This paper engages with the methodological and ethical complexities of conducting research across diverse sites of power and privilege, specifically by drawing upon twelve months of ethnographic fieldwork on the ecological restoration of the Ventura River in Southern California. The design of this project incorporates people from multiple, conflicting positions, including people who are homeless and living in riverbottom encampments, people in the environmental field working to restore the riverbottom, and people in social services working to house the homeless. Throughout my fieldwork various groups attempted to assert agency over my research methods and priorities, pulling me in multiple directions. However, despite this tension, this research design also afforded me the opportunity to develop trusting relationships across difference, which facilitated the opening of a new (and potentially more just) socio-ecological imaginary for the Ventura River. This paper demonstrates how one can create change across diverse positions of power, and the role community-engaged researchers can play in this process.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
For a broader discussion of the role of accompaniment in Community Geography, see Bradley Wilson’s presentation on “Accompaniment Research” from the 2019 Workshop on Community Geography sponsored by the National Science Foundation (http://www.communitymappinglab.org/commgeog19.html).
Pseudonyms are used to protect the confidentiality of research participants.
The overlooked object exercise is one of the activities taught at a workshop on performative ethnography led by D. Soyini Madison, in which I participated at the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry.
Allen, B. (2004). Shifting boundary work: Issues and tensions in environmental health science in the case of Grand Bois Louisiana. Science as Culture, 13(4), 429–448.
Barthes, R. (1980). Camera lucida: Reflections on photography. Hill and Wang.
Bell, G. P. (1994). Biology and growth habits of giant reed (Arundo donax). In N. E. Jackson, P. Frandsen, & S. Douthis (Eds.), Arundo donax workshop proceedings, November 19, 1993 (pp. 1–6). CA.
Bhabha, H. K. (2004). The location of culture (2nd ed.). Routledge.
Bloor, D. (1991).  Knowledge and social imagery (2nd ed.). University of Chicago Press.
Bolle-Bosse, A. J., & Hankins, K. B. (2018). These maps talks for us: Participatory action mapping as civic engagement practice. The Professional Geographer, 70(2), 319–326.
California Invasive Plant Council. (2003). Plant assessment form: Arundo donax. Cal-IPC Inventory. https://www.cal-ipc.org/plants/paf/arundo-donax-plant-assessment-form/. Accessed 25 January 2020.
Cassell, J. (1980). Ethical principles for conducting fieldwork. American Anthropologist, 82(1), 28–41.
Collins, P. H. (2000). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. Routledge.
Cooke, B., & Kothari, U. (Eds.). (2001). Participation: The new tyranny? Zed Books.
Cromer, R., Hardin, J., & Nyssa, Z. (2020). Coming to terms: Reckoning with saving. Journal for the Anthropology of North America, 23(1), 67–69.
de Leeuw, S., Cameron, E., & Greenwood, M. L. (2012). Participatory and community-based research, Indigenous geographies, and the spaces of friendship: A critical engagement. The Canadian Geographer, 56(2), 180–194.
Demond, M. (2014). Relational ethnography. Theory and Society, 43, 547–579.
Dolan, J. (1993). Geographies of learning: Theatre studies, performance, and “the performative.” Theatre Journal, 45, 417–441.
Elwood, S. (2006a). Critical issues in participatory GIS: Deconstructions, reconstructions, and new research directions. Transactions in GIS, 10(5), 693–708.
Elwood, S. (2006b). Negotiating knowledge production: The everyday inclusions, exclusions, and contradictions of participatory GIS research. The Professional Geographer, 58(2), 197–208.
Escario, H., Kelley, M. J., & Morrissey, D. (2008). Vision plan for the lower Ventura River Parkway: Reconnecting people with the Ventura River. 606 Studio. Department of Landscape Architecture. California State University, Pomona. Prepared for The Trust for Public Land and the California State Coastal Conservancy.
Farmer, P. (2010). Partner to the poor: A Paul Farmer reader. H. Saussy (Ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press.
Farmer, P. (2013). To repair the world: Paul Farmer speaks to the next generation. J. Weigel (Ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press.
Freire, P. (1985). The politics of education: Culture, power and liberation. Bergin & Garvey.
Gieryn, T. (1999). Cultural boundaries of science. University of Chicago Press.
Giessow, J., Casanova, J., Leclerc, R., MacArthur, R., Fleming, G., & Giessow, J. (2011). Arundo donax distribution and impact report. Resource document. California Invasive Plant Council. https://www.cal-ipc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Arundo_Distribution_Impact_Report_Cal-IPC_March-2011_small.pdf. Accessed 25 January 2020.
Gomberg-Muñoz, R. (2018). The complicit anthropologist. Journal for the Anthropology of North America, 21(1), 36–37.
Harding, S. H. (1998). Is science multicultural: Postcolonialisms, feminisms, & epistemologies. Indiana University Press.
Hopkins, P. E. (2007). Positionalities and knowledge: Negotiating ethics in practice. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 6(3), 386–394.
Indigenous Action Network. (2014). Accomplices not allies: Abolishing the ally industrial complex. https://www.indigenousaction.org/accomplices-not-allies-abolishing-the-ally-industrial-complex/. Accessed 14 November 2020.
Joseph, M. (2002). Against the romance of community. University of Minnesota Press.
Kapoor, I. (2002). The devil’s in the theory: A critical assessment of Robert Chambers’ work on participatory development. Third World Quarterly, 23(1), 101–117.
Kinchy, A. (2012). Seeds, science, and struggle: The global politics of transgenic crops. MIT Press.
Lave, R. (2015). The future of environmental expertise. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 105(2), 244–252.
Lipson, J. G. (1994). Ethical issues in ethnography. In J. M. Morse (Ed.), Critical issues in qualitative research methods (pp. 333–355). Sage.
Madison, D. S. (2011). Critical ethnography: Methods, ethics, and performance (2nd ed.). Sage.
Mohan, G. (1999). Not so distant, not so strange: The personal and the political in participatory research. Ethics Place and Environment, 2(1), 41–54.
Nadar, L. (1972). Up the anthropologist—perspectives gained from studying up. In D. H. Hymes (Ed.), Reinventing anthropology (pp. 284–311). Pantheon Books.
Nading, A. (2020). Living in a toxic world. Annual Review of Anthropology, 49, 209–224.
Ottinger, G. (2009). Epistemic fencelines: Air monitoring instruments and expert-resident Boundaries. Spontaneous Generations, 3(1), 55–67.
Ottinger, G. (2013). Refining expertise: How responsible engineers subvert environmental justice challenges. NYU Press.
Plankey-Videla, N. (2012). Informed consent as process: Problematizing informed consent in organizational ethnographies. Qualitative Sociology, 35, 1–21.
Pope, C. (2005). Conducting ethnography in medical settings. Medical Education, 39(12), 1180–1187.
Ralph M. (1963) Brown Act, California Government Code § 54950 et seq.
Scott, P., Richards, E., & Martin, B. (1990). Captives of controversy: The myth of the neutral social researcher in contemporary scientific controversies. Science, Technology, and Human Values, 15(4), 474–494.
Shostak, S. (2013). Exposed science: Genes, the environment, and the politics of population health. NYU Press.
Sultana, F. (2007). Reflexivity, positionality, and participatory ethics: Negotiating fieldwork dilemmas in international research. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 6(3), 374–385.
Wylie, A., & Hankinson Nelson, L. (2007). Coming to terms with the values of science: Insights from feminist science studies scholarship. In H. Kincaid, J. Dupré, & A. Wylie (Eds.), Value-free science: Ideals and illusions (pp. 58–86). Oxford University Press.
The American Association of University Women supported this research through an AAUW American Dissertation Fellowship.
Conflict of interest
The author declares that they have no conflict of interest.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
Human and animal rights
All procedures involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional review board and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Mokos, J.T. Engaging the complexities of community: conflict and difference in community-engaged research. GeoJournal (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10708-021-10397-3
- Community geography
- Participatory research
- River restoration