension of wellbeing can have intrinsic as well as instrumental value. The data of this research substantiates this idea, as it shows that many of the aspirations and possibilities and constraints overlap with each other. This can be a result of the intrinsic and instrumental values that aspirations can have. For example, having friends can have an intrinsic value for the wellbeing of a person, as a part of the person’s love needs and is thus an end. Having friends can also have an instrumental value through the social capital it generates. Having bad friends on the other hand could hence form an obstacle.
Figure 6. Constraints on the adolescents’ aspirations – Movie stills. From left to right, top to bottom: occupation, personal abilities, lack of job opportunities, and poverty.
All the possibilities and constraints experienced and envisaged by the research participants were investigated more thoroughly in the focus groups and later in the participatory video. As an example, the value of studying as a possibility and the constraint of being uneducated will be discussed here. Education is one of the sectors that are very well developed in the West Bank. Achieving education is a strategy that can help the adolescents to achieve a better future, because many higher educated Palestinians move to the city, get jobs at (international) companies, or go abroad. Furthermore, higher education is relatively accessible for people from a lower socio-‐ economic background in the Palestinian Territories. In the photography assignments where the teenagers were asked to take pictures of things that are important to them for their future life, many of them came back with pictures of certificates (Figure 7), which indicate the importance of studying to them. In the focus group discussions they indicated that studying had an intrinsic value in itself, as well as that it is a possibility for getting a job, owning material possessions, getting respect and friends. As the movie stills also show, the participants saw working hard and studying hard as Figure 7. Stying as possibility. (Girl, 13) important to achieve their capabilities.
M. S. Biemans – Empowered to Achieve Valued Capabilities Study and work can in their own ways contribute to the ability to effectively attain outcomes within one’s environment and opportunities to develop one’s capabilities, and the self-‐endorsement of this behavior. The research participants felt that if they will not have enough knowledge they will not be able to succeed in life, because without a certificate it will be difficult to get a job. Some girls also indicated that studying will protect them and give them power, as one of the girls puts it: “Because learning ensures a good future ... Learning is a weapon.” (Girl, 13). In response to the question of whether they thought that their life was going to be different from their parents’ life, the possibility ‘to study’ often had a prominent role. They would either complete their studies, which (one of) their parents did not or they perceived their education as being better than that of their parents. If these adolescents go to higher education they will most likely have received better education than their parents, since only 3% of the population of Old Askar camp (10 years and older) has finished any form of higher education (PCBS 2009: 60). Many students aspired to obtain a foreign scholarship to study abroad. This quote from Dhalia (13) is an example: “Everything here in Palestine is limited, nothing is perfect. Everything over here is yes or no. Maybe in France I will have the opportunity to do things differently” and “It is difficult for me to get high grades in school and I need them if I want to go and study medicine in France. The college in France requires a high grade” shows that she is aware what is required to achieve her aspiration.
Figure 8. Studying as a possibility to achieve aspirations - Movie stills.
Another example of the awareness of opportunities and constraints to achieve valued capabilities is the constraint of social pressure and the possibility of being respected. As mentioned before, the constraint of not receiving respect as a result of not following social norms impedes on the autonomous decision making capacity of the adolescents. Furthermore it constrains them in achieving their aspirations within their environment. Hence, it is not surprising that ‘being respected’ received the highest average importance as a possibility in the survey. Although the more value-‐oriented possibilities of ‘being honest’, ‘being respectful’ and ‘praying and going to mosque’ do not seem to be functional possibilities to achieve aspirations at first sight. Partly these compromise a way of moral life. Nevertheless, these values can help the adolescents to negotiate the social pressure they experience to follow social norms. For example, as the following quote shows: “When I am practicing Islam everybody respects me” (Fadi, 15), the
M. S. Biemans – Empowered to Achieve Valued Capabilities possibility of ‘going to mosque and pray’ can contribute to getting respect, especially for boys for whom religion is more of a community activity. These examples show that the adolescents are aware of their opportunities and constraints; during the research it was observed that they became more aware of the opportunities and started seeing strategies to achieve wellbeing in their environment. Unfortunately there were no informative responses to the open questions in the survey on the topic of opportunities and strategies to achieve wellbeing. Thus the participants and respondents cannot be compared. CONCLUSION In this paper it is shown what effect a participatory research project can have on the ability for adolescents to achieve their valued capabilities. Participating in a research that utilizes participatory methods and consists of a series of meetings, can attribute to the two preconditions for human development through the achievement of valued capabilities; namely that: 1) one is aware what capabilities one values, and 2) one is aware of the opportunities to achieve those valued capabilities. During the field study it was observed that adolescents that took part in the participatory phases were, over time, more able to articulate their valued capabilities. Moreover, they became more aware of their values and aspirations, and could consequently authentically motivate their valued capabilities. The process of self-‐reflection and introspection also enabled them to become more aware of the strategies they can use to achieve their wellbeing; with taking the constraints and opportunities that they experience and envisage in their environment into account. Certainly, part of the adolescent participants in this study feel the need and have the potential to be taken more seriously. They feel constrained not only by the political and economical reality they live in, but also by the social reality that manifests itself in strict social norms which are enforced through gossip and the value of being respected in the community. This is not to deny in any way that a solution to the conflict is very important to improving their lives. However, when the aim of development practice is to increase the wellbeing and possibilities for human fulfillment for these adolescents, a difference could be made by providing them with a space where they can be coached to listen to their selves and what they feel is important in life; and negotiate this within their community. In this paper it is aimed to show the possibilities of using participatory research to advance the opportunities that people have to achieve valued capabilities; not by providing additional resources or freedoms, but by facilitating the discovery and development of one’s autonomy and agency. By facilitating a process of developing autonomy and agency led by the participants, participatory research becomes Participatory Action Research. The ‘Action’ is in the cognitive change of the participants, in their feeling of empowerment, which can help them to become active agents in their development. Although results of this study cannot be generalized to the extent that they apply uniformly to other cases of adolescents in conflict areas, they do have implications for theory and future research. Most importantly, the results imply that adolescents in an unsafe environment should not be reduced to victims of conflict. They can have a broad spectrum of aspirations and develop resilience and agency to negotiate within their environments to work towards achieving their aspirations. Most importantly,
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