Opening New Pathways for Development: An Exploration into Community Economies
This research explores community economies as a way of practicing development differently. The community economy framework has arisen out of post-development critiques which highlight how some development practices have discursively and practically created linear understandings of economic development. In contrast, the community economy framework involves highlighting the many economic practices and community assets that currently sustain people and suggests that multiple possible pathways to improved wellbeing can be imagined from these local beginnings. The approach seeks to prioritise neither local nor foreign practices, but encourages critical public discussion around which activities could be built on to improve community wellbeing. This research draws on my experiences engaging with the communities of San Miguel and Yachakay in Bolivia between March and June 2010, and contributes to the dialogue on the community economy approach as a way to practice development. I have explored how this process of negotiating research in the field affects research outcomes. Throughout the process of exploring community economies I faced a number of challenges in negotiating the research in the field. This thesis is grounded in feminist and indigenous methodological approaches that recommend the researcher seek ways to transfer power and benefits to the researched in locally relevant ways. Yet very few works address the process of negotiation required to achieve this. My experience shows that by uncovering this often glossed over process, insights can be gained into the complex ways the researched assert power in research contexts, and thus assert power over research outcomes. This research explores the viability of researching community economies within a Masters framework. My approach in San Miguel involved collecting data though semi-structured interviews, informal conversations and a reflective research journal. However my research in San Miguel was cut short. In the new location, Yachakay, I added a Participatory Action Research approach to my methodological tool kit. Other attempts to build community economies have involved significant budgets, experience and community engagement periods. While my approaches to building community economies in Bolivia were restricted by the relatively short Masters thesis timeframe, limited funding and my novice researcher status, the experience was not completely fruitless. I believe that benefits were gained both by researched and researcher through this exploration of community economies.