Reflexivity in the negotiation of participation: Insights from a culturally-embedded community project in Vietnam
This research aims to explore the possible negotiation of participation within development practice in Vietnam based on different understandings of reflexivity among different development actors. Specifically, it adopts a qualitative approach, using a sustainable community livelihoods project in Central Vietnam as a case study, to ask the following questions: (1) How do Western and local development facilitators understand reflexivity in participatory development in Vietnam?; and (2) How do Western and local development facilitators negotiate and practice reflexivity in participatory development in Vietnam? These questions are important because while participation and fieldwork partnerships in community projects promise mutually-beneficial opportunities for shared learning, they also involve negotiations of power. The reflexivity of development practitioners assumes that they can obtain thorough understanding and knowledge of the local culture and facilitate participation appropriately, which may not actually be the case. Secondly, little is known about how participants think or practice their own culturally-embedded understandings of reflexivity in their interactions with non-local practitioners. Thirdly, there is a knowledge gap about how participation intersects with reflexivity as “Western” development discourses and local understandings are negotiated. Semi-structured interviews were employed with three groups of people positioned differently within the case study project: international development practitioners, Vietnamese development practitioners and local community members. Interpretative methods of auto-ethnography and reflexive writings were used to analyse the researcher’s own understandings of reflexivity and the working of power from his prior work as a translator in this project. Building on existing critiques of reflexivity, and through careful analysis, the thesis interrogates assumed links between reflexivity and better facilitation in community projects. The negotiations explored in this research include rethinking the principle of reflexivity in the context of local cultural norms as these significantly shape values of development work and likely benefits for practitioners and participants. From extracted perspectives of research participants through semi-structured interviews and the researcher’s reflections by means of auto-ethnography, an alternative approach is suggested to aid development practitioners in reflecting upon notions of “self” and “others” in order to examine various conceptions of participation in theory and practice.