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THE SOCIAL CONTEXT OF PARTICIPATION: PARTICIPATORY RURAL
APPRAISAL (PRA) AND THE CREATION OF A MARINE PROTECTED AREA IN
RONALDO WEIGAND JR.
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
To my grandparents Carlos and Rosa,
my parents Vera and Ronaldo,
and the fishers of Itacare
I first want to thank my advisor Dr. Marianne Schmink for her support to this
dissertation and in my academic life at the University of Florida. I also appreciate the
support of the other members of my supervisory committee, Dr. Gerald Murray, Dr. Peter
Hildebrand, Dr. Marshall Breeze and Dr. Anthony Oliver-Smith during my graduate
studies. I want to thank Dr. Marcos Sorrentino, at the Universidade de Sao Paulo, for his
advice and support in critical moments during the research process.
I want to thank Claudio L6po of Itacare, who was the first to tell me about the
proposal of the Marine Extractive Reserve of Itacare. He and his family, received me in
his house during the first contacts with the fishing community, and he was a good friend
throughout the process of research. I also want to thank the following people: Angelica
and Amos, from Pousada L'Arcobaleno; Kikiu, from Taboquinhas; Salvador, Valeria
Cyrillo, Ana Paranhos, Rui Rocha, and other people from Instituto de Estudos
Socioambientais do Sul da Bahia (IESB) and the Programa de Educacgo Ambiental da
APA de Itacare Serra Grande; Luiz Souto, from NGO Jupara; Jane Voisin, from UESC;
and Roberto Setubal, from the Municipal Government. Essential support was given by
Rita Romano from Terra Nuova. I also thank Viviane Hermida, Ana Claudia Mendes
Malhado and Daniela Martins, who volunteered in the PRA in Itacare and were great
research assistants. Particularly, the talks I had with Viviane illuminated my research.
I further want to thank the Task Group for the Creation of the Marine Extractive
Reserve of Itacare, particularly Catu, Breno, Batista, Gilmar, Celinha, Izio, Barbara and
Vinha, for letting me research with them. I am grateful for the invitation from ASPERI
and for the support of its presidents, Raimundo, Pinguiin and Pedro. I was also pleased
with the support from the Col6nia de Pesca Z-18, the Municipality, Restaurante Senzala
and small businesses and local groups that supported the creation of the Extractive
Special thanks go to Rubens Lopes and his oceanographic team at Universidade
Estadual de Santa Cruz (UESC), particularly Silvia, Lucio, Gessely, M6nica, Cintia and
Alexandre. I also thank Rafael Pinz6n and Alexandre Z. Cordeiro, of CNPT/IBAMA; and
Marcio Torres, of the Ministerio Publico Federal in Ilheus.
I am very grateful for the support from and friendship of Valeria Rodrigues,
Francisco R. Cartaxo Nobre, Carla and Robert Miller, Ana Maria Arg6lo, Norman Breuer
and his family, Kathleen Ragsdale, Sandra Baptista, Viviane Hermida, Valerio Gomes,
Marta Hager Strambi, Richard Wallace, Ilka Araujo, Christine Archer, John Engels, Amy
Cox, and Maria Thereza Pedroso, who all made my time in Gainesville endurable and
more enjoyable. I also want to thank my mother, Vera; my father, Ronaldo; his wife
Genes; my aunt Denise; my brothers and all my family for their support.
This research and my doctoral studies were funded by a fellowship from the
Fundagdo Coordenagdo de Aperfeigoamento de Pessoal de Nivel Superior (CAPES) of
the Brazilian Ministry of Education. I especially thank my country, Brazil; my
government and my people for supporting my education, both in Brazil (at the University
of Sdo Paulo) and in the United States (through CAPES).
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ................................................................................................ iii
L IST O F T A B L E S ..... .................................................................... .. .. ............ vii
LIST OF FIGURES ......... ........................ ............ ........ ........... viii
A B STR A C T ......... ...... ............................................................................................. ix
1 IN TR OD U CTION ............................................... .. ....................... .. 1
Origins and Concept of Participatory Rural Appraisal................. .................... 5
D definition of PRA ............... ........ .......... .................. ........ ............ .. 11
Collective Action and PRA Experiences .............................................. 12
Research Questions and Explanatory Propositions............... ................ 14
Theoretical, Methodological and Practical Significance of this Research .......... 45
O organization of the D issertation .................................... .................................... 46
2 METHODOLOGICAL PRINCIPLES: AN INTRODUCTION TO ACTION
R E SE A R C H ................................... ........................................ 4 8
Main Characteristics of Action Research ........................ ......................... 49
Epistemology for an "Investigative" Action Research: Discovery and Learning 50
Politics of A action R esearch.............. .................................... .......................... 53
Diverse Voices, Emic Explanations and CoewII i (eizi,. t.i. .............. ................ 55
Objectivity and A action Research ............................................................ ........ ... 56
Comparing Action Research and Research-Only Strategies ............................. 57
3 RE SEAR CH M ETH OD S .................................................. ............................ 60
R research Site and P opulation...................................................... .... .. .............. 60
R research D design .......................... .. .......... ....... ..... ..... .... ........... ... 6 1
Data Collection: Observant Participation and Participant Observation.............. 81
Testing the Explanatory Propositions .............. ............................................ 86
4 ITA C A R A N D ITS FISH ER S ........................... ............................................... 90
Indians, Jesuits and Pirates .............. ............................................ .............. 91
"The V violent Land". ..................................... .......... .................... 93
C ol6nia de P esca Z -18 .......... .... ................ ........................... .. 97
Rise of Tourism and Environmentalism ..................................................... 103
Fishers' A association of Itacar ............................................ ............ .............. 114
L inks to a W ider C ontext........................................................................... ... 116
Sum m ary and C conclusions .......................................... ........................... 117
5 COOPERATION AND INDIVIDUALISM IN THE FISHING ACTIVITY........ 122
Is the F fishing A activity Solitary? ......................................................................... 122
Modernization of the Fisheries .............................. 128
T he L obster G old R ush ................................................................................ ..... 132
Resource Management....................................... 135
The Extractive Reserves .................................. .............. 142
Sum m ary and C conclusions ........................................... .......................... 145
6 ORIGINS OF THE TASK GROUP ........................................................... 148
Courses on PRA and Community Leadership .............................................. 149
The Movement for the Marine Extractive Reserve of Itacare and the Formation of
the Task Group ...... ..... .................................... ............... 152
Black-or-W hite V iew s .......................................................... .............. 164
Sum m ary and C conclusions ........................................... .......................... 166
7 RESEARCH QUESTION 1: WHAT FACTORS INFLUENCED FISHERS'
PARTICIPATION IN THE PRA MEETINGS? ............................................ 168
PRA Training for TG M embers................................................... ............... 170
First-R found PRA M meetings ........................................ .......................... 178
Second-Round PRA M meetings ................................................... ........ ...... 223
Explanatory Propositions Tested in Action ............................................. .. 224
Sum m ary and C conclusions ........................................... .......................... 233
8 RESEARCH QUESTION 2: WHAT FACTORS INFLUENCE PARTICIPATION
BY LOCAL PEOPLE AS LEADERS IN THE PRA TEAM? ............. ............. 235
Participation in the Task G roup ...................................................... ................. 240
Action Tests for Research Question 2: Summary and Conclusion................... 262
9 C O N C L U SIO N ............................. ................................................ ... .............. .. 265
W hy Participation?....... ................................................................ .............. 265
Participation of the Fishers of Itacare in the PRA Meetings ............................ 266
Com m unitarian or Individualistic? ........................................... .. ............ 272
Conflict and Consensus in PRA...................... ..................... 273
Local Participation in the PRA Team and Leadership.................. .............. 274
M ultidim ensional M odel.................................. .............. 280
Competing Extractive Reserve M odels .................................... .............. 282
Action as Research and Research as Action......... ....................................... 286
REFERENCES ................... .......................... .. 289
APPENDIX: SCHEDULE OF PRA MEETINGS .............. ................................... 297
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ............................................................. .............. 300
LIST OF TABLES
1-1: Research question 1 and explanatory propositions: What factors influenced fishers'
participation in the PRA m eetings?.................................................. .............. 15
1-2: Research question 2 and explanatory propositions: What factors influenced
participation by local people in the PRA team? .................................................. 16
1-3: Comparison of peasants and fishers. ............. ......... ........... ..... ............. .. 21
2-1: Comparing action research and conventional research.................................... 58
5-1: Accomplishments of the fishers of Itacare and necessary personal qualities and
skills to realize them ....... ............................... .. ...... .. ............ ............ .. 127
7-1: Attendance at the PRA meetings ........................... ........... ... 169
7-2: Research Question 1 and explanatory propositions........................... 170
7-3: Contents of the course on PRA for the Task Group......................................... 172
7-4: Results of the action tests for the explanatory propositions for research question 1
................................. .......................... .............. 226
8-1: Research question 2 and explanatory propositions: What factors influenced
participation by local people in the PRA team? ................................ .............. 236
8-2: Results of the action tests for the explanatory propositions for Research Question 2
................................. .......................... .............. 263
LIST OF FIGURES
3-1: Location of Itacare and the area proposed for the Marine Extractive Reserve........ 61
3-2: Web of life game in the community of Banca do Peixe................ .......... .... 75
3-3: Participatory mapping exercise in Forte community.............................................. 76
3-4: Institutional diagram in Banca do Peixe community (a TG member is facilitating the
discussion)............... ............................................... ....... ........ 77
3-5: Historical diagram in small groups in Taboquinhas, facilitated by a volunteer
research assistant. ....................................................... .............. 78
3-6: Logo of the Task Group for the Creation of the Marine Extractive Reserve of
Itacare. ................................................. .......... 83
3-7: Action as a research testing strategy. ............. ...... ........................... .......... 88
7-1: Natural resource map created by the PRA participants of Banca do Peixe............ 187
7-2: Institutional Diagram of Banca do Peixe............................ 189
7-3: Participatory mapping in Banca do Peixe. ............. ......................................... 196
7-4: Institutional diagram of Porto de Tras............................... .............. 205
8-1: Participation within the Task Group...................... .. ................. 241
A -0-1: Schedule of PRA m meetings ....................................................... ........... ... 298
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in
Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
THE SOCIAL CONTEXT OF PARTICIPATION: PARTICIPATORY RURAL
APPRAISAL (PRA) AND THE CREATION OF A MARINE PROTECTED AREA IN
Ronaldo Weigand Jr.
Chair: Marianne Schmink
Major Department: Department of Anthropology
This dissertation is a study of a participatory rural appraisal (PRA) process for the
creation of the Marine Extractive Reserve of Itacare, in the state of Bahia, Brazil, and
examined two main research questions:
* What factors influenced fishers' participation in the PRA meetings?
* What factors influenced participation by local people as leaders in the PRA team?
To test 14 explanatory propositions, I adapted action research, a participatory
research paradigm concerned both with action to improve local conditions faced by the
participants, and with research about the processes that cause these conditions. The most
important factor affecting participation in the PRA meetings was politics. Often, fishers
did not participate because they were resisting the Extractive Reserve proposal, the local
PRA team, or because they opposed some other aspect. My research provides evidence
against the proposition that fishers do not participate because they have an individualistic
culture, and against the proposition that fishers do not attend PRA meetings if they can
free-ride on the PRA exercise. In Itacare, all communities eventually attended PRA
meetings in good numbers, actively participated in the discussions, and ended up
supporting the Extractive Reserve. Attendance at meetings was also influenced by the
credibility of the PRA team and by multidimensional costs and benefits related to the
PRA methodology (moral, emotional, and informational).
The factors influencing participation within the local PRA team included the pace
of the PRA and individual opportunity costs involved in facilitating it. Multidimensional
costs and benefits also affected participation; individuals would stay in the PRA team
while they felt that their material, political, moral, and emotional capitals were above a
certain critical level. The dissertation further shows the importance of internal conflicts in
the local PRA team, and shows how PRA, because of its technical need for outside
facilitators, can increase such conflicts. Conflicts among insiders may be equally
important. The dissertation concludes with a discussion of recommendations for research,
PRA practice, action research, and the creation of extractive reserves.
Everybody is talking about participation. Why participation? To some,
participation is an end in itself; a human right. In conservation and development
initiatives, community supporters and activists defend that local people have the right to
participate in any decision process that could influence their lives. Donors, governments,
universities, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and community organizations are so
interested in participation because it gives legitimacy to development and conservation
initiatives, and because it is believed that participation makes these initiatives more
efficient and effective.
The word participation may mean different things: How do people participate?
Who participates? Why do they participate? How much power do participants have? How
do outsiders and locals see participation? How much do they gain or lose by participating
(or not)? The answers to these questions (if they are ever asked) influence the legitimacy,
the efficiency and the efficacy of conservation and development initiatives.
Participation can take different forms. For example, in the research process,
Rocheleau (1994) points out that there are extractive and interactive approaches, and that
land users can take different roles, from providing labor, to acting as hosts, informants,
evaluators, collaborators, partners, advisors or board members. As in Rocheleau's
description, the types of participation can be classified in a one-dimensional scale, such
as a "ladder", implying that some forms of classification are better (more legitimate) than
others and "that it is possible, desirable and necessary to move across this continuum to
the most intense form of participation, a kind of participation nirvana" (Guijt and Sha
1998b:10); Guijt and Sha (1998) discuss other problems with participation typologies.
To promote participation, a series of methods have been developed, such as
participatory rural appraisal (PRA). Participatory rural appraisal is "a growing family of
approaches and methods to enable local (rural and urban) people to express, enhance,
share, and analyze their knowledge of life and conditions, to plan and to act" (Chambers
1994b:1253). In the 1990s, as participation of local people became an important element
towards a more effective, efficient and socially just way to promote development and
manage protected areas, PRA became increasingly popular among development and
conservation organizations and professionals for use in different contexts (protected
areas, indigenous communities, rural resettlements, poor urban neighborhoods, etc.).
However, as PRA scales up, the concern about the quality of participation has
increased (Blackburn and Holland 1998). Criticism of PRA is growing, both for its lack
of a theoretical basis and its lack of consideration for the complexity of rural
communities (Goebel 1998; Guijt and Sha 1998a). To some authors, problems with PRA
may stem from its massive use, and from scaling up without proper care, training and
understanding of the methodology (Blackburn and Holland 1998). To other authors, the
problems with PRA emerge from the methodology itself. For example, Guijt and Sha
(1998b) and Goebel (1998) argue that PRA, by emphasizing public expression of
knowledge and consensus, may obscure power differences and disagreeing interests in
the community (particularly gender-related differences), therefore contributing to the
disempowerment of already disempowered groups.
PRA also seems to be applied without consciousness of a theory that explains its
success or failure. Chambers (1994b) points out that one aspect of PRA is that it lacks a
theoretical basis and is oriented more by "what works" than by "why it works." He argues
that the advantage of this approach is that it is practical and related to the field, as
opposed to an academic approach. However, if PRA is to evolve in quality, not only
quantity, and if we want to avoid a blind search for improvements, "why it works" (and
why it does not) should become important, and social scientists should contribute to
answer this question. The first question a critical academician would ask is perhaps "what
does PRA work for?" What is the goal of PRA? I devote further discussion to the goal of
PRA later in this introduction, but for now, I accept Chambers' definition (the goal is to
enable local people "to express, enhance, share, and analyze their knowledge of life and
conditions, to plan and to act," Chambers 1994b: 1253) with an emphasis on planning and
action. Participatory rural appraisal's goal is to involve local people in well-guided
(legitimate and effective) collective action.
A research opportunity to explore how PRA contributes to participatory practice
and collective action opened up to me in March 1999, when I visited the town of Itacare,
located on the south coast of the State of Bahia, Brazil. Itacare is located in a gorgeous
region, with many reminiscent fragments of Brazil's Atlantic rainforest, one of the richest
and most endangered ecosystems in the world, and with many paradise beaches that
attract thousands of Brazilian and foreign tourists. Tall waves, coconut groves, a tiny but
lively night life, action sports opportunities and warm welcoming people acted as
magnets for surfers and tourists, whose sometimes overwhelming presence started to
change the social and natural landscapes.
Raimundo, the president of the Associacdo dos Pescadores e Marisqueiras de
Itacare (ASPERI, or Itacare's Association of Fishers and Shellfish Harvesters), was very
friendly to me. We were talking at a bar table in Itacare when he told me that the main
problem of the local fishers was the sea-bottom trawling done by guinchos (industrial
shrimp trawler boats). These boats were equipped with a winch (in Portuguese,
"guincho") that enables them to trawl large nets. In most cases, they also had two
tangones, small cranes from which the nets were pulled. "They destroy everything, kill
all fish, even the very small ones," he said. In my later visits, the fishers of Itacare
consistently repeated that same story. Each of these boats trawled two large nets and a
smaller sampling net that scraped the sea floor. Shrimp, crabs, fish, stones, corals, algae,
and trash were all lifted into the boat. Small fish and other sea life were discarded dead,
leaving behind a floating trail of waste and death that revolted local fishers.
In response to that problem, some people in Itacare were requesting that the
Brazilian Federal Government create a Marine Extractive Reserve. An extractive reserve
is a government-owned area in which a particular population of extractors is allowed to
use natural resources according to the rules proposed by the community and approved by
a management council composed of government and nongovernment organizations,
which should ensure resource sustainability (Allegretti 1994; Instituto Brasileiro do Meio
Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renovaveis 1995; Murrieta and Rueda 1995; Nepstad
et al. 1992; Schwartzman 1992). Extractive reserves have been widely created in the
Brazilian Amazon and along the Brazilian coast, protecting forest, estuarine and marine
Raimundo invited me to promote the development of local community
organizational, or institutional, foundations for the creation of the future Marine
Extractive Reserve in the fishing community of Itacare. Based on my previous experience
with PRA in the extractive reserves of Rond6nia state (Weigand Jr. and Paula 1998),
southwestern Brazilian Amazon, I chose to develop that work using a participatory rural
appraisal (PRA) approach.
As does much of the PRA literature, I assumed that participation would be more
or less a natural phenomenon and that people were willing to participate if just given the
chance. Chambers (1994a) relates the success of PRA to a series of "reversals," as
follows: 1) of frames (from etic to emic, that is, from the point of view of outsiders to the
one of insiders); 2) of modes (from individual to groups, from verbal to visual, from
measuring to comparing); 3) of relations (from reserve to rapport, from frustration to
fun); and 4) of power (from extracting to empowering). However, in the case of some
fishing communities in Itacare, at first these reversals did not matter because people were
not coming to the meetings to experience them. Itacare teaches us that participation in
PRA has a social context, and that promoting PRA is not restricted to its meetings, but is
related to the "management" of a complex social reality.
Realizing that PRA does not happen in a social vacuum, this research tries to
answer the following questions:
* What factors influenced fishers' participation in the PRA meetings?
* What factors influenced participation by local people as leaders in the PRA team?
Origins and Concept of Participatory Rural Appraisal
Villagers gather around an outsider who invites them to draw a map of their
community. They use anything to represent different aspects of their reality; stones, sand,
wood, leaves or any material they are used to. Some people go to the ground, start
drawing the contours of the village, the river that passes by, the main roads. Other people
start placing trees and houses. Someone draws the church. They argue and ask each other
for information. "Where does that guy live?" one asks. "By the river curve," another
participant answers. Slowly, the map takes shape. After a while, the outsider asks what
the participants see in the map (what are the community problems, what should be done,
etc). This is participatory mapping, one of the "PRA tools."
Participatory rural appraisal has been loosely defined, and the label has been used
to designate a broad range of research and development work. According to Chambers
(1994a:953), PRA "has evolved from, draws on, and resonates with, several traditions."
PRA evolved mainly from RRA, or rapid rural appraisal, but is also related to activist
participatory research, agroecosystem analysis, applied anthropology and field research
on farming systems. Rapid rural appraisal (RRA) is a relaxed form of survey in which
questionnaires are avoided; it gained recognition as a way to obtain valid information
from a community because it is more cost effective, more personal and faster than formal
surveys (Chambers 1994a). The difference between PRA and RRA is that RRA is
intended for learning by outsiders, while PRA is intended to enable local people to
analyze and, often, to plan and to act together. Both "methodologies" share several
"methods" such as the use of secondary sources, semi-structured interviews, key
informants, participatory mapping and modeling, transect walks, seasonal calendars, and
others (Chambers 1994a). According to Kabutha et al. (1991), PRA was first applied in
Mbusyani, Kenya, in 1988.
However, there is still confusion about the concept of PRA. Although the name
stands only for "appraisal," the original PRA process, as described by Kabutha et al.
(1991), was an adaptation of rapid rural appraisal (RRA) intended to promote action
through the creation of a community development plan or community action plan. As
explained by Dr. Richard Ford (personal communication to firstname.lastname@example.org),
When we put together the concept and the structure of PRA in the mid-1980s,
it had two structural elements and three conceptual elements that differed
from its parent, RRA. The two structural elements were
1. That the participatory research must lead to an action plan that reflects
the community's ranked priorities and how they intended to implement
them. In our original handbook we call them VRMPs-- Village Resource
Management Plans. Over the years, they have come to be known as CAPs
(Community Action Plans).
2. That the community's data, collected primarily through visual instruments,
should be organized and recorded in ways that could be left with the
community so that local organizations and village institutions could use
them for monitoring, tracking, or holding groups accountable for what
they had promised to contribute. The data have also served in many
communities as useful management tools for community institutions.
The three conceptual elements were
1. That community be the primary initiative taker in solving their own
2. That community institutions serve as the primary building blocks for
initiating development action
3. That the community institutions be the primary architects in crafting
partnerships with NGOS, CBOs, government, international agencies, and
private sector organizations
If the methodology contains these five elements, I don't think it makes any
difference what one calls it. The main point is that it provides tools for
community institutions to play a substantially larger role in planning and
managing their own development than under previous methods.
In spite of this, many papers describe only the use of the "PRA tools" (maps,
calendars, diagrams), isolated from a process intended to generate community action. In
the PLA Notes, perhaps the main periodical about PRA, published by the International
Institute for Environment and Development, there are several papers on a "PRA" that
does not include community planning or action (Binns et al. 1997; Dirorimwe 1998;
Sarch et al. 1997; Townsley et al. 1997).
According to Garett Pratt (personal communication to email@example.com),
After having all this time to reflect on what PRA is, I find it most useful to think
of the diversity of practices that people label PRA. For example, some people
focus on the diagrams, and so would use that to define whether others are 'really'
doing PRA or not, i.e., if there is no mapping, it isn't PRA. But other
practitioners who say that they are doing PRA argue that diagrams are often or
always inappropriate in their work with communities, so they work by simply
talking to people, often in groups. But they call it PRA. You also find people
saying, 'We did a PRA-first a questionnaire survey and then focus group
Some say that PRA is 'a way of life' or a set of vaguely defined 'attitudes and
behaviors'. So in that case, they could see someone using diagrams like maps but
failing to display the 'correct' attitudes and behaviors, and say, 'that person is not
doing real PRA'. But they might count the way a person interacts with their
family as PRA if they displayed the 'right' PRA attitudes and behaviors during
that interaction. Given the muddle of things that people label PRA, it is very
difficult to set boundaries around PRA by naming specific practices that are
somehow the 'essence' of PRA.
The other route might be to define it somehow by the purpose it is used for. For
example, does the facilitator intend that the use of PRA should lead to an action
plan or not? You find people saying that if there is no 'development project'
coming out the end of the process, then it is not PRA... Focusing on the purpose
of the facilitator as the defining factor for PRA may tend to overplay their
determination of the outcomes, as of course the participants actively shape what
happens. But it seems that a lot of times PRA is a hit and run data collection
technique to serve the project management needs of development organizations,
so there isn't much chance for participants to shape the process. Nor is it likely
that such a 'purpose' will become the 'official' definition of PRA! ... I have
learned not to assume anything when someone tells me they 'use PRA.'
These points summarize the varied impressions of PRA practitioners who
participated in an international retreat evaluating the experience of PRA in Kenya
(Institute of Development Studies 1999). The imprecise definition of PRA has generated
confusion and has endangered the practices labeled PRA. Any action labeled "PRA" that
does not yield positive results in terms of quality of life and community mobilization will
create frustration, because:
* The original PRA involved a process in which communities mobilized to improve
* The prestige of PRA derives from the claim that it improves communities.
Confusion about the PRA concept may stem from the origins of PRA. Robert
Rhoades' 1990 paper on the oncoming revolution in methods for rural development
research suggests that, by the late 1980s, Rapid Rural Appraisal was changing, starting to
utilize research methods that were more visual (Rhoades 1990). However, at that time,
the same visual "tools" started to be used in Africa by Richard Ford and others to
generate community action plans (Ford et al. 1994; Ford and Lelo 1991; Ford et al. 1992;
Ford et al. 1993; Kabutha et al. 1991). When their first results appeared to be very
positive, participatory rural appraisal gained popularity. Because it was a direct evolution
of rapid rural appraisal (a methodology that was not intended to generate community
action, but to yield valid, fast and inexpensive information), much PRA is in fact
participatory RRA with a new label.
In the early 1990s, PRA was described as a process of diagnosis and planning to
generate a community action plan (Instituto de Los Recursos Mundiales and Grupo de
Estudios Ambientales 1993; National Environment Secretariat et al. 1991; Odour-Noah et
al. 1992). However, by 1994, PRA was already described as "a growing family of
approaches and methods" (Chambers 1994b:1253), with several different uses. Thus,
there are two concepts of PRA: one that emphasizes theprocess and the objective of
community appraisal, planning and action; and another that emphasizes the participatory
use of diagrams in data gathering and raising community awareness.
This second concept of PRA seems to be an appropriation of the PRA label by the
RRA practitioners, among them Robert Chambers. To Chambers (1994a), the main
differences between RRA and PRA are that RRA is extractive and verbal, while PRA is
"empowering" and visual. To him, planning and action are "often" a result; they are not a
necessary part of the methodology. Those differences can be disputed because
* RRA had already started to use more visual techniques and include local participation
even before the PRA label was created and first used in Kenya
* PRA involved, originally, the generation of a community action plan
After RRA established itself as a valid research strategy, it has been criticized and
described as extractive and not very participatory (Chambers 1994a). To escape criticism
of RRA, concerned RRA practitioners had to differentiate their work. It can be argued
that PRA, as a data gathering method, is just a perfected use of RRA, in terms of local
participation. This perfected form of RRA, apparently, is today labeled as PRA as a way
to enjoy the prestige of this new approach and to escape criticism directed toward old and
because "participatory" sounds a lot better than "rapid"! In fact, RRA still exists and is
However, a PRA research strategy faced some of the same problems of validity
that RRA faced. The RRA debates in the early 1980s were mainly related to its capacity
to yield valid data. When the concern is to generate valid data and conclusions, PRA data
gathering techniques also had to be defended because they started to involve more visual
elements and nonstandardized ways of representing data; and because locals started to
analyze data. As a research strategy, PRA depended on the knowledge and skills of the
local people. Proponents of PRA research such as Robert Chambers then had to defend
the assumptions related to the locals' capacity to know and analyze their reality.
Often, the objective of PRA is described in terms of empowerment. The poor in a
community setting are normally empowered by collective action, because the poor are
individually weak but can be collectively powerful. However, while the validity of PRA
for research has been extensively defended, PRA for community action has had little
Definition of PRA
Now, we must choose between the two views of PRA. While the generation of
community action does include participatory research, it should involve more than this. In
this dissertation, PRA means a method to involve a group or community in a process of
participatory diagnosis, planning and action, intended to build local capacity for
collective action and improve local conditions of life. That is, PRA is a collective
planning and implementation process with an empowerment goal.
Is the name "participatory rural appraisal" still appropriate? Because PRA has
been used in urban areas, "rural" does not seem appropriate anymore. Because planning
and action are often part of PRA processes, "appraisal" is not able to express what PRA
is in practice. According to Blackburn and Holland (1998), to reflect this expansion in
PRA practices, some practitioners have maintained the acronym PRA, but changed what
it stands for: instead of "participatory rural appraisal", they talk about "participatory
reflection and action." However, apparently this change in terminology is still not
complete. To facilitate the dialogue of this dissertation with other papers discussing
participatory methods, rather than inventing new terminology, I use the more popular
terms "participatory rural appraisal" and "PRA."
A number of manuals and papers that follow this definition describe how to
conduct a participatory rural appraisal exercise (Instituto de Los Recursos Mundiales and
Grupo de Estudios Ambientales 1993; National Environment Secretariat et al. 1991;
Odour-Noah et al. 1992; Tillmann and Salas 1997). Most publications stress the diagnosis
and planning part, while neglecting to address the implementation process. However,
there are still several cases of PRA intended to promote collective action.
Collective Action and PRA Experiences
PRA intended to mobilize community collective action was used first in
Mbusyani, Kenya, in 1988 (Kabutha et al. 1991). There, self-help achieved several
improvements in the production and natural resource conservation. Although the villagers
were responsible for most tasks, close collaboration with extension officers and NGOs
played a major role in implementation.
Ford et al. (1992) describe a PRA process in Pwani, another village in Kenya
where the community organized itself through PRA, good practical results. Razakamarina
et al. (1996) describe the use of PRA to establish partnerships between parks and people
in Madagascar. By using PRA, communities improved their health, education,
production, storage and transportation. A major strategy in the implementation phase was
the use of small projects and the advice of outsiders for rapid results. Small projects
created visibility for the park and its resources, changed local people's attitudes, and
strengthened local capabilities and self-confidence.
Weigand and Paula (1998) describe the use of PRA to generate community
development plans for two extractive reserves in the Brazilian Amazon. Participatory
rural appraisal helped extractive communities to diagnose their problems, set priorities,
plan solutions and implement improvements, helping them to build self-confidence and
change their attitudes toward community organization. More people became involved in
community activities. Women, in particular, increased their role and influence in the
reserves. As a result, economic alternatives helped to increase male and female income,
education and health services were implemented, and the community became more
organized toward environmental protection.
Among PRA accounts, Ford et al.(1994) describes the use of PRA to generate a
community action plan for a village of pastoralists in Somalia; Bronson et al. (1995)
describes a PRA assessment and planning exercise in a community in Vanuatu Islands,
South Pacific; and Ford et al. (1993) describes a PRA exercise in a village in Botswana.
All these case studies were part of training workshops for local professionals and do not
discuss the results of the implementation phase.
Ford and Lelo (1991) evaluating the Mbusyani experience, point out weaknesses
and strengths of PRA. Participatory rural appraisal strengths include
* The provision of a community forum for dialogue among community, government,
NGOs and other parties
* PRA focus on locally sustainable solutions
* Participatory data gathering and analysis
* Systematized participation
Moreover, PRA builds self-confidence by giving villagers significant
accomplishments, and stimulates self-reliance by the awareness that communities need
not wait for outside help. However Ford and Lelo (1991) point out that PRA requires
strong institutions to mobilize communities; and that local leaders may lack needed
management skills. In addition, participation does not eliminate self-interest, and
enthusiasm eventually declines. Regarding planning, more precision is needed in the
village plans. In the implementation phase, more guidance and support are required. Care
must be taken to avoid perpetuating dependence on outsiders (Ford and Lelo 1991).
Although few case studies describe PRA implementation, the studies just
mentioned describe relatively successful processes of community mobilization for action.
They share some important characteristics. Implementation starts with small projects that
require low external assistance, which helps to build community self-confidence and a
sense of self-reliance. These projects take advantage of initial enthusiasm. First successes
serve to prolong the enthusiasm. However, outsider support (advice or resources) for
implementation increased the chances of success. The process also includes establishing
alliances with external organizations. In this way, the empowerment provided by PRA is
the result of successful community experiences with implementation of planned changes.
The PRA cases cited above suggest that PRA works in building local capacity for
collective action through systematizing local knowledge, creation of consensus,
increasing self-confidence and cooperation, and forging effective alliances with outside
organizations. If so, PRA implies the following assumptions:
* Communities have difficulty in acting collectively for a given goal
* Their knowledge is fragmented, disorganized, and perhaps not well distributed
* There is little consensus as to the most important problems and the best solutions
* Self-confidence is generally low
* Communities are not inclined to cooperate
* Outsiders may be required to catalyze changes
Research Questions and Explanatory Propositions
My research questions emerged from the literature and from the practical
problems of creating the community organizational basis for the Marine Extractive
Reserve of Itacare. A series of explanatory propositions for the research questions
(Tables 1-1 and 1-2) were tested through action research In this study, I used action
research as the main instrument for testing competing explanations for problems
encountered in the participatory creation of the Marine Extractive Reserve of Itacare (see
Table 1-1: Research question 1 and explanatory propositions: What factors influenced
fishers' participation in the PRA meetings?
EP Explanatory propositions
EP1 Logistics: People participate if meetings are well-advertised and planned for
convenient dates, times, and locations
EP2 Culture: Fishers are individualistic and do not participate because of the
nature of their activities
EP3 Free-riding: If fishers can benefit from a collective good without
contributing, they will free-ride and not participate
EP4 Political aspects: Participation is a political currency and fishers attend
EP5 Multidimensional costs and benefits: Attendance at meetings depends on
the participant's consideration of benefits and costs in multiple dimensions
EP6 Urban vs. rural: Attracting participation in urban areas is more difficult than
in rural areas
EP7 Previous experience and credibility: Previous negative community
experience with projects and outside assistance reduces credibility of the
participatory process and participation in the PRA meetings
EP8 Credibility of the PRA team: The credibility of the PRA team and its
members influences participation in the meetings
These propositions were generated in a process of dialogue between me and
community members. Some propositions are mainly emic, that is, they were proposed by
1 Instead of "hypotheses," which refer to the conventional research paradigm, I use the
term "explanatory propositions." Participants (including TG and me), involved in action,
discussed one or more explanatory propositions to explain the problems, their causes, and
2 The methodological basis for action research is explained in Chapter 2, and the use of
action research in this dissertation is described in Chapter 3.
community members, but often find support in the literature, as is indicated later in the
text. Others are mainly etic, as they derive from social theory. This research shows that
the dialogue between the two can produce interesting and useful local learning.
Table 1-2: Research question 2 and explanatory propositions: What factors influenced
participation by local people in the PRA team?
EP Explanatory propositions
EP9 Pace and material opportunity costs: people have to make a living and
cannot be exclusively involved in PRA (or leadership) voluntary activities.
EP10 Multidimensional costs and benefits:
Participation in the local PRA team is inversely related to the material,
moral and emotional costs of leadership
The intensity of this relationship depends on individual interpretations
EP11 Cyclical fatigue of the group: after enduring the costs of leadership, the
group may need a break before becoming more active again.
EP12 Credibility of group: participation in the local PRA team depends on
whether the objectives of the group are seen as likely or possible.
EP13 Outside facilitators vs. insiders: PRA technical needs preserve decisive
power in the hands of outsiders; this may frustrate local people in search of
empowerment, reduce their participation or create internal friction.
EP14 Insiders vs. insiders: internal friction may decrease the participation of
people who are less involved, committed or empowered in the group.
Research Question 1: What Factors Influenced Fishers' Participation in the PRA
PRA is highly adaptable, and its use may vary from location to location, from
practitioner to practitioner. If there is a typical PRA process, the literature suggests that it
involves an outside team that visits a (rural) community and promotes a series of
activities aimed at identifying community problems. Some community members may join
the outside team in promoting household and group interviews where the PRA tools
(mapping, calendars, transects, etc.) are used to systematize local knowledge and create
hypotheses about the community problems. The group interviews take the form of
meetings where participation is voluntary.
After problems are identified, PRA meetings are carried out to rank priorities and
plan solutions. A community action plan is created, with specific tasks assigned to
participants, who start to implement them.
Participation in PRA, takes different forms. The most elementary form is
attendance at the PRA meetings. Once participants come to a PRA meeting, they may
participate by speaking, carrying out tasks to complete the PRA tools (mapping,
diagrams, etc.), analyzing information, or voting in decision making processes. They may
also facilitate or coordinate the meetings, and take charge for different tasks planned by
the participants. Before a PRA meeting, locals may participate in the PRA team, and
decide on meeting topics, dates, places, times and advertising strategies. They may also
carry out the necessary steps to organize the PRA meeting, such as preparing a meeting
location, and advertising it.
In 1999, I gave a course on community leadership to fishers from Itacare fishing
communities and a course on PRA to a group of local people with secondary education
who showed an interest in promoting the Marine Extractive Reserve of Itacare. The
interaction between these two groups, the government agency responsible for the
extractive reserves in Brazil, and a regional NGO, resulted in the formation of a group of
four to ten fishers (the number varied during the process) involved in the promotion of
the Marine Extractive Reserve of Itacare. This group was named Grupo de Trabalhopela
Criag o da Reserva Extrativista Marinha de Itacare, or Task Group for the Creation of
the Marine Extractive Reserve of Itacare (TG). In 2000, I returned to Itacare, and began
fieldwork with a PRA course for TG members. Then, the TG and I organized the PRA
meetings, jointly planned meeting locations, dates, times; and invited the people.
However, community participation in the PRA meetings proved difficult in
Itacare. Sometimes meetings had to be cancelled because of lack of attendance. What
explains attendance at PRA meetings? Trying to solve the problem, TG members and I
identified a series of explanatory propositions, explained below.
Logistics (EP1): People participate if meetings are well-advertised and planned for
convenient dates, times, and locations
When a meeting failed, the thought that immediately came to my mind was
"why?" and the first explanation was often related to logistics: "did we get the word out
effectively? Was the meeting at a convenient time and location?" PRA manuals usually
present guidelines for approaching the community and for setting up community
meetings where the PRA tools are applied. Participation increases when meetings are
well-advertised and carried out at convenient dates, times, and locations. If participation
is low it may be because the logistics of the meetings were bad. However, attracting
participation may be more complicated than just providing good logistics. This
dissertation explores the logistical proposition by examining different attempts to
promote participation in Itacare (action testing, see Chapters 2 and 3).
Culture (EP2): Fishers are individualistic and do not participate because of the
nature of their activities
When I started fieldwork in Itacare, the fishers had their own explanations when
the first meetings had low or no participation. The most common was a self-deprecating
view that fishers "are just like that"; to them, fishers were just selfish and self-interested
or, worse, they lacked interest at all. "Fishers are hopeless," said a retired fisherman.
Many TG members also agreed with that at their moments of disappointment with the
participation of their communities.
In the literature, too, some scholars say that fishers are individualistic because of
the nature of their activity, which is described as solitary. Poggie (1980) compares the
fishers' perceptions of themselves and of their cooperative managers, and shows that
fishers perceive themselves to be more individualistic than they perceive the managers.
He argues that fishers, because of the nature of their activity, are very individualistic, and
that this individualism is a constraint to the development of cooperatives. Individualism
is also reported by Kottak (1992), who conducted studies of social change in a fishing
community in northern Bahia, Brazil.
However, there is little consensus in the literature on whether fishers are
individualistic or cooperative. Pollnac and Carmo (1980) verify that fishers and farmers
in the Azores had similar attitudes: both were not very inclined to cooperation.
Nonetheless, McCay (1980) demonstrates that fishers in the New York Bight Region of
the American Mid-Atlantic Coast were able to achieve cooperative organization and
resource management that is very effective and not individualistic. In addition, Orbach
(1980) argues that cooperative action does not necessarily mean a formal cooperative,
and that fishers in the Chesapeake Bay are cooperative, despite the failures of local
cooperatives. To him, fishers take advantage of multiple forms of organizational
arrangements of cooperation that best suit their needs. Moreover, cases in which fishers'
cooperatives fail normally involve top-down processes of cooperative creation, with
strong governmental influence and paternalistic assistance, such as the cases described by
Sabella (1980) in Peru, Poggie (1980) in Costa Rica, and Kottak (1992) in Bahia, Brazil.
Finally, the nature of the fishing activity is not always solitary, nor is it the only
solitary rural activity. Farmers often work by themselves in crop fields, rubber tappers
work alone in the forest, and herders are often alone taking care of cattle. On the other
hand, several fishing modalities demand team work, and longer overnight fishing trips
with a fishing crew demand high social skills to avoid fights in the confinement of little
boats. Moreover, fishers often share a port and a trading place. Therefore, fishing is not
necessarily solitary and should not always determine an "individualistic culture." This
research expected to falsify this proposition by trying to involve fishers in the PRA
meetings in Itacare. The results of such an attempt and a discussion of fishing cooperative
arrangements found in Itacare are used to examine this explanatory proposition (action
testing). In addition, cooperation and individualism in the fishing activity are discussed in
Free-riding (EP3): If fishers can benefit from a collective good without contributing,
they will free-ride
According to Guijt and Sha (1998b:1), in community development,
The assumption is that participatory approaches empower local people with the
skills and confidence to analyze their situation, reach consensus, make decisions
and take action, so as to improve their circumstances... Yet, in many cases where
participation has been pursued something is going wrong... Looking back, it is
apparent that 'community' has often been viewed naively, or in practice dealt
with, as a harmonious and internally equitable collective... This mythical notion
of community cohesion continues to permeate much participatory work.
If communities are not harmonious, internally equitable collectives, what are
they? Communitarian and individualistic scholars have discussed the nature of peasant
communities for centuries and perhaps their debate can help us understand fishing
communities too. Nonetheless, some might argue that fishers are radically different from
peasants. In using theories and interpretations developed for peasants to look at fishers
one has to be careful to consider the degree of differences and similarities between these
groups. How similar are they?
Table 1-3 shows different aspects of the two groups. Both groups have a high
dependence on natural resources for their livelihoods, but resource management, that is,
intentional interference over nature's productivity, is more intense in the case of peasants,
and very weak or nonexistent in the case of fishers. Agricultural production requires from
peasants that they transform nature, suppressing natural production of the local biota to
replace it as much as possible with domesticated plants and animals.
Table 1-3: Comparison of peasants and fishers.
Aspect Peasant Communities Fishing Communities
Dependence on natural High High
Management of natural High Low
Resource tenure systems Individual/household areas Communal area/ open
and communal areas access
Predictability of production Medium Low
Knowledge of resources High High
Isolation Varies (from village Village or town dwelling
dwelling to isolated
Wealth Marginal Marginal
Risk High High
In Brazil, though, different resource management conditions apply according to
the environment and the population pressure. Where land is still abundant, peasants are
less intensive about their resource management, practicing slash-and-bum agriculture
and, in the case of open frontiers, they can be very destructive about resource use,
migrating and establishing new farms when land becomes depleted.
This is similar to what fishermen in Itacare reported. They told me that fishermen
from other municipalities, after their fishing grounds became depleted due to predatory
fishing, came to Itacare, where fish were still abundant. Most of the fishers associated to
one of the local fishers' organizations came from another municipality where fish,
reportedly, have become scarce due to practices such as fishing with explosives.
Although it is argued that, because of the nature of marine resources, fishers are less
likely to perceive the link between their own practice and resource depletion, this does
not appear to be the case in Itacare, where the local population tends to reject newcomers
and blame them for the destruction of fisheries in other municipalities.
The difference between peasants and fishers is that peasants often can exclude
outsiders from using their resources. For Brazilian fishers, however, resources are legally
open access, and encroachment of fishing grounds through destruction of mangroves and
by industrial fishing fleets have challenged the traditional rules that regulate access to
marine resources (Cordell 1989). That is, tappers and peasants can, by modifying their
behavior, influence resource conservation, but fishers can not. The creation of marine
extractive reserves responds to this issue by "closing" the fisheries and excluding
outsiders from the area.
Table 1-3 shows other important differences. One is the predictability of
production. Peasants have a medium level of predictability, but fishers face greater
uncertainty. Irregularity of production is common among fishers and they have fewer
indicators of future production than do peasants. Considering their similar levels of
poverty, if peasants present social institutions that act as a safety net (Scott 1976), these
institutions should be even more evident among fishers. Indeed, Cordell (1989) reports
exactly that in his research with the fishers ofBahia.
However, still regarding predictability, Cordell (1989:133) points out that,
because fishers have to conform with tidal cycles to take advantage of specific fishing
spots in the mangroves,
It enables those adept at net casting, the mestres (canoe bosses), to monitor
closely the behavior, migratory routes and the cycles offish. Because fish
predictably concentrate in certain areas depending on the tide, weather and other
natural cycles, seines operations are specialized.
From the discussion presented above, I argue that the categories "peasants" and
"fishers" are no more different from each other than the groups that compose each are
different from other groups in the same category. That is, different peasant groups may be
more different from one another than a peasant group is different from a fishing group.
Therefore, if the literature on peasants have any general value across different peasant
groups, it should also be useful to understand fishers. There is no reason why peasant
theories cannot be applied to fishers, and I use them to discuss participation and
collective action among fishers as did Forman (1966), for example, in his study of raft
fishermen in Northeastern Brazil.
The timelessness of the debate on the nature of peasant communities in social
sciences is illustrated by the response of Russian anarchist philosopher Peter Kropotkin to
the social Darwinists at the end of the 19th century. Kropotkin counter-argued the ideas of
social Darwinist Thomas Huxley, one the most famous of the Darwin's followers, who
published "The Struggle for Existence and its Bearing upon Man" in the journal
Nineteenth Century. Kropotkin's response, a series of three articles in the same journal,
was later published in a book (Mutual Aid: A Factor of Human Evolution, 1972, orig.
1914) where he argued that cooperation, or mutual aid, was a force as strong as, or even
stronger than, competition in shaping the course of biological and human evolution.
Kropotkin also anticipated the words of James Scott (see below) that the rational
individualistic peasant is a product of the state:
Only the wholesale massacres by the thousands could put a stop to this widely
spread popular movement [of mutual aid], and it was by the sword, the fire, and
the rack that the young States secured their first and decisive victory over the
masses of people... The absorption of all social functions by the State necessarily
favored the development of an unbridled, narrow-minded individualism
(Kropotkin 1972: 195-197).
And writing about the battles fought by communities resisting the state, Kropotkin
In short, to speak of the natural death of the village communities in virtue of
economic laws is as grim a joke as to speak of the natural death of soldiers
slaughtered on a battle field (Kropotkin 1972: 203).
Kropotkin emphasized the harmonious side of communities as a way to oppose
the extremely individualistic social sciences of his age, that is, the "teachings of a war of
each against all, which are offered to them [the people] under the title of science, but are
no science at all" (Kropotkin 1972:222). Another example is the disagreement between
Robert Redfield (Redfield 1930) and Oscar Lewis (Lewis 1951). Both authors described
the village community of Tepoztlan, in Mexico, but emphasized different aspects of
village life. Redfield's Tepoztlan was harmonious and community-oriented, while Lewis'
Tepoztlan was individualistic and full of conflict. After reading the two accounts, one is
left wondering if the difference was due to the time lapse between the two studies, to
accuracy of the methods or to the theoretical lenses used by the two researchers.
In southeast Asia, Scott (1976) makes a point similar to Kropotkin's when he
reports on peasant cooperative social arrangements based on a subsistence ethic that
worked not as a product of altruism, but of necessity. These arrangements were enforced
by gossip and other redistributive mechanisms that forced patrons to provide peasants
with food security. However, the increasing presence of the state reduced the influence of
the moral economy on peasant behavior. Scott (1976) agrees with Kropotkin:
paternalism, lower dependence on village institutions, repression of local institutions, and
expropriation of communal land, all contributed to create a rational peasant, an individual
increasingly involved in profit maximizing behavior.
Conversely, Popkin (1979) writes in response to Scott's Moral Economy (1976).
As Scott did, Popkin (1979) focused on Southeast Asia (Vietnam), but instead of
explaining lack of cooperation as a result of the influence of the state, the approach
offered by Popkin focuses on factors that make mutually beneficial coordinated action
among peasants difficult. To Popkin, whenever collective work can produce collective
goods, "individuals may calculate that they are better off not contributing" because an
individual can benefit from many collective projects whether or not he or she contributes
These free riders may appear whenever they cannot be excluded from the
collective good. To Popkin, peasants were rational self-interested maximizers long before
the state. According to Popkin (1979:25) it "is difficult under the best circumstances to
organize peasants to provide collective goods." Each individual calculates that it is better
not to contribute to the collective project and hopes that others will behave differently.
However, contrarily to what Popkin believed he did, Scott also argued that a
particular rationality explained peasant behavior: it was extreme poverty that made
peasants risk-averse and made them use and accept the subsistence ethics. The problem
with Scott's argument is not a lack of peasant rationality (to Scott, it is rational for
peasants to prioritize food security and enforce the subsistence ethics), but that
* He fails to deal with the free-rider problem
* He sees paternalistic "protective" institutions in peasant villages as the product of
peasant choice and not of domination (there could be other institutions that could be as
effective in protecting peasants with equality instead of domination, but Scott's
peasants seem to have failed to develop them)
Democratic, egalitarian institutions and forms of action are a goal of participatory
practice, but face the problem of collective action described by Popkin. From an
economic viewpoint, there are three problems with participation, as follows:
* Its opportunity costs
* Future benefits are discounted
* Risk of failure.
First, participation in PRA meetings often carries with it material costs (e.g.,
missed economic opportunities, such as a work-day in their crop field or fishing). This
opportunity cost aspect includes part of the logistic proposition (i.e., the opportunity costs
of PRA meetings are higher if they are at inconvenient dates, times and locations).
Second, the benefits from participation (such as an Extractive Reserve) may take
time to be produced, and participants may discount their future value in favor of present
needs. Thus, the opportunity costs of participation feel even higher, compared to its
benefits, than they are, and if peasants can obtain benefits from a PRA meeting without
contributing, they will.
Conversely, participation can be mobilized by the offer of present benefits, such
as food and transportation to the meeting place (logistics, again), in the case of poor
populations, which one cannot enjoy without participating, and whose value is not
discounted. Such benefits could at least compensate the opportunity costs of
However, offering present benefits was not always justified or viable in Itacare.
Food was offered only in rural areas, where meetings took the whole day, so as not to
create a custom that would increase the cost of participatory activities in the future. Food,
transportation and lodging were offered to a few representatives of each community later
in the PRA process, when they interacted to produce a joint view of the problems faced
by the fishers of Itacare.
Despite the discounting problem, future benefits can still attract participation if
participants cannot free-ride. Any development practitioner knows that the offer of credit
or money almost always mobilizes participation, even when it will come in the future, if
peasants cannot free-ride (i.e., if receiving the benefit depends on their presence in the
meetings). In Itacare, some fishers also pointed that out: "tell the people that the meeting
is for credit to buy boats to see if they will not come! It's going to be a crowd!" But that
was not the case; we were working towards an extractive reserve, a collective good that
fishers could enjoy without individual participation in those first meetings, even though
collective participation was still important. Only if resource use rights to the Reserve
depended on individual fishers' participation in the meetings (to avoid free-riding), would
an additional material incentive be created for participation.
Still, participation would be dependent on the perceived risk of the action. The
risk factor predicts that fishers participate more if they believe that the initiative will be
successful (credibility). In the case of an extractive reserve, risk perception depends on
the fishers' trust in government agencies, NGOs and community leaders involved in the
process. The higher the risk, the greater is the tendency to free-ride. Opportunity costs,
discounting, risk and, therefore, free-riding could indeed be playing a part in the
difficulty to mobilize the fishers of Itacare. I discuss this proposition based on the results
of TG's actions, and on the views expressed by fishers in informal conversations and
meetings discussing participation problems in Itacare. In Chapter 5, I also discuss the
fishers' arrangements cooperating in the fishing activity, and how these arrangements
could influence perspective on participation.
Political aspects (EP4): Participation is a political currency and fishers attend
It is often forgotten that when PRA is initiated it is not in a social vacuum. In
order to understand why participation is sometimes difficult to mobilize, I propose that
we look at it as a multidimensional behavior. Let us accept the previous proposition, that
if people can free-ride on the benefits of a collective project and avoid the costs of
participating, they probably will. Still, in addition to material costs and benefits,
participation has extensions in the political, moral, emotional and informational
dimensions, where free-riding is often more difficult (the present explanatory proposition
deals with the political dimension, while the next one deals with the last three dimensions
Participation can be a way to show political support to an initiative, or to
influence it in a certain direction, and lack of participation can be a way to show
resistance. According to Scott (1989), peasants' resistance is a form of political action
that is typically nonconfrontational and anonymous, and can be either material or
ideological. Examples of "everyday forms of resistance" are poaching, foot dragging,
evading written records, refusal to pay taxes, supplying lower quality products, desertion,
sabotage, dissimulation, and gossip. In Itacare, when some of the meetings for Extractive
Reserve failed, the fishers involved in promoting the meetings said that the community
was telling them that it did not want the Reserve by not participating. Ironically, this
implies that even when peasants choose not to participate, they may indeed be
Why was the community resisting the Extractive Reserve and the PRA process?
Several alternative political explanations are possible, such as3
Fishers predicted losses with the Reserve and did not want to legitimize it
Fishers did not trust the PRA team and did not want to legitimize it in a leadership
Fishers were allied with people opposed to the Reserve or to the PRA team.
In Itacare, the PRA process and the Extractive Reserve proposal were inevitably
linked, because the same people promoting the PRA (the Task Group and I) were also
promoting the PRA, and PRA was a strategy to promote the Extractive Reserve among
the fishers. Resistance through withdrawal of participation (or of attendance) at the PRA
meetings could have been either against the Extractive Reserve or the PRA process itself.
However, although PRA had the predetermined goal of creating the Extractive Reserve in
Itacare, there was great room for decision making by the participants in the Reserve
proposal. The Extractive Reserve provided a legal framework that allowed exclusion of
outsiders and decision making by locals, but the resource use rules and almost every
other aspect of the Reserve were defined by the fishers of Itacare. There was little chance
that local fishers would loose with the Reserve, but there were misunderstandings.
3 Task Group members and I gathered these explanations in our interactions with the
fishing communities of Itacare, where some fishers expressed their concerns and
opposition to the creation of the Marine Extractive Reserve.
If, on the one hand, nonparticipation of some people may mean resistance, on the
other hand, some people may participate to acquire or maintain political influence and
leadership. The president of a community association, for example, is likely to lose face
and be criticized if s/he does not attend meetings supported by the community. By the
same token, someone who aspires to political leadership may come to a meeting to
increase his/her political capital, that is, the willingness of other people to support
him/her in the local political game. Still further, information about the meetings may be
important later, as a way to resist the meetings by gossip or planning of strategic
Trust in the PRA team may be important to avoid resistance. When PRA
facilitators approach the community, to avoid the opposition or even legal problems, they
often try to obtain explicit or implicit permission from authorities and leaders. If the
relationship between the community and its leaders is not harmonious, and is permeated
by resistance and discredit, the outside team may face great difficulty to balance between
a strategy of avoiding conflicts with community leaders and local authorities, and one
that strives to gain community trust and promote community empowerment. Even the
term "community" becomes problematic because communities are often made up of
factions with opposite interests, and initial alliances established between outsiders and
locals may shape the relationship between the community and the PRA team for the rest
of the work.
Another aspect is that meeting locations have political meaning and affect
participation. For example, some community sectors may not come to meetings in certain
places, just because locations may represent their opponents in local politics. Often,
meetings are planned in places that are convenient to facilitators or local leaders, but are
politically compromised. For example, the association's leaders planned my first PRA
meeting in an extractive reserve in Rond6nia, Brazil, in the largest house in the
community because it could accommodate more than 30 people and it was close to the
unpaved road that gave access to the reserve, so that we and association leaders could get
there easily. It was a nice meeting place, but later we learned that it belonged to a
middleman who was perceived as an exploiter of the community. Local people came, but
were careful with their words. The middleman became involved in the PRA meetings and
affected the rest of the process with his dominance. Only later was the community able to
neutralize and overcome his influence.
In addition, participants come to the meetings with their reputations, alliances,
antagonisms and resentments. Power relations influence their participation, which can be
particularly influential in the case of gender (Goebel 1998; Guijt and Sha 1998b), but
extend also to patron-client and racial relations, among others. Participants are not blank
sheets over which PRA can write a new participatory history, and dealing with such
problems is part of a long-term participatory process.
Multidimensional costs and benefits (EP5): Attendance at meetings depends on the
participant's consideration of benefits and costs in multiple dimensions
In addition to the material and political dimensions, discussed above, participation
also has moral, emotional and informational dimensions. In the moral dimension,
participation may be "wrong" or "right" and it may be prescribed in a particular way, all
of which will influence how much people participate. People may feel compelled to
participate by their moral values, or simply by peer pressure; or they may feel that
participating in a way that challenges authority is "wrong." These rules need not be
inflexible. Some people say that rules are made to be broken; that is, there are
justifications for disobedience.
In the context of participation and collective action, a series of beliefs can develop
to explain why the community often fails, and to justify one's lack of participation. The
free-rider myth, for example, is the belief that if one participates, one will be taken
advantage of, either by the leader of the collective effort or by those who did not
participate, but who will benefit anyway. According to this myth almost everyone (but
one's self) is self-interested, and leaders are out there to take advantage of their
communities. In addition, community views may be that when people participate, they
are actually losing, because they are giving for free what they could have exchanged for
other benefits from leaders and people who do not participate. The perception that
community resources are limited and that any progress of one individual results in loss
for other villagers (which is also reinforced by increased competition over natural
resources) was described by George Foster (1961) and became known as the notion of the
"limited good." In the participation context, since someone gains without contributing,
and resources are limited in the community, one who is contributing is probably losing.
This can be an important justification for not participating.
In the emotional dimension, different people find different forms of emotional
satisfaction from participation. Often peasants go to community meetings to see their
compadres or friends, and sometimes they go in search of romance or of a soccer game,
as I witnessed several times in different communities. In addition, they are more likely to
attend meetings facilitated by people that they like. Some people (but not all) enjoy
speaking in a meeting, expressing their opinions, or learning new things. Participatory
rural appraisal meetings try to be fun (although sometimes they involve hard analytical
work), and give opportunities for self-expression and learning. In this dissertation, I
discuss how different emotionally rewarding elements in PRA created additional
elements for participation, and how traditional meetings lacked them and often created
This is also true in the informational dimension. For example, it is very common
that peasants go to meetings seeking information. For people with limited access to
information, meetings may be worthwhile just for the sake of the information that is
exchanged there. First, information often is not well-distributed in the community. There
are people that know more about the past, about fishing spots, about hunting, about the
situation of the community association. Community meetings, and particularly PRA
meetings, are important occasions to obtain such information.
In addition, information is interpreted through frameworks or discourses, which
organize perception. Producing discourses demands considerable intellectual effort and
resources and peasants are often dependent on the elite for their discourses, and often use
discourses that contribute to their domination.
Participatory rural appraisal meetings can be occasions when alternative
discourses are developed, as information about peasant reality is organized in light of
both locals' and outsiders' experiences and viewpoints. The empowerment feeling that
such discourses may bring to participants can create incentives for further participation.
Conversely, if people want to undermine the PRA process, participating may be
important to obtain crucial information to do that. All these aspects were observed as
PRA meetings were carried out in Itacare.
Urban vs. rural (EP6): Attracting participation in urban areas is more difficult than
in rural areas
As pointed out above, not all the benefits of participation can be obtained by free-
riding. This proposition derives from the validity of the last three propositions described
For example, emotional benefits of the meetings can only be obtained through
participation, and resistance (nonparticipation) in the political dimension has to be
compared to the lost opportunity to enjoy emotional benefits. If one does not participate,
informational benefits of a community meeting can only partially be obtained, as second-
hand information from people that did attend the meeting.
In addition, peasant morals usually prescribe participation and mutual help,
although the way in which it should happen varies. Therefore, for a rural community,
with limited social and information opportunities, and a pro-participation moral, resistant
nonparticipation is more costly than in urban areas.
In urban areas, resistance is more viable, because people have other social and
informational opportunities, and because their participation (or lack of it) is less visible
and they are less dependent on each other (making moral coercion less likely). Moreover,
in order to happen, participation in urban areas has to present lower material costs.
Therefore, attracting participation in urban areas should be more difficult than in rural
This dissertation compares the difficulty and problems of promoting participation
in four urban and three rural fishing communities of Itacare, and in one district where
rural residents came to town to participate with urban residents.
Previous experience and credibility (EP7): Previous negative community experience
with projects and outside assistance reduces credibility of the participatory process
and participation in the PRA meetings
As pointed out above, the multidimensional view of participation suggests that
rural communities participate more readily than urban communities. However, an
additional aspect makes this difference even stronger: urban communities are often more
experienced with community projects and government assistance than are rural
communities. One explanatory proposition derived from this is that the more experienced
the community with projects and outside assistance, the lower the credibility of the
participatory process; participation in the PRA meetings becomes more difficult.
The experience of peasants and fishers with collective action, community projects
and political organization is often negative. More often than not, collective action and
community projects have failed, and political leaders have been shown to be corrupt,
selfish or simply ineffective. The experience with government help is commonly even
worse. If the previous experience was negative, the more experienced in community
projects, political organization and government assistance, the more suspicious of them
the community becomes.
Other factors, such as the paternalistic influence of the state and lower
dependence on village institutions, the erosion of institutions for natural resource
management and greater pressure on limited resources (Kropotkin 1972; Scott 1976), also
contribute to free-rider behavior.
This explanatory proposition was tested in the promotion of PRA in urban
communities with and without previous project experience, and a comparison of those
with the rural communities where projects were not carried out, and where government
assistance was incipient.
Credibility of the PRA team (EP8): The credibility of the PRA team and its
members influences participation in the meetings
In PRA, the outside team is supposed to be the catalyst of community action, but
locals can take part, too. The credibility of the team and its members may affect
participation. Several factors may influence the credibility of the outside members of the
PRA team, from the organizations to which they declare affiliation, to their race, gender,
class, or behavior. In the case of insiders, in addition to these aspects, the people involved
in the PRA team may have popularity problems or suspicious interests. Conversely, they
may help the team gain acceptance if they know and are trusted by their community.
However, even when locals are trusted by the community, they may cease to be so, as
their very involvement in a project may make them suspicious. Other members of the
community might wonder why some locals become part of the PRA team.
The free-rider myth combined with the notion of limited good generate
antagonism towards local politicians, community leaders, local people involved in the
PRA and anyone who seems to be improving their situation. However, a PRA team
composed exclusively of outsiders also faces similar obstacles: often, in more
experienced communities, outsiders have (or appeared to have) been shown to take
advantage of locals. Community experience with outsiders is consistent with its
experience with insiders, or worse. Again, we can predict that PRA finds it most difficult
to attract participation in communities that are more experienced with "bad"
development, failed projects and political manipulation.
In addition, although PRA outside facilitators may try to maintain neutrality over
local issues and problems, they may experience further trust problems. In the beginning,
community members may try to pull PRA facilitators to their side of issues. However,
when outsiders spend more time in the community, as influence attempts fail because
outsiders continue to demonstrate neutrality, local people may create their own
interpretation about the outsiders' position. By trying to be neutral, outsiders may face
rejection from all the conflicting parties, which may be negative to the PRA process,
reducing participation. What happens when PRA practitioners spend more time (longer
than the usual one to two weeks) in the community? What are the attitudes of the
community towards the outsider facilitators? Can they really mediate conflicts? How
neutral can they be? At some point, PRA outside facilitators may have to take sides.
The free-rider myth and the notion of limited good are discussed in light of
people's behavior and expressed interpretation of the behaviors of others in Itacare. Even
though these myths can reduce the credibility of the PRA team, its image can be
improved if special strategies are adopted. In Itacare, the credibility of the PRA team
proposition is action-tested by an active public image management strategy adopted by
the TG to neutralize gossip against it. The neutrality aspect is discussed from my personal
experience in Itacare.
Research Question 2: What Factors Influence Participation by Local People as
Leaders in the PRA Team?
Leadership is essential to community collective action and empowerment.
However, established leaders do not always work in the best interest of their
communities. Forman (1966; 1970) describes how better educated and wealthier
fishermen in a fishing village in Northeastern Brazil tried to place themselves as
intermediaries between peasant fishermen and the agricultural elite in a fishing
community in Northeastern Brazil. Acting as intermediaries, they were able to obtain
political favors from the ruling political parties and used those favors to maintain and
compensate the ties that they had with relatives, who enjoyed positions and benefits from
their relationship with the intermediaries (nepotism). These ties allow that intermediaries
occupy a leadership position, even though they are often socially rejected or ostracized by
the community, and even by the elite they serve.
Intermediaries, such as those described by Forman, are likely to exist in all fishing
communities. If they do not oppose the PRA process, the types of intermediaries
described by Forman are the most likely people to join the process, to continue their role,
this time mediating the relationship between the outsiders who are members of the PRA
team, and their community. Other community members know and expect this, and
become suspicious not only of the intentions of the intermediaries, but also of the
intentions of anyone who tries to play a leadership role in the community.
To be effective in promoting change in the community, and not reinforce the
current power structure, a PRA process needs to include strategies to select and empower
people who are sincerely interested in their community and avoid traditional
intermediaries. Avoiding intermediaries not only contributes to social change but also
reduces suspicions towards the PRA process, even though new leaders may look
suspicious just because they are trying to occupy a similar position as that of
However, we have to be careful not to be naive about the notion of "people who
are sincerely interested in their communities"; it is not exactly that purely altruistic,
honest individuals are empowered against selfish and corrupt people. Reality is not black-
or-white, and grey is much more common. In this dissertation, altruistic or sincere leaders
are people that, despite their own agendas, are bound by internalized moral norms and
have emotional reward preferences (values) that lead them to avoid using their leadership
position primarily for their personal benefit, but instead, make them use the leadership
position to benefit the majority of their community, or the poorest, and so on. In addition,
altruistic leaders can even be considered those for whom community rewards (honors,
etc.) for altruistic behavior are important, and provide them higher status. Their personal
interests may sometimes bias their evaluation of the community interest but, once aware
of this, altruistic leaders are able to correct themselves.
However, there are some problems with the strategy to promote social change by
empowering sincere, altruistic leaders. It is practically difficult (and ethically
questionable) to recognize and choose who are the sincere leaders. Democratic election
of local PRA team members by the community may or may not solve the problem of
finding sincere leaders in the community, but the election process itself may have to be
an external intervention whose rules influence the likelihood of who gets elected.
Anyway, PRA facilitators interfere in the power relations within the community, with
ethical implications. In addition, intermediaries or established leaders may oppose the
PRA once they recognize that it represents empowerment of new competitors in the local
political game. However, agents trying to promote community development, community
organizing or community-based conservation may have to make these tough decisions.
Participatory rural appraisal is always a political activity, and hesitation to make choices
may lead the practitioner to benefit the already powerful.
When PRA is carried out, often a team of outsiders visits a community, and
facilitates meetings and "participatory research tools." However, locals can be involved
as facilitators and become part of the PRA team, which also can be a strategy to promote
their empowerment and leadership.
Local groups of leaders may participate more or less, develop enthusiasm or
skepticism, persist or desist. What factors influence participation by local people as
leaders in a PRA team?4 The participation of local volunteers in the Task Group for the
Creation of the Marine Extractive Reserve of Itacare varied throughout the PRA process,
sometimes exceeding ten people, and other times reduced to two to three people. What
factors explained such variation? Trying to solve the problem, remaining TG members
and I identified a series of explanatory propositions:
Pace and material opportunity costs (EP9): people have to make a living and cannot
be exclusively involved in PRA (or leadership) voluntary activities.
Community members have to make a living and cannot be exclusively involved in
PRA for too long. Participatory rural appraisal activities compete in time and resources
with other activities (such as farming, fishing, working for a job, etc.). If locals become
part of the PRA team, the demand on their time is even greater: in addition to the PRA
activities that involve everybody else, they may need to participate in PRA training,
preparation of PRA meetings (finding a location, providing food and lodging, advertising,
buying materials, obtaining support, contacting local leaders, etc.), and systematization of
the information (mainly writing reports). In addition, PRA raises community demands,
and the local people in the PRA team may become the main reference for supporting the
community in the efforts to satisfy such demands.
4 The same factors may affect the locals' willingness to become community leaders, and
develop activism for some collective objective such as community organizing and
If the pace at which PRA is carried out is too fast, the opportunity costs may be
too high for local PRA team members to afford. If they have to do all the PRA
preparations and systematization activities, the costs can be even higher. As the costs
increase, the participation of those local team members who cannot afford them
decreases. This proposition suggests three possible solutions, which also serve to test it:
* To reduce the pace of PRA
* To compensate locals for the time they spend in PRA
* To have outsiders doing part of the preparation and systematization activities
This proposition was forwarded by two people in the TG, those who first tried
facilitating PRA, to explain why other people were not participating so much, and why
they themselves were not very enthusiastic about facilitating PRA.
Multidimensional costs and benefits (EP10): a) participation in the local PRA team
is inversely related to material, political, moral and emotional costs of leadership;
and b) the intensity of this relationship depends on individual interpretations.
However, becoming a local leader in the PRA team involves not only material
costs and benefits, but also political, moral, emotional, and informational costs and
benefits. When outside PRA practitioners choose strategies that favor equality in the
community, with the empowerment of new, altruistic leaders in opposition to traditional
intermediaries, these intermediaries are likely to actively oppose or, if they do not have
Although Scott (1989) defined resistance as a political strategy of lowers against
uppers, uppers can use the same strategy, often more effectively than lowers, by refusing
to cooperate and by gossiping. In fishing communities, uppers can more effectively use
gossip because they are often the source of information for lowers; they are supposed to
know more, and use this to manipulate the community in the direction they want.
Entering a community with a PRA process may require a balanced strategy to avoid too
much opposition from intermediaries but this, again, has ethical implications. I describe
and discuss the effects of such a strategy in Itacare.
If local people who are sincerely interested in their communities join the PRA
team, it may be difficult for them to maintain their participation because, as new people
acquire political leadership, intermediaries start to fear their competition for political
support and resist them, as pointed out above, by spreading gossip, by sabotaging the
participatory process, or by active opposition. Because of the free-rider myth and the
notion of limited good, the gossip denigrating volunteers that become involved in PRA
becomes credible, even if not true, resulting in political, moral and emotional costs to the
local PRA team members. That is, even if PRA costs are reduced by the strategies
described in EP9, the problems with participation of local leaders in the PRA team
persist. If the volunteers are not after personal material gain, they are likely to lose
enthusiasm as they face an increase in personal attacks to their reputation or as they seem
to lose friends. In order to maintain their motivation, they have to control their own
image or interpret the situation in a favorable light. As pointed out above, the effects of
this control are discussed in this dissertation.
Cyclical fatigue of the group (EP11): after enduring the costs of leadership, the
group may need a break before becoming more active again.
If the multidimensional costs of PRA activities are too high, a possible
consequence is that local PRA team members participate in cycles of enthusiasm and
fatigue: they dedicate themselves to PRA or leadership activities up to the point they can
afford, and then reduce their activities to recover from the costs of leadership. During
their break from leadership activities, these leaders become less visible and not so much a
target of gossip and resistance by traditional leaders. They try to rebuild their moral and
emotional capital, and often their political capital.
In Itacare, TG members presented this proposition with the phrase "opessoal ta
cansado" (the folks are tired). After many months of hard work previous to the PRA, the
additional costs presented by this new activity were too high. Some people said they
needed a break before resuming their participation in the TG.
Credibility of the group (EP12): participation in the local PRA team depends on
whether the objectives of the group are seen as likely or possible.
The internal credibility of the group, that is, whether the group's objectives are
seen as likely or possible, may also affect participation. This proposition implies that
participation in the local PRA team is directly related to responses from the government
and NGOs that increase the credibility of the local PRA team. The likelihood that
individual goals can also be attained by the participation in the PRA team may also affect
how much locals participate. Participation is not only a matter of balancing
multidimensional costs and benefits in the present, but also of investing in the present,
expecting benefits in the future.
If people are investing in the local PRA team considering its risks, a different
logic is established. When risks are considered low, people who have invested more
material, political, moral, emotional and informational resources become more committed
to the group, and people who have invested less are more likely to leave the group when
its credibility goes down or internal problems happen. If risks are still considered high
(credibility is low) when some benefits are attained, people may leave the group while
they are winning, just like a gambler might leave a game when he starts to win after a
period of losses, to guarantee that he will at least break even at the end. This could
explain puzzling situations when participation goes down just when some victory is
Finally, in addition to the internal credibility of the local PRA team to achieve
collective goals, participation may be affected by the group's credibility to attend
individual interests. Group and individual interests are not always in agreement;
sometimes they are in opposition, as when a leader trying to maintain his/her leadership
ends up creating internal conflict and reducing participation. The same thing can happen
between group interests and community interests; for example, while the PRA team tries
to monopolize the new role of community facilitators, they may limit the community's
opportunities for development and political organization following other ways.
Outsider facilitators vs. insiders (EP13): PRA technical needs preserve decisive
power in the hands of outsiders; this may frustrate local people in search of
empowerment, reduce their participation or create internal friction
In some cases, as local people involved in PRA rise as community leaders, they
may feel limited by the PRA approach. The use of the PRA tools requires knowledge,
skills and training that community members may have difficulty mastering. This
preserves decisive power in the hands of outsiders and empowers some local people for
whom mastering this new language is easier.
Participatory rural appraisal carries with it a potential for stratification that is in
contradiction with its participatory rhetoric. For this reason, some local people may stop
participating in the local PRA team or, in the case of Itacare, in the Task Group. This
potential for conflict may also create internal friction in the PRA team and even
resistance against the PRA approach.
Insiders vs. insiders (EP14): internal friction may decrease the participation of
people who are less involved, committed or empowered in the group.
Power struggles may create conflicts among insiders. Some locals may be more
able (or less scrupulous) about manipulating the rest of the group, or may control trust of
outside sources of support, and use these advantages to maintain control over the group.
This can frustrate some members with similar aspirations, particularly if the internal
group discourse is one of equality. Disappointed members who are less involved,
committed or empowered may just leave the group (to them, the credibility of the group
Theoretical, Methodological and Practical Significance of this Research
Traditional anthropology looks at cultural systems, first asking a descriptive
"what" question and-in some theoretical schools-probing an additional "why" question.
In addition to these, I also asked "how to" questions, which are implicit in the research
questions described above: how to promote participation and collective action? How to
promote the creation of extractive reserves n i/h greater community participation and
empowerment? How to make PRA more effective? Asking "how to" questions involves
some methodological changes in the research process because we do not know how to
until we try to and succeed (failure just teaches us that we were wrong, that is, how not to
do thing that is, we learn by making mistakes, but we learn even more when we get it
right). Because of this, I adopted action research, a research methodology that allows for
successive attempts and their participatory evaluation. Furthermore, action research
allows not only generation of knowledge by the researcher but also learning by the
participants, which was necessary to achieve the empowerment of the fishers of Itacare.
Anthropological research, through action research methodology, participatory
design of strategies, and participatory rural appraisal (PRA) were used to achieve desired
participation and empowerment results. I argue that the new, PRA-based approach for
extractive reserve creation emerging from this research process is more effective and
efficient in promoting community empowerment and generating the required documents
for the creation of a reserve than the conventional approach normally used by the
Therefore, the significance of this research involves practical, theoretical and
methodological aspects. The research
* Supported the creation process of the Marine Extractive Reserve in Itacare, which will
benefit an estimated population of 400 fishing families
* Provides an evaluation of an approach to extractive reserve creation that is more
participatory than the one practiced until now in Brazil, and that can be used in other
development and conservation contexts where participation and empowerment is a
* Provides theoretical insights to explain the effects of PRA
* Makes an innovative use of action research and action science concepts, with a strong
empirical focus, which enabled its engagement with the resolution of practical
problems in the studied communities and the generation of valid, "actionable"
* Documents a process of extractive reserve creation, how it worked in the field, how
community support for it was built, its effects in the political organization of an
extractive community and the reactions of other sectors. Despite much writing on the
extractive reserves and the great number of reserves created in the last 12 years, this
has been underdocumented.
Organization of the Dissertation
This dissertation started with the present Introduction, where I discussed the
importance of studying PRA, and the factors that influence community participation,
defining research questions and explanatory propositions. In Chapter 2, the foundations
of action research, the general methodological approach taken in this research, are
discussed. Chapter 3 discusses research design, how PRA was applied, and the methods
used in the research, including data collection and the testing of explanatory propositions,
through participatory action.
Chapter 4 presents and discusses the history of Itacare and its fishers, providing
the social and historic context for the research. Chapter 5 discusses individualism in the
fishing activity, that is, whether fishers are individualistic and if their activities really lead
them to be so. Chapter 6 discusses the origins of the Task Group in Itacare and how
fishers came to be empowered in the local movement for the creation of the Extractive
Reserve. Chapter 7 deals with Research Question 1; what factors influencedfishers'
participation in the PRA meetings? I discuss the problems the TG and I faced trying to
mobilize participation of the fishers in the meetings, the explanatory propositions for the
problems, and the actions trying to solve the problems, which tested the explanatory
propositions. Chapter 8 discusses Research Question 2; what factors influenced
participation by local people as leaders in the PRA team? The TG had problems
maintaining participation of its own members. The attempts to solve these problems
served to test the explanatory propositions. Finally, Chapter 9 summarizes the findings
and concludes the dissertation. In order to avoid identification of people and
organizations when controversial information is presented and discussed, I often avoided
giving their names or used pseudonyms.
AN INTRODUCTION TO ACTION RESEARCH
In this dissertation research, I have been committed not only to its scientific
results but also to the empowerment of the fishers of Itacare and the creation of their
Marine Extractive Reserve. I needed a methodology that could generate both reliable
research results and local action, and found it in "action research." Action research (AR)
comprises a broad range of approaches and methods. It is not just a methodology. It is
also an ideology of research. Among many modalities of AR, participatory rural appraisal
(PRA) has received great recognition in recent years and is one of the focuses of this
dissertation. Nevertheless, in this dissertation, while the PRA diagnosis process provided
data about the community, AR was used to research PRA itself
Most times, action researchers express their commitment to social change,
participation and empowerment. Action research's emphasis on action or on research
varies from one extreme, where action is the most important aspect and knowledge
generation is secondary, to another, where knowledge is the main aspect and action is
secondary (Dick 1993). Participatory learning may be counted as "action" or "research,"
depending on the emphasis of the researcher. In this dissertation, action research was
intended to allow generation of knowledge while action was takingplace, and to guide
action to successful results.
Main Characteristics of Action Research
Although there are great variations among the several schools of action research
and their specific applications, the main characteristics of action research are the
Participatory and collaborative. Action research is normally participatory and
collaborative, that is, a group of people, the beneficiaries of the research, participate in
the definition of the problem and methods, in data gathering and analysis, and in
elaborating conclusions. To Friedman (2001) action research involves the creation of
"communities of inquiry" within "communities of practice," that is, the involvement of
practitioners in the enquiry about their practices and resolution of practical problems.
Action as testing. Although sometimes the label "action research" incorporates
research that is participatory but does not produce action, action is often the means of
verification of interpretations generated with local groups (see discussion below). In fact,
action can be a testing strategy for explanatory propositions even when the research is not
participatory. That is, although it would probably not be labeled "action research," one
can do action-based research by him/herself Still, group processes are richer and more
Emancipatory. Action research is frequently viewed as a method to produce
emancipatoryy knowledge" (Reason and Bradbury 2001). This is done by the recognition
of local views, by the empowering of local voices, by making participants realize their
potential, by "conscientizacgo" (or consciousness raising, Freire 1970). This feature of
action research reflects the political stand taken by many practitioners, but researchers
must be careful that it does not interfere with the production of valid knowledge.
Learning. From the above discussion, we see that action research is a research
strategy with action-based verification procedures. Bridging the gap between research
and practice and creating communities of enquiry, action research allows participants to
learn about their realities. This learning may (and should) lead to emancipation.
However, we must consider the difference between a participatory learning process
intended for research (to know the unknown), and a process intended to teach (to explain
the known to people who do not know). Many cases of "action research" may fall in the
latter type, while this dissertation is concerned with the former type.
Action. Producing collective action to transform social realities is part of the
political agenda of most action researchers. However, the same distinction made above
for learning should be made here for acting. There is a difference between action carried
out to change social reality (mobilization, empowerment) and action carried out to verify
interpretations of reality (research). Action in many action research interventions is the
former type. However, although that is not always the case, an action can be of both types
at the same time (as in this dissertation). Thus, we must distinguish between a pedagogic
action research (learning the known; mobilizing action) and investigative action research
(learning the unknown; using action to test interpretations of reality).
Epistemology for an "Investigative" Action Research: Discovery and Learning
Action should be the core of action research. However, much "action research"
does not integrate action as a research strategy, instead using just participatory discussion
and sharing of people's current knowledge to investigate reality. Theories created in such
discussions have not been subjected to test until they are put into practice. According to
Friedman (2001), testing in action research relates to Popper's (1959) idea of
falsifiabilityy" (Argyris, 1993: 284, cited by Friedman 2001) in which it is assumed that
all knowledge of reality is partial and indeterminate. "Theories of practice can never be
'proven', but they can be maintained as long as they withstand disconfirmation"
(Friedman 2001:162). Participants have to formulate their claims in ways that they are
open to be proven wrong. In action research, discovering one's errors is more important
than winning a debate (Friedman 2001).
Thus action research is concerned with uncovering reality because it is concerned
with changing it. Although there are idealist action researchers, social change objectives
of action researchers imply a material world "out there" (an objective reality) that is
being changed. However, while no one can claim an ultimate unmediated knowledge of
reality, "when people disagree about their interpretations of a situation, they can engage
in the process of jointly testing their reality images" (Friedman 2001:162). And testing is
done through action.
To Greenwood (1998), the proof that a theory is correct or valuable is if the action
planned based on such a theory achieves appropriate results or changes. To Bill Torbet
(quoted in Reason and Bradbury 2001:1)
knowledge is always gained through action and for action. From this starting
point, to question the validity of social knowledge is to question, not how to
develop a reflective science about action, but how to develop genuinely well-
informed action-how to conduct an action science.
Friedman (2001) criticizes both mainstream positivist social science and
phenomenological and interpretive research. On the one hand, he argues that positivist
science often produces knowledge of limited use to practitioners because it requires
completeness and precision, observation of causal relations under controlled conditions,
and maintenance of distance as safeguard for objectivity. It focuses on means rather than
on ends. "Thus, the rules that produce valid positivist explanations of social problems
cannot produce the knowledge needed to do something about them. Applied science fails
to bridge this gap because it functions according to the same positivist rules and standards
as basic science" (Friedman 2001:160).
First, while positivist mainstream social research often has robust testing
procedures, many times those tests are limited to the verification of association between
variables. Because social research (including anthropological research, and maybe with
the exception of some psychological research) seldom involves action and manipulation
of independent variables to verify their effect on dependent variables, evidence of causal
relationships is often given just by the association and the theory that the tests are
supposed to be verifying. Second, once causal relationships are verified, anthropological
research rarely tests solutions for the problems found.
On the other hand, Friedman (2001, citing Argyris et al., 1985: 26-8) criticizes
phenomenological and interpretive research, pointing out that it has no technical or
rational way of coming to agreement over the validity of different interpretations.
"Action requires that people make choices among different interpretations of the same
particular situation" (Friedman 2001:160). To solve the problems present in both
positivist and phenomenological/interpretive approaches, "action science" (a type of
action research) builds "theories which explain social phenomena, inform practice, and
adhere to the fundamental criteria of a science" (Friedman 2001:160).
Most social research is not involved in promoting change, although explaining it
is at the heart of social theory. In fact, the most basic anthropological research technique,
participant observation, promotes noninterference as the way to know reality as it is.
Interference is often seen as negative. However, some sort of change is likely to reveal
aspects of social reality that would otherwise be hidden from the eyes of the participant
observer5. Social reality reacts when we shake it so that we can harvest the fruits of
research. When we intervene is when the social structure and power relations show
themselves. Changing (or co-creating) and knowing the social reality come together.
The most robust tests of validity are those that can be used to predict about
universes that do not, as yet, exist. It is such tests that Lewin focused upon when
he advised that, if social scientists truly wish to understand certain phenomena,
they should try to change them... Creating, not predicting, is the most robust test
of validity-actionability. (Argyris 1997)
Argyris (1997) also argues that causality should be central to action research, and
makes a critique of the field:
In examining the literature... it is clear that there exists agreement that action
research is intended to explain problems and, in many cases, attempt to solve
them, through the use of collaboration and participation. [It seems that] the
majority of the contributors do not focus explicitly on causality and how it is to be
established. Indeed, there is a significant proportion who claims that it is not
possible or necessary to make causal claims. Many of those typically decry
positivism as being out of date and irrelevant. The same group substitutes a more
humanistic approach, subjective, postmodern perspective... Moreover, taking the
position that causality is not relevant or testable is itself a causal claim. How can
those who decry causality make arguments about more relevant ways to explain
phenomena that are, themselves, based on causal reasoning? (Argyris 1997)
Politics of Action Research
The purpose of action research is not to produce academic theories based on
action; nor is it to produce theories about action; nor is it to produce theoretical or
empirical knowledge that can be applied in action; it is to liberate the human
body, mind and spirit in the search for a better, freer world (Reason and Bradbury
It is common to regard the main distinction of action research from other research
paradigms as its politically-oriented character, aimed at freeing the poor and the
5 When I was a kid, growing up on a farm in Brazil, my way to assess the pitanga berries
that were ripe and ready to be harvested was to shake the tree; the ones that fell were ripe
and sweet (I also looked at their color). I always think of that when promoting change
and "harvesting the fruits" of action research.
oppressed. Action researchers often express their commitment to social change and the
liberation of "oppressed groups," to creating a better world. I share the same
commitment, but in this section, discuss the dangers of political engagement and how this
should be addressed in action research.
Science and academic work have had positive and negative impacts on different
groups; thus, what we say in our research reports, what topics we investigate, the
methods we choose and the results we obtain are unavoidably political. Foucault (1978)
has pointed out that knowledge is power; therefore, any knowledge-generating activity is
a political activity, or has political consequences. What we know shapes our behavior,
and our research may result in policy and public opinion changes that may affect
innumerable people. Knowledge, in the form of technology, may represent new
production alternatives that allocate wealth in a different way, empowering some groups
and disempowering others. Knowledge that is empowering to a particular group may
provide an interpretation of reality that gives incentives for collective action, or that
substantiates arguments for favorable policies, for example.
However, if research results are "wrong," that is, if they misrepresent the real
potential for empowerment of that particular group, paradoxically the results may be
disempowering for the group. The group, "liberated" by action research, may fail,
sometimes incurring in terrible losses. This is why I defend the idea that, although
researchers should be clear about their political and ethical commitments, politics should
not blur the sharp lenses potentially offered by action research, in particular, and science
Action research can and should be used to know what reality is, or better said, to
create explanatory models of reality to effectively guide action that results in the desired
objectives of the groups involved. Moreover, although I think that some research
methodologies (such as action research) are better suited to promote liberation of the
oppressed and generate emancipatory knowledge, other research paradigms, even
positivism, can also be used to empower and liberate. That is not a monopoly of action
Finally, the effectiveness of the method is not restricted to the poor. In spite of the
claims of emancipation, more powerful people (such as men, the wealthier in a
community, etc.) are more likely to participate and to take greater advantage of the
participatory process. These are not extreme examples but show that action research can
also be explicitly or accidentally used to empower the already powerful.
Thus, we realize that action research is a research and action methodology, not a
politicalprogram to change the world. If we are committed to social change in benefit of
the poor, of the disempowered, then specific strategies have to be adopted to achieve this,
and action research can be a great tool.
Diverse Voices, Emic Explanations and Conscientizagdo
One important aspect of action research is the recognition of emic explanations
and of the diverse voices in the research process. However, emic explanations should not
just be accepted, but should be tested in action. The emic can change with local learning,
and this is something that makes action research of great value: learning is not the
imposition of outside views but is built locally, and tested in action. In addition, if action
requires the choice of a particular interpretation, then in action research we have
competing voices or interpretations. These interpretations compete first in the dialogue
between different actors, and then in action testing.
Often, however, as pointed out before, action testing is not carried out, and action
research takes the form of discussion and dialogues, raising people's consciousness about
their problems. Yet, if no testing is done, c Inu ie'nli:za, it'i can also be false.
Concientizagdo implies an object, a reality of which one can be conscious, knowing that
reality, creating a theory about it, a theory that can be the basis for action. Being critical
about reality does not always do this. The critical may simply recognize that reality
violates their moral values. Deep c ,u1c1 ie'lizi:u tl,' examines one's own values and how
that affects one's perception of the world, creates theories about how the world functions
and what the strategies are for change. These strategies are the starting point of conscious
action, and only with the results of action can one know the value of the new
consciousness, that is, of the new theory to explain past and present life experiences (a
theory that also produces future life experiences).
Objectivity and Action Research
I argued that action researchers should strive to avoid that their politics (and that
of the participants) distort their findings. On the one hand, researcher and participants
must try to be critical of their own interpretations and explanatory propositions. On the
other, their explanatory propositions should be testable in action, and disconfirming
information should be sought. That is, even though there is no objective knowledge, I
believe that there is objective reality, and I do not think that we should just give up
As pointed out before, when I discussed the politics of action research, a problem
with giving up the ideal of objectivity and value-neutral research is that sometimes
"engaged" research creates illusions about the power and potential a person or a group
(which the researcher is willing to favor) actually has. That illusion can help the favorite
party to gain power, but can also make it weak and expose it to danger.
Self-indulgence can create weakness. Explanations that make someone feel good
and empowered may not work or be useful in practice, and may even lead to dangerous
or destructive actions. The researcher and participants should be aware of their intentions
and strive for useful, empowering knowledge. However, they should watch out for
illusions they may be creating just to justify themselves, their own failures, or to
dehumanize other groups. Attribution distortions should be avoided. Because the creation
of pleasant illusions may be self-defeating in the long run, taking care with the problem
of attribution distortions is what I call "empowering objectivity" in the context of action
Objectivity and lack of involvement (or distance) are different things. Action
researchers are involved with the realities that they study and try to change. Yet, they
should strive to maintain objectivity, that is, to obtain knowledge that can give the basis
for effective action.
Comparing Action Research and Research-Only Strategies
Several differences between action research and research-only strategies are
shown in Table 2-1. Research-only strategies are more extractivee" and, although their
research results may benefit the communities involved in the research, these benefits
usually take longer to reach the community and may be just indirect. Action research is
more interactive. Participants in AR usually define research topics and analyze data, and
this local learning, and the results of action can provide immediate benefits to the
Table 2-1: Comparing action research and conventional research.
Research Only Action Research
Extractive: Immediate benefits to the Interactive: Immediate benefits to the
researcher community and to the researcher
Less emotional stress More emotional stress
Commitment to data collection and Commitment to community needs and
research design action
All time is dedicated to research Time has to be dedicated to research
and action (less time to explore
questions, and to write and analyze
Pre-defined research design Adaptive research design
Emphasis on externally valid results Emphasis on locally useful results
Informants' responses biased by the Informants' responses biased by the
expectation of how the information expectation of how the information
will be used or received by the will affect the researcher's actions in
researcher the community
Little influence on the local power Greater influence on the local power
Little confusion about the researcher's Activist and research roles are often
The biases introduced by the The biases introduced by the
researcher's perspectives and local researcher's perspectives and local
involvements are often hidden behind involvements are often more explicit
a facade of objectivity and distance
In research-only strategies, it is easier for the researcher to maintain distance from
local issues, and focus on a commitment to data collection and research design; the
researcher can be exclusively dedicated to research activities. In AR, the researcher's
time has to be dedicated both to research and action, resulting in less time to explore
emerging questions of little relevance for action, and less time to write and analyze
results. The greater involvement of action researchers may result in greater emotional
stress, which may introduce biases.
Research-only strategies usually have predefined research designs and seek to
obtain results that are externally valid. Conversely, AR is adaptive and flexible, and
focuses on locally useful results (which may have limited usefulness beyond the research
site). The greater focus on research in research-only strategies potentially provides more
robust and comprehensive research results.
However, each approach introduces its own type of bias in the participants'
answers. In research-only strategies, the informants' responses are often biased by the
expectation of how the information will be used or received by the researcher. In AR,
responses are also biased by the expectation of how the information will affect the
researchers' actions in the community. Action research may intentionally and
unintentionally influence and change the local power structure, while in research-only
strategies, such influence is normally unintended. There is little confusion about the
researcher's role in research-only strategies, but in action research, activist and researcher
roles are often mixed.
However, many of the features of research-only strategies described above are
idealized. Threats to objectivity are present in both types of research. Often, researchers'
involvement and influence is underreported in research-only strategies. Anthropologists,
particularly ethnographers, who often choose to live in a community for a considerable
time (several months or years) can hardly claim that after such time they continue to be
neutral or objective observers, with no influence in the community. They are participant
observers, but are not invisible. After some time, they must develop alliances and
relationships, and often develop some type of action. In research-only strategies, the
biases introduced by the researcher's perspectives and local involvements are often
hidden behind a facade of objectivity and distance. In AR research, generally such biases
are more explicit and easier to assess by the scientific audience.
Research Site and Population
Itacare is located in a tropical, rainy region with annual precipitation between
1,750 and 2,000 mm, well distributed throughout the year, and the annual mean
temperature is between 21 C and 25 C (Secretaria da Cultura e Turismo 1998), in the
southern coast of the state of Bahia, northeastern Brazil (Figure 3-1). The tropical and
humid climate created the conditions for a lush tropical rainforest that was in great part
destroyed to implement cacao plantations, and later for timber extraction, cattle ranching
and small farming. At the time of the fieldwork for this dissertation, the forest still
remained in certain areas.
Itacare was a "beach town" that was not located on the beach, but by the river,
close to the river mouth, testifying to its past as a "port town." Only recently, with
tourism development, were some houses built on areas of the municipality closer to the
beaches. In Itacare, the traditional cacao economy was destroyed by years of low prices
and witches' broom (Crinipelisperniciosa), a tree disease that made most cacao farms
economically unviable. However, tourism was booming.
The municipality had 18,105 inhabitants, according to the preliminary 2000
census data. About six thousand people lived in the town of Itacare and four thousand
lived in the urban district of Taboquinhas. The remaining population lived in the rural
areas, in small communities, or in the old cacao plantations.
Proposed Area for the
Marine Extractive Reserve
Figure 3-1: Location of Itacare and the area proposed for the Marine Extractive Reserve.
The fishing population comprised about 400 families, both in the rural and in the
urban area. About half of them were families of professional fishers, people that had their
main source of income from fishing. The other half, mainly rural, were subsistence
fishers. Professional fishers focused on shrimp, fish, crab and lobster fishing. Subsistence
fishers caught almost anything. While offshore fishing on motorized boats was mainly a
male activity, inshore fishing was practiced by men, women and children.
This dissertation's research design evolved in response to local needs, such as the
need to create local community organizational capacity for the implementation of the
Marine Extractive Reserve of Itacare, and unexpected factors, such as the difficulty for
the Task Group to maintain constant participation in the process, and my increasing
involvement with the action of promoting the reserve. Action research, PRA, observant
participation and participant observation were the main research strategies.
In order to allow the reader to understand the research design, a description of the
research methods has to include some of the action that was promoted in Itacare, which
laid down the research opportunities that I explored. The research design included the
* An action researcher, PRA practitioner, and observing participant in the promotion of
the Marine Extractive Reserve of Itacare
* Three volunteer research assistants
* Oceanographic researchers
* The Task Group for the Creation of the Marine Extractive Reserve of Itacare
* Participatory rural appraisal (PRA) exercises in eight fishing communities: four urban,
three rural, and one that included both urban and rural fishers
Action Researcher, PRA Practitioner, and Observing Participant in the Promotion
of the Marine Extractive Reserve of Itacare
From my first contacts with the fishers of Itacare, some methodological trends
started to be established. First, I did not start as a neutral figure studying an object
detached from me. I was a participant trying to help the fishers of Itacare create their
Extractive Reserve, but I was also forwarding a particular approach to extractive reserve
creation. My study depended on that particular approach because it focused on PRA,
mainly, and its effects in the community. Second, although I planned to build local
capacity for PRA and then stand back and evaluate the effects of the work done by the
Task Group with some distance, I started my interaction as a participant in the process.
Third, my presence influenced how the Task Group organized and performed their
activities. I was their consultant for the Extractive Reserve. Later, I coordinated the PRA
process and facilitated the PRA meetings with the help of volunteers and TG members.
Thus, from the beginning, I was an observing participant of the process, not just a neutral
participant observer. I was a researcher who interfered in the local reality and tried to
transform it in collaboration with locals, while observing reactions and results.
As an observing participant I had to strive, first, to be an impartial consultant (that
is, to avoid influencing the work for the Marine Extractive Reserve of Itacare in a less
beneficial direction just to make the process fit my research needs), and second, to be an
impartial observer (that is, avoiding that my stakes in the process and my engagement
with the Reserve influenced my observation of the facts).
During the process, this was often difficult. I experienced "evaluation swings,"
that is, confusing changes of my view of the process, as different information about other
people's (and my own) behavior became available to me. Immersed in the process, it was
often hard to maintain clarity about what was going on. However, in reporting and
discussing the data, I tried to be self-critical, evaluate my stakes, the limitations of my
observations, and be honest about them. Moreover,while some aspects of reality were
hidden from me as an observing participant, I also was able to see some aspects of reality
that would have been hidden from a researcher using just a participant observation
Another factor that has to be considered is my background. I am Brazilian and did
not have significant language problems with the fishers, because we all spoke Portuguese,
although there were some regional vocabulary differences. Yet, I grew up in Sao Paulo
state, a region culturally different from Bahia. Stereotypes of Paulistas (the people of Sao
Paulo) and Bahianos (the people of Bahia) reveal some of potential conflicts involved in
the interaction between the community and me. Paulistas are known as work-focused,
not very friendly but serious (or uptight) people, while Bahianos (particularly on the
coast) are famous for their laidback, fun-loving (often lazy) life style, and their
friendliness. However untrue these stereotypes may be, they sometimes shaped
interactions, and sometimes local people seemed to find me too much focused on work,
while I found some local people slow and not very committed. For example, it took me a
while to slow down and start to arrive at the meetings as late as everybody else. The
adaptation was mutual: local TG members gradually started to come to the meetings on
time. Other factors also influenced my interaction with the community, such as race (I am
considered white in Brazil, while most fishers were of African descent), gender (being a
man opened some research opportunities and closed others), and social class (which often
created very different viewpoints).
Another aspect is my formal education and professional experience. I have a
bachelor's degree in agronomic engineering from the University of Sao Paulo. This
degree provided me a broad range of knowledge. Agronomic engineering students in
Brazil study a great variety of subjects, from crops to animal husbandry, from food
science to agricultural machinery, from sociology and economics to forestry.
By the end of the five-year course, students are expected to have directed their
education towards a specialization. My specialization area was informal environmental
education. For two years after graduation I coordinated an environmental education radio
program in my college town (Piracicaba, Sao Paulo state), but also helped in my family's
dairy farm, and worked on a short-term consultancy for the state environmental agency
and on a food education consultancy for Piracicaba's municipal government.
Then, in 1992, I became an ecology professor at the University of Acre, a state
located in the western Brazilian Amazon, where I first had contact with the extractive
reserves. Part of my work in the university involved rural communities of small farmers
and rubber tappers, with training and support for the implementation of agroforestry
systems. In 1994, I started my masters in Latin American Studies at the University of
Florida, and my research focused on the factors that made rubber tappers more
conservation-oriented. In the masters' research I used some of the "PRA techniques" for
the first time.
When I finished my masters' degree, in 1996, I started work in Rond6nia,
southwest Brazilian Amazon, as a United Nations Development Program consultant for
the extractive reserve component of PLANAFLORO, Rond6nia Natural Resource
Management Project. My main activity was to develop a participatory procedure for the
creation of community development plans, and my previous learning and experience with
PRA led me to believe that it could provide a good basis for participatory planning in the
extractive reserves of Rondonia.
The experience in Rond6nia was particularly rich in insights and questions about
PRA. When I started my Ph.D. at the University of Florida, I started exploring these
questions in my classes. Due to my background and my fascination with science, I tended
to explore materialistic approaches, which are also common in the classes at UF. My
background in ecology and ecological economics also created further interest in systemic
approaches to explain the behavior of social systems, or in my area of interest,
participation in small communities. The discussion presented in the Introduction reflects
this interest. It was with this background that I first looked into the reality of participation
Task Group for the Creation of the Marine Extractive Reserve of Itacare (TG)
During dissertation fieldwork, the Task Group was the main agent promoting the
Marine Extractive Reserve of Itacare. In 2000, I initiated a collaborative relationship with
this group, which was formed of fishers, former fishers now employed in the tourism
industry and a fisherman's wife (she was the only one with a college degree; the rest of
the group did not finish high school, and despite some formal education, had trouble
reading and writing). They had been involved in the promotion of the Extractive Reserve
for about a year, during which they received advice from local technical volunteers and
from two staff members of Assessoria Agroecol6gica (AAE), a nongovernment
organization based in Ilheus, a city located 65 km to the south of Itacare. These people
also interacted with me (via E-mail) during that year and we exchanged information and
ideas on how the work should be done.
TG members had a good knowledge of the fishers of Itacare, and the
municipality, but they knew the seat of the municipality better than they knew the district
of Taboquinhas and the rural communities. During their first year working for the
creation of the Reserve, they carried out meetings in two fishing communities located in
the district of Taboquinhas and by the beach of Piracanga, started to interview fishers for
a socioeconomic survey to be sent to the government for the creation of the Reserve, and
mobilized two enforcement missions by the regional officers of the Brazilian Institute for
the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA).
The initial design of the PRA process was that the TG was going to have the
assistance of two local technical volunteers, whom I previously had trained in PRA.
However, this did not work out. In my first meeting with the TG members, about eight
people came and we talked about the challenges ahead. They were unhappy with the two
local technical volunteers who had been working with them for the last year. We
discussed PRA and its technical needs. They decided that they would carry out the
participatory rural appraisal process by themselves, with my help. TG members would
need training in PRA, and they and I decided that I would give a course to them.
The PRA course started with about 18 people, but by the end of the two-week
course load, there were about seven, and I was only confident that three people out of that
total were prepared to carry out PRA meetings, and only with my assistance. In order to
have an effective PRA process in Itacare, I would have to take a more active role than I
had predicted and wanted.
All actions carried out in Itacare were discussed with this group (or some of its
members, when a meeting was not possible). Their decisions greatly affected the course
of this research, from my timetable to the methods that were used. They were co-
researchers in the participatory process, trying to understand why things that we did were
successful or not, gathering data in their own normal life in the community or in the
(more structured) PRA meetings. The TG and I discussed together several of the
explanatory propositions presented in the Introduction, and this discussion is reported
later in the dissertation.
Scientific learning (by me) and local practical learning (by TG members)
originated from the same process, but we did not need to agree. While their learning had
to stand the test of practicability and perform several functions (from understanding their
successes and failures, to justifying their participation; from creating group cohesion to
defending them from moral attacks), my learning had also to stand scientific peer
scrutiny. As a doctoral candidate, although I had local collaboration, this dissertation is
not a collective product. I am the author, and the conclusions expressed here are my own.
In the PRA process, the TG and I had the collaboration of the Oceanographic
Group at the Universidade Estadual Santa Cruz UESC6. The researchers who
participated in the PRA exercise are listed below:
* Dr. Rubens Lopes Plankton/ UESC
* M.Sc. Lucio Figueiredo de Rezende Physic Oceanography/ UESC
* Sylvia M. M. Susini Ribeiro Plankton/ UESC
* Dr. Gecely R. A. Rocha Nekton (fish)/ UESC
* Dr. M6nica Y. Tsuzuki Aquaculture/ UESC
* M.Sc. Cintia S. Coimbra- Algae/ UESC
* Alexandre Oliveira de Almeida Freshwater crustaceans/ UESC
* Erminda C. G. Couto Benthic animals/ UESC
* M.Sc. Luiz Alberto Mattos Silva Botany/UESC
* M.SC. Ana Amelia Lavenere-Wanderley Geologic Oceanography/UESC
Some of these researchers participated in PRA meetings, but all interacted with
the communities during field trips to collect samples in Itacare. Each wrote a report that
was later incorporated in the PRA report.
Three voluntary research assistants
Later in the PRA process, it was realized that the TG members would not have the
necessary time to dedicate to the PRA, and voluntary research assistants were selected to
help us. They were selected among 12 candidates who submitted a letter of application
and curriculum vitae in response to an E-mail message that I sent to colleagues in
community development and conservation. Three people were selected, as follows:
* Ana Claudia Mendes Malhado: a recent ecology graduate from Sao Paulo state, with
experience in environmental education (first four weeks of PRA);
* Viviane Menezes Hermida: a recent psychology graduate from Salvador (Bahia state),
with experience in community work in a fishing community on the northern Bahian
coast (third and fourth weeks of PRA);
6 Saint Cross State University, a small regional University located in Ilheus, which has
received investment from the State Government.
* Daniela Maria Barreto Martins: with the same background as Ms. Hermida (sixth and
seventh weeks of PRA)
These assistants helped me in the preparation of PRA meetings, note taking and
report writing. They also discussed with me the results and provided insights on my
relationship with TG. In addition to these three assistants, a number of local and outside
people helped in the organization of the meetings, but did not collect data for the PRA.
An exception was botanist Ana Maria Arg6lo, who, in addition to helping in some of the
meetings, wrote a report on the coastal vegetation.
Eight Fishing Communities
Locating (and circumscribing) the fishing communities of Itacare was not very
straightforward. Fishers lived all over town and also in rural communities and in the
urban district of Taboquinhas. They were clearly not just one community. There seemed
to be several fishing communities overlapping in Itacare or maybe the fishers were not
really a community but only a sector of the larger community of Itacare. Fishers were
linked not only among themselves, but to neighbors that were not fishers, to shopkeepers,
to politicians, to traders, to people and businesses of the tourism sector.
Some fishers were fulltime; others were just part-time or fished just for
subsistence. Those who were part-time or subsistence fishers were also farmers, public
servants, shopkeepers, workers in the tourism sector, and so on. How do we cut the
fishing communities out of that complex web of social relations?
"Communities" were used in Itacare to divide the fishing population in
manageable chunks that would result in maximum participation, provide a basis for
future action, and at the same time, maintain the number of these chunks as low as
possible to maximize the efficiency of PRA meetings. However, like the definition of
ecosystem, there are no clear community boundaries until someone decides what (or
who) is in or what is out. Ideally, this decision should be made by community members,
that is, by how they identify themselves: there is no community until there is a
community identity. However, a community identity may not always exist. In the case of
Itacare, the definition of some of the "fishing communities" was externally done by TG
When the TG and I planned the PRA exercise in Itacare, we had to decide on how
to classify the fishers in communities. In the town, we could either have dealt with one
large urban fishing community or with separate sub-communities. Thus we had to make a
choice. I suspected that if we decentralized the meetings, we would have greater
attendance. TG members had their own classification of the fishers into "communities"
and so we worked with that. TG members classified the fishers of Itacare in eight
* Banca do Peixe (urban, mostly professional fishers)
* Forte (urban, mostly professional fishers)
* Porto de Tras (urban, subsistence and professional fishers)
* Marimbondo (urban, subsistence and professional fishers)
* Passagem (urban, subsistence and professional fishers)
* Taboquinhas (urban and rural, subsistence and professional fishers)
* Itacarezinho (rural, subsistence fishers)
* Piracanga (rural, subsistence fishers)
Porto de Tras was easy to identify. These fishers lived in the same neighborhood,
had their own political organization, were connected by kin, had their own parties and
folklore, and were the exclusive users of the Porto de Tras (or Back Port, name that
alluded to the location of the port, on a river curve behind the town). There was a clear
However, other "communities" were less clearly defined. Forte and Banca do
Peixe, for example, were identified not in terms of a region of residence, but in terms of a
point of congregation, the respective ports of Forte and of the Banca do Peixe (or simply
Banca). Fishers included by the TG in these communities could live anywhere in town as
long as they departed from those ports to their fishing trips. This port identity often
included an affiliation to one of the organizations located in each port: Itacare's
Association of Fishers and Shellfish Collectors (ASPERI) in the Forte, and Col6nia de
Pesca Z-18 (Fishers' Guild Fishing Zone 18) in the Banca.
In addition, there were fishers who used either port, or even departed from the
more distant Havai river beach, who lived in two neighborhoods: Marimbondo and
Passagem. Following the advice of a community leader, when we finally carried out PRA
in these neighborhoods, the TG and I considered them as one community, but the
opposite could have been done: we could have subdivided them by the streets. The
decision to join them together was related to our operational needs rather than to the
"true" identity of these communities. Recognizing "communities" was necessarily an
analytical and, sometimes, arbitrary exercise considering operational needs and political
From this, it became clear that there were two types of urban fishing
* Neighborhood communities (continuous, defined by territory), such as Porto de Tras
(Marimbondo and Passagem were treated as neighborhood communities even though
their identities as fishing communities were weaker than Porto de Tras)
* Port communities (radial, defined by the connection of fishers to the ports), such as
Forte and Banca do Peixe
During PRA, we discovered an additional rural community (Campo Seco), which
invited us to carry out PRA there too. Thus, rural fishers were organized for the PRA in
the following communities:
* Piracanga (on the north coast of Itacare, including the fishers of nearby Caubi village)
* Campo Seco (on the south coast of Itacare)
* Itacarezinho (on the south coast of Itacare)
There were also rural communities by the Contas River, which practiced
subsistence fishing in the river, and a group of rural households close to the Tijuipe
River. Because of time constraints, the TG decided not to include them in the PRA at that
time. The TG visited the communities by Rio de Contas after I finished dissertation
fieldwork in Itacare.
Finally there were the urban and rural communities of Taboquinhas municipal
district. The rural fishers of Taboquinhas were first divided in several communities and
later grouped again for the practical purposes of the PRA. Later, we tried as much as
possible to identify the divisions that "community members" had. They included the
* Pe da Pancada
* Rua de Palha
* Os Acaris
* Porto das Farinhas
* Agua Fria.
However, this classification was not always so clear; different boundaries seemed
to be applied by different people, depending on the context. The definition of each
community also seemed to vary over time, as was indicated by stories that some
communities were one, then were divided, and then were renamed responding to political
needs and population change. The common identity of "fishers of Taboquinhas" was the
most practical and reliable one to organize the PRA for those fishers. Each of the fishing
communities of Itacare had different interests and challenges, as is described later.
Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) Exercise
In each community, the PRA team included me, one or two of the voluntary
research assistants, TG members, and occasionally, one to four oceanographic
researchers. TG members did not participate equally in all meetings. At the time of the
PRA exercise, the TG had about eight people. Only one of them had time to participate in
almost all meetings. Three others also went to several meetings (one of them liked the
PRA dynamics and was actually recruited during the PRA meetings in his community).
The other TG members participated only occasionally in the PRA community meetings,
but most were frequent in the TG weekly meetings, which evaluated the results of PRA in
The PRA exercise in Itacare was carried out in two rounds of meetings in eight
communities (see schedule of PRA meetings in Appendix7). In urban communities, the
first round (for problem diagnosis) took four to six three-hour evening meetings. In rural
communities, the first round took one to two one-day meetings. The first-round meetings
had the following elements:
* An explanation about the extractive reserve, and the purpose of the meeting
* Cooperative games
* PRA tools
Between the first and the second rounds, community representatives participated
in a two-day meeting to
7 The communities of Banca do Peixe and Piracanga had PRA meetings prior to this
schedule. The follow-up of those meetings was delayed until the dates showed in the
schedule due to participation problems in the Task Group.
* Create a diagnosis for the whole area proposed for the Marine Extractive Reserve of
Itacare, including all the communities where PRA was being carried out
* Create a draft of the resource use rules for the future Reserve ("Norms of the Reserve),
which were the focus of the second round.
In urban communities, the second round (for discussion of the Norms of the
Reserve) took two three-hour evening meetings. In rural communities, the second round
took one one-day meeting. The second round of meetings included the following
* Registration of the fishers for the decision-making process
* An explanation about the extractive reserve and purpose of the meeting
* A review of the diagnosis made in the first round
* Cooperative games
* Reading, discussion, and approval of, or proposal of changes to, the drafted Norms of
After the second round of meetings, a general two-day meeting, open to all
registered participants, was carried out for a final decision on the Norms.
Explanation about the extractive reserve and purpose of the meetings (first and
All meetings started with an explanation about the future Marine Extractive
Reserve of Itacare, and about the purpose of the meetings. The explanation included a
presentation by the TG about the purposes of the group and an invitation to all who
wanted to participate. I presented the purpose of the meeting and asked for the group's
consent to report on the information that they provided and on their participation.
Cooperative games (first and second rounds)
After this initial explanation, in the first round of PRA meetings (in each one of
the communities) participants were invited to play the "web of life," a cooperative game
that shows the importance of cooperation and interdependence in the relationship
between community members, and between them and their environment (Figure 3-2).
; 1 I %
Figure 3-2: Web of life game in the community of Banca do Peixe.
The web of life starts with the facilitator asking participants to gather around him,
forming a circle. Then, he takes a roll of yam, and start linking different people in the
circle with it. Each person represents a different element of the human ecosystem. After
all people are linked by the yam, a pen is placed in the center of the circle and the group
is asked to try to hold it with the yam, just by the pressure of the yarn forming the web.
Then, participants are asked to put the pen inside a bottle placed on the ground (in one of
the communities we used a green coconut, after drinking the coconut water), still holding
the pen with the web. After several attempts, in which the pen would fall and be placed
again in the web, the goal of putting the pen in the bottle was accomplished.
The importance of cooperation and balance between different parties in
cooperation to accomplish a collective goal (the betterment of communities, the
extractive reserve, and conservation of natural resources) was then discussed with the
participants. Other games were proposed anytime during the meetings when participants
looked tired or not very focused on the discussions.
A series of PRA tools was proposed and carried out. Participants created
participatory natural resource maps on 1 m x 2 m sheets of paper (in communities along
the river, the maps reached up to 5 meters long, by 50 cm wide), using markers, sand,
sawdust, pebbles, tree and grass leaves, and icons representing different natural
resources, fishing practices and other aspects of the fishers' reality. Participants were
asked to map the area that they used, which varied from community to community
Figure 3-3: Participatory mapping exercise in Forte community.
In Porto de Tras and Piracanga, natural resource maps were done in separate
groups according to gender. Maps were also used to obtain data about the location of
households and infrastructure in two urban communities (Porto de Tras and
Marimbondo/Passagem) and three rural communities (Piracanga, Itacarezinho and
Institutional Venn diagrams were carried out in Banca do Peixe, Porto de Tras,
Forte, and Taboquinhas. They started with the facilitators asking the participants to list
the organizations that were important to the community, either positively or negatively.
Then, participants were asked to rank the power of these institutions, by assigning them
paper circles with three different sizes. Following that, participants were asked to place
the circles on a 0.8 m x 1 m sheet of paper in relation to a paper circle representing their
community, which also had to be placed in relation to a larger circle drawn on the sheet
representing the fishing community of Itacare. This process often raised heated
discussions about the government and nongovernmental organizations that influence the
lives of the fishers in Itacare (Figure 3-4).
Figure 3-4: Institutional diagram in Banca do Peixe community (a TG member is
facilitating the discussion).
Other PRA tools were used. Historical transects were carried out in the PRA
course for the Task Group (focusing on sea resources) and in the PRA meetings of
Taboquinhas (focusing on river resources, Figure 3-5). A social pyramid, a tool that I
adapted to discuss social inequality, was used in Porto de Tras and Forte.
Figure 3-5: Historical diagram in small groups in Taboquinhas, facilitated by a volunteer
In some communities, PRA tools were used in small groups, which later presented
the information to the participants that were not in their group. This strategy was used to
maximize the information represented in the PRA tools, and to allow greater individual
participation by reducing the group size.
After the maps and diagrams were completed, participants summarized the
information provided by them, with an emphasis on the problems and on how the
extractive reserve could help to solve them. During the process, the voluntary research
assistants and I took notes on the discussion in order to write the report later on. Some
communities (Porto de Tras, Itacarezinho and Taboquinhas) had UESC's team of
oceanographic researchers facilitating the discussion along with TG members, volunteer
research assistants and me. In other communities, the volunteers, TG members and I used
that experience with the UESC team to guide us in facilitating the maps and other
discussion focusing on natural resources.
Meeting of community representatives to discuss the diagnosis for the whole area
proposed for the Marine Extractive Reserve of Itacare and the Norms of the
During the PRA meetings in the eight communities, representatives were elected
by each community to participate in a two-day meeting to create a diagnosis for the entire
area and population that was going to benefit from the Reserve, and to create a draft of
the natural resource use rules, or "Norms of the Reserve." On the first day, the
representatives of each community explained to the other community representatives the
problems encountered in their communities, referring to the PRA maps and diagrams.
They verified problems that they had in common and problems that were created by
resource use conflicts between communities.
Based on this diagnosis, and on the norms of the Marine Extractive Reserve of
Arraial do Cabo (State of Rio de Janeiro), I created a draft of norms that were suggested
during the PRA problem diagnosis phase and by the community representatives. On the
second day, the norms that I drafted were read to, and discussed by, community
representatives, who corrected them and added their own suggestions.
Registration of the fishers for the decision making process
In the second round of PRA meetings, in each community, TG members and I
registered the participants for the decision making process. TG members, in a series of
weekly meetings, discussed criteria to make a fisher a legitimate decision-maker in the
Reserve. The problem was that the rules of the Reserve were supposed to be decided by
the fishers of Itacare. However, who were the "fishers of Itacare"? Native fishers
believed they had greater right than recent immigrants, and a great number of five to ten-
year immigrant fishers also claimed their right to the Reserve. Where was the legitimacy
line to be drawn?
After much discussion, the TG arrived at a decision. To have the right to vote in
the community meetings, a person had to be a fisher who had fished in Itacare in the last
two years. In addition, the fisher had to fulfill one of the following:
* Be native to Itacare
* Have lived in Itacare for the last five years
* Have participated in five or more meetings for the creation of the Extractive Reserve
To vote on the Norms of the Reserve, each person had to be "registered," that is,
to fill out a form, or have one filled out for him/her, on which the basic data about the
criteria described above were collected. All data had to be confirmed by witnesses, to
avoid the use of standard documents that could not be trusted because many "fishers"
with such documents did not actually fish, and many real fishers did not have fishers'
documents. Such witnesses also had to be acceptable decision-makers themselves, and
were susceptible to lose their rights if they helped others misrepresent themselves.
A review of the diagnosis made in the first round
To review the discussion of the first round in each community, including the
reality of all communities in the future Reserve, second-round meetings used the
participatory map created by the Banca, which represented the broadest range, so that a
general diagnosis of the entire area could be discussed and information given/returned for
the decision about the Norms of the Reserve. The map was exhibited in a place visible to
Reading, discussion, approval of, or proposal of changes to the drafted Norms of the
In the second round of community meetings, the resource use rules for the future
Norms of the Reserve were read, discussed, and voted on. The norms that were approved
by all communities were considered approved and not discussed again. If a norm was
rejected by one community, or if it was proposed by a community after the other
communities had discussed the norms, the decision was left to a final general meeting
open to all participants.
Finally, in some cases in which there were resource use conflicts between
communities, TG decided to hold meetings between the affected communities to decide
on the issue by consensus. That is, there would be no voting in such meetings, and all
participants had to agree on the final solution. These rules were later reviewed and
approved in the final general meeting. This strategy was chosen to guarantee a power
balance between the different communities, and avoid manipulation by opportunistic
participation in meetings in just one centralized location.
Data Collection: Observant Participation and Participant Observation
PRA was not my only data collection strategy in Itacare. According to Bernard
Fieldwork can involve two quite different roles-that of participating observer and
that of observing participant. By far, most anthropological research is based on the
first role, that of participating observer.
Hammersley and Atkinson (1995) discuss the classification of Junker (1960) and
Gold (1958), who distinguish the following roles of the researcher: complete participant,
participant-as-observer, observer-as-participant, and complete observer. Hammersley and
Atkinson (1995) suggest that the role of complete participant often involves deception,
and their examples coincide with the examples given by Bernard (1994) in which
observing participant researchers take roles that make them similar to the people they are
This was not the case of this dissertation. First, it was clear to the community that
I was doing research as much as action, and there was no deception related to my role in
the community or in the Task Group. That saved me a great deal of ethical concern.
Second, my observing participation involved a relatively new role in the fishing
community, as new as was the TG's role. Despite the fact that I was not pretending to be
a fisherman, I was an observing participant because my role was that of an activist in
favor of the Reserve, just like the TG.
Nevertheless, there were several differences:
* The length of my participation was limited, while the TG would continue to be there
* I did not belong to the community and could choose to leave, while they belonged
there and were more limited in their mobility
* I was paid to be an action researcher and did not have other competing activities,
while their participation was completely voluntary and they had to find ways to
generate income (however, some of the TG members did receive remuneration or
compensation during part of their action)
* I was their consultant and was supposed to provide them with orientation regarding the
Extractive Reserve and the participatory work, while they had limited knowledge of
the details of the required process
* I did not have decision power over the process; I only discussed the options with them,
while decisions were made by TG members (but I had significant influence when I
was facilitating PRA meetings). Also, I often took notes, moderated the meetings,
typed letters and documents for them, and even created a logo for the Reserve (Figure
As an "impartial" participant observer, the researcher can more easily concentrate
on the research, maintain a certain distance from the object of study, and try to be
objective. However, there is no guarantee of impartiality. On the one hand, the participant
observer label can mask implicit involvement and contribution, and cause increased
suspicion in the participants. On the other hand, the observing participation strategy
carries with it other dangers, such as partiality, lack of objectivity, and worse, difficulty
to concentrate on the research. However, in many instances, observing participation is a
way to obtain insights from the point of view of the researched. In addition these two
different types of observation provide access to different aspects of reality. By trying to
mobilize the community with the TG, I saw aspects of the fishing community that I
would not have seen if I was just a participant observing. Conversely, some other aspects
are hidden from the participant observer; there are tradeoffs in any strategy.
Reserva Extrativista Marinha
Figure 3-6: Logo of the Task Group for the Creation of the Marine Extractive Reserve of
Every one of us, each TG member and I, was a "thermometer" of effects of the
planned solutions, and provided subjective evaluations of what was achieved. These
planned solutions, and provided subj ective evaluations of what was achieved. These
subjective evaluations were discussed in the group meetings, trying to create inter-
subjective evaluations supported by evidence. By providing and discussing their
perceptions with me, TG members were a mix of key-informants, research assistants and
clients of the research. They too were doing observing participation of the process, when
they attempted strategies to obtain fishers' participation, promote the Extractive Reserve
and consolidate their leadership.
In addition to my observing participation in TG meetings and in the PRA
exercise, I learned a great deal about the reality of Itacare just by living there during the
ten months (September 2000 to June 2001) of my Ph.D. fieldwork, and in the four visits
before, one day in March 1999, a four-day and a ten-day visit in August 1999, and one
week in January 2000. I became better acquainted with one of the communities where
meetings were harder to mobilize. My following field note illustrates how observant
participation and just hanging out were important to understand that community:
The Barraca do Seu8 Osvaldo (Mr. Osvaldo's Kiosk) is closed most of the year
but is nevertheless, a gathering point for many of the fishers of the Banca do
Peixe, the community most associated with the Col6nia. The Barraca is a tiny
kiosk, built on the center division of the boulevard by the Coroa beach. The lane
next to the beach is open to traffic, but the other is closed, creating a protected
space where residents would hang out and restaurants would place their tables
However, the boulevard close to Seu Osvaldo's kiosk belongs to the fishers.
Large trees shade the sidewalks where they used to lounge, talk to their friends,
gossip, and work on net repairs. It has a nice view of the barra, where river waters
battle sea water in their final destination to the ocean; and of the Pontal (a small
peninsula on the other side of the river with its beach growing in the direction of
Pedra do Xareu, almost threatening to dam the river), and the north coast. It is also
a strategic spot to monitor the wind and its changes, and the movement of boats
inside and outside the barra. And it is also my strategic spot to just hang out,
observe fishers, talk to them, hear the gossip, and learn about the past and present
8 Respectful title applied to older men; "mister."
During the day, I use to sit in the shadow of Seu Osvaldo's Kiosk and do as
everybody else. At sunset or at night, nearby, the boat ramp that gave access from
the boulevard to the river is the spot to relax, and listen to stories of fishing trips
and other subjects. "Apanhar afresca da noite (enjoying the fresh breeze of the
night) attracts many fishers. On nights of good weather, they sit and laze on the
ramp by the water with stars above their heads and the gentle breeze blowing. I
also enjoy thefresca, and many times go by myself or to walk my dog by the
beach and then sit on the ramp. Sometimes I talk to people, other times I just
Although I became more acquainted with the Banca, walking on the streets of
Itacare it was hard to go anywhere without running into someone who asked about the
Extractive Reserve, gave me information and opinions, gossiped about someone else or
was just friendly. In this way, I used to run into people of the other urban communities of
Itacare, and occasionally into people from rural areas. As my identification with the Task
Group grew, I became "o rapaz da Reserva" (the Reserve guy). I was sought for conflict
resolution and demands for action. Normally, I would refer the person to the Task Group
for decisions, but would talk and express my opinions anyway.
People also tried to influence me, by gossiping or complaining about other people
and organizations, trying to get me on their side. Kent (2000), doing anthropological
fieldwork in Itacare, describes a similar process: he also felt he was being disputed by
different sides of the conflict between locals ("ii/un', ") and migrants related to the
tourism/environmentalism sector ("os defora," or the newcomers), both sides trying to
make him tell their side of the story, particularly the case of the newcomers.
In my case, maybe because I was also involved in action, I felt that it was not just
a matter of my telling their story, but rather of my acting in a manner that would be
advantageous to particular sectors. Unlike Kent (2000), I did not feel that os defora were
trying to influence me more than the nativos, but just as much. Os defora seemed to see
me as a teacher and a source of expertise; in fact I ended up giving a course on
participatory methods to the team of the local Environmental Education Project, mainly
composed of newcomers. Some people (locals and newcomers) seemed to believe that I
had some strong political influence, an impression that I let them keep, since I believed
that it could help the Task Group (more educated people seemed to value most the fact
that I was a Ph.D. candidate).
I also participated in public meetings, went to parties and to the beach, shopped in
the stores, and went to restaurants. All of this gave me a better feeling of the tensions and
issues behind the beach town atmosphere of Itacare. For example, excellent pizza was
served in Beco das Flores pizzeria. However, wealthier people used to go there and it
was viewed with suspicion by locals (this is also commented on by Kent 2000). I noticed
this and felt uncomfortable going to the Beco (but sometimes it was hard to resist... the
pizza was really good!). And it was the same with certain stores, parties and beaches. I
felt that where you hung out in Itacare said something about with whom you were allied
and about your values. I did not always conform to local prejudices in order to assert my
alignment with the TG and locals, but I soon became aware of the costs of doing things in
ways that were not approved of by locals.
Testing the Explanatory Propositions
Testing the explanatory propositions explained in Chapter 1 involved information
gathered by PRA, participant observation, observant participation, group and individual
interviews, informal conversations with fishers and other actors in Itacare, and literature
research. In chapters 7 and 8, research questions 1 and 2, and the respective explanatory
propositions' action-testing, are discussed; however, in chapters 4 to 6, background
information on Itacare and its fishers, the nature of the fishing activities and the origins of
the Task Group will also be used to discuss the research questions.
As pointed out in Chapter 2, action research is broadly defined as a paradigm of
research in which clients are involved in cycles of reflection-action-reflection-action that
result in learning and change. The value of action in action research is often discussed in
terms of its practical, local effects: research activity that produces social results locally.
However, in this study, action was conceptualized as a means of verification.
In AR, we believe that the way to 'prove' a theory is to show how it provides in-
depth and thorough understanding of social structures, understanding gained
through planned attempts to invoke change in particular directions. The
appropriate changes are the proof (Greenwood 1998:19).
In this research, action was the main instrument for testing competing explanatory
propositions for participation problems encountered in the PRA for the participatory
creation of the Marine Extractive Reserve of Itacare. Action during the research process
was always based on theory and reflection. The theory (explanatory propositions) was
supplied either by me or by locals, who provided their own interpretations of their
realities, sometimes during the meetings, other times in informal conversations.
Participants (including me), involved in action, discussed the problems and their causes.
One or more explanatory propositions were created to explain the problems, and
solutions based on such propositions were discussed. Sometimes we had competing
interpretations and had to solve the contest argumentatively or by verification, in action.
The rationale for using action as a testing procedure was
* Once the causes for the problems were identified (explanatory propositions), solutions
could be planned and carried out
* When the solutions were correctly implemented and there was no improvement in the
problems, then the explanatory proposition was rejected. "Improvement in the
problems" was discussed in the TG and with members of the community, and includes
my subjective evaluation
* If the planned solution worked, then the proposition was corroborated; and proposition
and solution became action-based theory
A cycle of theory-action-reflection (Figure 3-7) happened almost every week,
when problems were discussed in the weekly TG meetings and planned actions were
implemented, and then evaluated again in the next meeting. New cycles of action could
persist in the same successful action strategy, resulting in more corroboration to the
action-based theory, or in its reformulation. Reformulated action-based theories should
account for the past failures and successes of participatory action, and be tested in action
Problem Competing Ato _]ang
definition I explanatory Action planning
action and Action
Figure 3-7: Action as a research testing strategy.
However, there are confounding factors that may affect action-tests. In action-
testing, it is possible that the following confounding factors affect research conclusions:
* Biased interpretation. Participants may have biased evaluations of the changes
because of their expectations that are either too high or too low, or their interests can
be harmed by the findings, so they provide biased or false interpretations.
* Spurious association. The intended changes may not be a result of the action intended
to test the explanatory proposition. First, this may happen because the problem
identified may not be persistent. If the problem is temporary, then the action trying to
resolve the problem may be wrongly associated with its solution because the problem
would not persist anyway. Second, other factors may be influencing the problem at the
same time, and improvement in the problem (or lack of it) may be a result of factors
other than the new strategy adopted.
* Quality of the action. If actions are not effectively implemented according to the
explanatory proposition that originated them, results, or lack of them, cannot be
considered evidence in favor or against the explanatory proposition.
In order to be effective, action testing has to look for disconfirming evidence,
examine possible confounds, and consider them in a careful discussion about causality
during the AR process. In this dissertation this was done partially in the field and partially
afterwards, during the writing process.
In my interaction with the Task Group in Itacare, action-testing cycles were not
very structured, and were just part of how the TG worked. Although it was clear to them
that I was participating as a researcher, I noticed the similarity of such cycles with action
research and did not have to interfere in the group's dynamics to obtain data for this
research. Action testing, as a research procedure, was a way to take advantage of the
natural situation, the commitments and strategies of the TG, its actions and its need for
learning, for a research purpose. Finally, the testing of propositions did not change TG's
actions; that is, action testing was never used for its own sake, but only to achieve
important meaningful results related to the TG's objectives.
The evidence of action testing gathered through observing participation in TG and
PRA meetings was also compared to the evidence gained through participant observation
and a literature search on the history of Itacare (to discuss the social and political context
of participation) and on fishing communities in Brazil and abroad (to discuss collective
action institutions for natural resource management among fishers). Thus, action testing
is not just a mechanical exercise, but also depends on a consideration of other
information that corroborates and contextualizes interpretations.
ITACARE AND ITS FISHERS
The purpose of this chapter is to contextualize the dissertation in relation to the
general characteristics of the fishers of Itacare and their common history with their
region. Some of the explanatory propositions are discussed in light of these general
characteristics, but each research question is discussed in more detail in Chapters 7 and 8,
where action research procedures were used to test the explanatory propositions
described in Chapter 1.
The history of Itacare is important for us to understand the origins of its inequality
and the formation of vertical alliances and vertical identities that prevented the poor from
openly questioning or acting to change local social reality. This chapter describes how the
local poor became allied to the local elite, forming vertical identities that opposed
outsiders and newcomers. I argue that this conflict between locals and
outsiders/newcomers prevented a needed horizontal alliance among the poor, and reduced
their confrontation with the rich.
At the time of the dissertation fieldwork, tourism was greatly transforming
Itacare, the small town that was the seat of the municipality of the same name. The
municipio comprised 730 km2 with a paradisiacal coast of small pocket beaches
surrounded by coconut trees and tropical rainforest, and a longer beach with some of the
last fragments of natural coastal dune vegetation restingg) in the region. About five
thousand people dwelled in the town, and the rest lived in the rural zone and in the