, Volume 11, Issue 2-3, pp 4-25

Participatory research and the race to save the planet: Questions, critique, and lessons from the field

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Participation has been widely touted as “the answer” to a number of problems facing sustainable development programs. It is not enough, however, to involve rural people as workers and informants in research and planning endeavors defined by outsiders. A truly collaborative approach will depend upon our ability to broaden our definitions of research and participation, to accommodate a wide spectrum of land users and local knowledge, and to expand our repertoire of research methods. This paper presents a critique of facile approaches to participation, outlines a more inclusive framework for who participates on what terms, and reviews a variety of methods that address the complex realities of rural livelihoods and landscapes. The final section of the paper suggests a multi-institutional model that combines the complementary strengths of several types of organizations in participatory field research and planning.

Portions of this article have previously appeared in Rocheleau, 1991b and are reprinted with the permission ofAgroforestry Systems.
Dianne E. Rocheleau is an Assistant Professor in the Graduate School of Geography at Clark University in Worcester, MA. She holds a Ph.D. in Geography with a minor in Systems Ecology from the University of Florida. She teaches courses on social forestry, tropical ecology, political ecology, gender, and development. Her research focuses on social and ecological dimensions of forestry and rural landscape change in East Africa and Central America. She has conducted research on land use, forestry, and watershed management in the Dominican Republic (1979, 1992), worked as a senior scientist at the International Council for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF) in Nairobi (1983–1986), and was a Forestry and Agricultural Program Officer for the Ford Foundation in Eastern and Southern Africa (1986–1989). Dr. Rocheleau is senior author ofAgroforestry in Dryland Africa and has authored several articles and book chapters on the social and ecological dimensions of land use change. She serves on the advisory board of the Land Tenure Center and is a member of the Policy Consultative Group on Africa (World Resources Institute and USAID). Her current research includes the multiple histories of ecological, economic, and cultural change in the dry forests and savannas of Ukambani (Kenya); gendered knowledge, rights, and institutions shaping the landscape of farm and forest regions in the Dominican Republic; and “sustainable development” as ecological and economic restructuring