Just two days after forming my idea for research on TCEDC’s impact in the community, almost everything seems to be in line: TCEDC’s directors have said my research is an important need; Dr. Nibbs, my cultural anthropology professor and mentor for the internship, has helped me to outline a plan and create interview questions; and I already have started some preliminary interviews with several of TCEDC’s clients.
Yet I already have some hesitations about the whole thing. As good as the idea may sound, it ultimately came from me, an outsider, rather than the community. The distinction is significant: not only does my outsider’s perspective compromise my ability to do research, but it also establishes an undesirable relationship that places me in control over the community, and even opens the possibility of harming the community. The social sciences have recently started to take an introspective look at these relationships as well as the ways research has had unintended negative consequences on communities. Even if my research sounds benign, if not beneficial, it runs into the very same problems described above.
In response to these concerns, the social science community has developed a process to more effectively involve the community in research, known as Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR). This process holds promise but takes a lot of time and planning, making it virtually impossible for me to accomplish in my short time here. I’m uncertain about how to address the issue. Although I won’t let it stop my research, I will be doing so with much deeper contemplation and sensitivity.