Impacts and Concluding Commentary
Impacts and Concluding Commentary
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter presents the impact of this process at the individual, collective, and policy levels, and ends with a discussion of some methodological considerations and unresolved issues.
In this last chapter, I will discuss some of the changes brought about by eight years of action and research on and with the street children of Cairo. I will highlight and discuss changes that we observed at the individual and the group level, as well as changes with respect to street children policy in Egypt. I will then summarize and discuss the methodological features that characterized the PAR process presented in this book before ending with a discussion of some of the unresolved issues.
Another consequence for seeing deviance as an interactive process is that we are able to correct false impressions fostered by earlier theoretical assumptions. For instance, if we assume, as has been often done, that deviance is somehow a quality of the person committing the deviant act, we are likely to suppose without looking any further that the person who commits the deviant act is somehow compelled to do so and will continue to do so. On the other hand, if we view deviance as something that arises in interaction with others, we realize that changes in interaction may produce significant changes in behavior. (Becker 1964, 3)
As a non-institutional social intervention practice that subscribes to the humanist tradition, street work with the street children of Cairo aimed at establishing a sustained accompaniment of otherwise inaccessible marginal and excluded populations of youngsters, who are often repressed, deprived of their fundamental rights, and who, understandably, adopt behaviors (p.158) considered to be deviant according to mainstream views. This sustained accompaniment—in the street, in non-formal education activities, and in collective advocacy—led to the development of authentic relationships between the street workers and the children, at the heart of which was the ‘recognition’ of difference, as well as the basic and fundamental acceptance of the ‘other.’ This facilitated the construction of rapport based on reciprocity through a dialectic movement between self and other. In turn, the reciprocal consideration for each other was the basis for the development of a subject-to-subject dialogical relationship rather than a relationship of expert to client. Dialogue and interaction became the basic tools for the co-construction of meaning, which is the prerequisite for the development of a critical consciousness able to question certain assumptions, to specify underpinnings, to elucidate choices, and to evaluate them. Gradually, the children, individually and collectively, began to assume an active role in making decisions about the issues central to their lives and about the means of enhancing their lives.
Indeed, the interactive and relational approach adopted throughout the duration of the PAR undertaking has, like Becker (1964) believed, produced significant changes in the behavior of individuals and groups. The situation of Hind can be quite illuminating as an example of change at the individual level.
With the nickname al-salʿawwa (a type of coyote that frightens many villagers in remote rural areas and sometimes attacks children), Hind, a fifteen year old female, only about one meter tall, sturdy and fully developed, was indeed quite ‘wild.’ She mumbled her words and never exchanged more than a couple of sentences. Failure to understand her was met either with her giving up on you or having a fit of bad temper. Calling her by her nickname would make her so furious that she would bite the person responsible and, paradoxically, confirm the appropriateness of her sobriquet. Biting was also her method of fighting, and she fought a great deal. On the days when she came to the center, we would look at each other in anticipation of the difficult hours ahead of us. She was so demanding, particularly because of her tantrums, that we often had to dedicate the full attention of a street worker to her. More about her background is found in Appendix 1, Vignette 5.
One day Hind took a colored pencil and began to draw. Her drawing drew our attention, and we were quite encouraging. She would draw only occasionally until she started to form some attachment to the volunteer female painter, the board member who introduced the painting activity. A (p.159) series of wonderful paintings followed fairly rapidly and she acquired a new nickname, ‘the artist.’ Calling her by her old nickname did not seem to bother her as much, her heavy consumption of drugs became more discerning, and she stopped biting. When an exhibition of the children's paintings was organized a few months later, Hind was the missing star on the opening evening. She made her appearance only on the second day. After closing time, as I was looking alone at the paintings, Hind came up to me, took me gently by the hand, and said: “Why are you standing alone; come and sit with us,” pointing to where the other young artists and a couple of street workers were sitting.
The story of Hind, like that of many other children, lends credit to the claim made by Becker (1964) regarding the importance of positive interactions for eliciting behavioral changes. It also adds credit to the value of non-formal education: changes in behavior need not be, and seldom are, the outcome of strict correctional measures. Instead, enhanced self-esteem and self-confidence, and a wider scope of awareness and creativity change the way individuals feel about themselves, and their behavior is modified accordingly, almost naturally, I venture to add.
At the collective level, we had set as an indicator of meaningful change the children's capacity to take responsibility for their own affairs and to develop a collective voice. This was partly achieved by virtue of the fact that a small group of children were able to assume supervised street work tasks just before the abrupt end of the process. Furthermore, the group-to-group negotiations and participation in organizing and strategizing collective advocacy activities seem to have equipped many of the children with the necessary tools and capacities to address politicians and policy makers publicly and within the arenas concerned with their realities. We were pleasantly surprised and indeed moved when, in the midst of the confrontations with the state bureaucrats in the period preceding the dismantling of EASSC, a group of six children came to show us a copy of a letter they had written themselves and had presented, without our knowledge, to the MP of the jurisdiction where the association was registered, and with whom they had managed to obtain an appointment. In the letter, which took them days to write, they eloquently described their undertaking with EASSC, and asked the MP to do whatever in his power to ensure the sustainability of the association. This initiative confirmed the validity and value of the PAR endeavor, and it gave (p.160) me the bittersweet feeling that the imminent abrupt ending would not nullify the emancipation at both the individual and collective levels.
With regard to changes at the policy level, the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM), closely associated with Egypt's First Lady, Mrs. Mubarak, who chairs its Advisory Technical Committee, announced in March 2003, in a spectacular ceremony that received lots of media coverage, a national strategy to ‘eradicate’ the phenomenon of street children (NCCM 2003). In this strategy, the core of the discourse and recommendations we had developed over the years of PAR with the street children was adopted: the diversity of the phenomenon and its organic link with street societies, the importance of viewing the children as active social actors capable of participating in the search for the means to improve their situation, the necessity of establishing drop-in centers and shelters that the children can voluntarily join, developing training courses to sensitize public servants concerned with the phenomenon, and so on.
It is interesting to note here that despite the fact that EASSC had a good working relationship with NCCM (with whom we shared our views and analysis of the phenomenon), the council, notwithstanding its influence, did not do much to prevent the dismantling of the association. The question that can be asked here is whether the act of adopting our discourse and recommendations—almost word for word—was one of co-optation. While it is true that the adopted policy appears sophisticated and constitutes a powerful tool for the Egyptian State to respond to accusations of maltreating street children (Human Rights Watch 2003), it remains to be seen whether it will result in meaningful changes at the practical level.
Regardless of the outcome of the NCCM initiative, its value resides in the fact that the street children phenomenon has been mainstreamed. Gone are the days when state officials denied the very existence of the phenomenon and accused those who addressed it of defaming Egypt. International donors have allotted generous funds to address the phenomenon and the number of NGOs working with street children is increasing. The scaling up of the drop-in strategy will take place in 2007, funded by the EC and implemented by the NCCM.
The production of replicable methodological formulae has never been an objective in PAR. Indeed, it would even be considered contradictory to its tenets. As an open-ended process, each PAR needs to progress along the (p.161) emerging, sequencing, and unfolding realities of a group's life, which are continuously shaped, forged, formed, and constructed by the interactions among the different members. While the PAR process described in this book could not be replicated as such, I nevertheless propose to identify the main methodological traits and concerns that characterized it and which in my view could inform future PAR undertakings.
The Processual Nature of PAR
As an open-ended process, the PAR described in this book has all the characteristics of generic social processes noted by Blumer (1969). It encompassed the interpreting, planning, anticipating, doing, experiencing, assessing, and readjusting features of action. It incorporated the perspectives of participants, as well as people's capacities for reflectivity, their ability to influence one another and their tendencies to develop and act upon particularistic relations with others. In addition, the PAR process actively assumed the problematic and uncertain features of group life, the dilemmas the actors experience, and their savoir-faire in coming to terms with them. However, the PAR process presented in this book went beyond the parameters of Blumer's interactionist ethnography. The practitioners-researchers became involved in educational as well as therapeutic relationships with participants, were politically positioned in favor of the participants' fight against exclusion, and organized advocacy activities both for and with them.
PAR processes of this kind are understandably very time-consuming, labor intensive, field based, longitudinal, and engaged undertakings that require extensive patience, perseverance, and a capacity to handle a great deal of ambiguity. They also require a certain experiential knowledge that allows practitioners to venture into the life-worlds of the other while being careful not to provoke fusion and confusion problems by over-identifying with the other. Moreover, by taking the side of the excluded, PAR practitioners put their own identities on the line and subjugate their viewpoints to those of the many “moral entrepreneurs” (Becker 1963) who may have a variety of vested interests regarding either the non-respectability of some people or practices being studied or the ethics of aspects of methodology.29 Furthermore, the promotion of values and notions such as empowerment, equity, self-reliance, and commitment to the interests of local participants often entails challenging oppressive political and social arrangements, such that the research group is often positioned in opposition to dominant and mainstream forces.
(p.162) For an undertaking with such a wide scope of multiple and diverse issues, the PAR process must necessarily be conceived along a multi-component approach—rather than a single-model approach—in order to allow for different issues to be addressed in a parallel fashion. The case presented in this book is one that has conformed to this requirement. Let us examine this claim more closely.
Multiplicity and Diversity in Methodology
As we saw, the eclectic methodology that was used for the implementation of the present PAR process combined street ethnography, street work, and action science. The beginning of fieldwork consisted of street ethnography (observation and participant observation) that allowed access to the street milieus frequented by street children. After establishing an ‘intimate familiarity’ with these milieus and building relationships of mutual trust and respect with individuals and groups, fieldwork gradually incorporated accompaniment and non-formal education components. In so doing, fieldwork marked a shift from an ethnographic inquiry (that is, studying and understanding deviance) into street work that meant becoming involved and taking sides. The reflective approach that was adopted from the outset ensured the training and education of both street workers and participants, focusing on enabling them to use their intuitive savoir-faire to continually add to the construction of their experiential knowledge.
The ‘multiplicity’ feature in the present PAR was by no means restricted to its eclectic methodological framework; indeed, this feature characterized all three dimensions of PAR—participation, action, and research.
The multiple stages and facets of participation observed in the PAR described in this book were carried out in conjunction with the processual nature of the undertaking. Contrary to the promises by some PAR rhetoric, democratic participation, like other PAR ideals, cannot constitute a fixed feature and mode of operation from the outset. As I have argued, it may be more realistic to view PAR ideals as goals that serve to guide and inform the process. Accordingly, democratic participation as a major PAR ideal cannot from the outset of a PAR process be the actual state of affairs. This kind of democratic participation requires a wide range of abilities, including personal, intellectual, political, interpersonal, group management, and data management skills, in addition to a capacity for self-awareness and (p.163) reflexivity. It is very unlikely at the initial stage of a PAR enterprise with marginal and excluded populations that practitioners would be able to constitute a group that is more or less homogeneously equipped with these abilities. Therefore, the promotion of democratic participation requires educating participants to acquire such abilities so that they can eventually participate more actively.
In the PAR case narrated in this book, the increasing participation of two groups of actors was of vital importance for the PAR process to progress democratically. For their participation to be meaningful and to become fully operative, both the street workers and the targeted children needed to be equipped with practical and theoretical tools and concepts to sharpen their self-reflectivity and to increase their capacity to work in a collegial fashion.
With regard to Ranya and Samir, the street workers' group leaders, who started as volunteers conducting street ethnography under my supervision, they needed to be coached to acquire both street work and research capabilities, that is, to become practitioner-researchers. During the initial ethnographic street work, the hands-on experience in the street, which was continuously subjected to reflective analysis facilitated the gradual acquisition of skills and the construction of their experiential knowledge. Gradually, Ranya and Samir progressed from mere data collectors to full participants in the management of the overall PAR process, including the recruitment and coaching of additional street workers.
Likewise, the participation of street children also followed a coached progression. As the scope of their socialization kept widening, new dimensions of their participation were gradually incorporated into the process. Many of the youngsters who started by being mere providers of data and recipients of care and accompaniment were able to acquire enough knowledge to participate in the interpretation of data, that is, to critically examine themselves both individually and collectively. Some were also able to participate in the planning of change and its implementation. And just before the abrupt ending of the process, a couple of the children had assumed street work tasks and responsibilities under the supervision of Samir and Ranya.
Lastly, it is important to note that at different moments in the overall process of the construction of democratic participation, different actors are found at different stages, and this requires vigilant monitoring on the part of practitioners, as we have seen in Chapter 4, to attend to the many issues related to these variations in the degree and forms of participation.
The action dimension in the present PAR incorporated several features, and its content was determined in conjunction with the unfolding process. Initially, the action took the form of going up and down the streets of Cairo to locate the targeted youngsters in living environments. This was followed by socially infiltrating some of the identified street milieus and building relationships of trust with key informants. These relationships gradually developed to accommodate actions of support and accompaniment of the children through the sustained, meaningful and interactive presence of practitioners in the accessed milieus. With the opening of the drop-in center, the non-formal education activities coupled with on-going individual and group negotiations for increasing participation paved the way for the political action of organizing advocacy activities.
The research dimension was equally multifaceted. The combination of symbolic interactionism and ethnographic methodology, the plurality of fieldwork areas (different street localities and the drop-in center), the triangulation of methods used (observation, participant observation, informal discussions/interviews, open-ended, semi-structured and in-depth interviews, focus-groups, and collection of biographical accounts), the techniques employed (field notes, personal notes, drawings, street workers' reports, observation of participants in different settings and by different observers), the active involvement of participants in the analysis and interpretation of data, and the longitudinal nature of the research undertaking all contributed rich data for critical reflection, analysis, and the gradual construction of knowledge.
Savoir-faire, Ethics, and Reflectivity
The ‘intimate familiarity’ developed with the groups of street children that we worked with often involved unpredictable situations in which uncertainties and ambiguities gave rise to a large number of ethical issues. From the outset, reflectivity became for us a sort of survival mechanism to feel our way, to manage the dilemmas raised by ethical issues, to acquire and develop conceptual understanding, and to contain our own affective states.
When reflectivity is instituted as a group activity, the varied knowledge and competencies of the participants come face to face with one another and produce a dialectic tension that allow them to engage in definition, (p.165) interpretation, intentionality, and assessment. Increasingly, participants develop the capacity to attend to the lived experience of the other, to take the viewpoint of the other with respect to oneself, and thereby become objects of their own critical awareness. This capacity to see themselves from the standpoint of the other and to talk about themselves fosters the participants' sense of awareness of self as an object, that is, their self-reflectivity, and enhances their capacity for intentional and meaningful activity, that is, human agency. The momentum for growth and empowerment generated in this way can then be exploited to its full potential.
Furthermore, reflectivity in groups often gives rise to an array of issues that are often described in dualistic terms or dichotomies such as subject and object of research, theory and practice, research and practice, participatory and top-down research, academia and fieldwork, individual and collective, oppressor and oppressed, advocacy for and advocacy with, democratic and authoritarian action, ethical and unethical, professional and unprofessional, empowerment and alienation, education and social control, expert and popular knowledge, private and public, to name some of those that were addressed within the PAR process described here. In exploring these dyads, we followed the Southern tradition of PAR in terms of developing a dialectic sensitivity that was concerned less with solving contradictions than with developing the capacity to identify and dissect them, to recognize them in the self and in others and to struggle with them actively, both individually and collectively.
This vigilance in maintaining a reflective approach and dialectic sensitivity is paramount in PAR undertakings. In a process that requires political involvement and taking sides with the excluded, a critically reflective stance can act as a safeguard against the pitfalls of reproducing dyads, of accusations of treachery, and of longing for innocence and purity.
In this final section, I would like to present some of the issues and concerns that the present PAR would have needed to address had it continued to operate. These are issues that we had been reflecting on around the time of the forced dismantling.
Street Workers and Street Educators
With regard to the complementarity of street work and the drop-in center, I argued that while street work was articulated along a strategy of building (p.166) bridges to access the excluded in the margin, the strategy at the drop-in center aimed, through non-formal education and collective advocacy,30 at more emancipation and empowerment for participants. While most contemporary street work activists adopt this dual strategy, we had internal debates with people who questioned the appropriateness of practitioners who implemented street work activities being involved at the drop-in setting. In their view, the street worker is a practitioner who basically works in the street and develops a savoir-faire and knowledge articulated through being and working in the children's territories. The space created within a drop-in location is viewed as a shared territory in which the street worker may have to resort to the use of authority, if only at times, to keep a minimum of order within the locale. For example, practitioners in the street would never ask the youngsters to stop sniffing glue. They may talk and exchange with them about glue sniffing as a habit, its effects, and the like, but they would not feel the need to take any meaningful measure should one or more of the youngsters start sniffing in their presence. However, within a drop-in center, practitioners would feel more compelled to try to stop such behavior, especially when agreed upon rules do not permit it. In this view, then, the street workers who do not assume responsibility within a drop-in center stand a better chance of developing an egalitarian relationship with the youngsters.
The debate is far from being conclusive. As discussed earlier, the issue of the use of authority was on the reflective agenda at the drop-in center, and the practitioners grappled a great deal with the question of when to assume a parental (authoritarian) role. My view is that those who favor the separation of tasks may want to avoid ‘confrontation’ situations with the youngsters, and do not seem to realize that issues of power and authority are bound to surface in the relationship between street workers and the youngsters. This avoidance is bound to be challenged by the youngsters sooner or later. More importantly, such ‘difficult’ situations can be very emancipating when handled collectively, that is, when individual deviance is contextualized within the larger group and the latter is challenged to take responsibility for its own actions.
Furthermore, the separation of the street worker and the street educator tasks artificially creates unnecessary areas of expertise. By both accompanying the youngsters in the street and becoming involved with them in informal educational activities at the drop-in center, street workers can really claim that their work of accompaniment is full and meaningful.
A second concern I would like to discuss here was whether it would be more beneficial for girls if they had time and space reserved only for them at the drop-in center. Initially, boys and girls came to the center at different times. As mentioned before, we had days for boys and others for girls in order to be congruent with policies adopted in public schools. However, in the street milieus, children and adults of both sexes intermingle, so we decided to let everybody come at the same time. While this policy reflected the living realities of participants, it may have overlooked some particular needs of female participants. This concern was triggered by repeated observation of many of the girls' behavior in the presence of male peers. Some of us had actually started to be irritated by the display of stereotypical female attitude and seductive behavior on the part of many girls competing to seduce male peers. We also noticed that this kind of behavior was much less prominent when the girls were engaged together in some kind of activity apart from the boys.
We came to realize that we might be able to deal with the issues associated with this behavior if some space and time were reserved for girls and female workers to undertake activities together, apart from the males. While there were always occasions when the girls preferred to be alone or with female workers to privately discuss different matters, including their relationships with the boys, many times they had to specifically request to be left alone. Furthermore, we felt that the elucidation of the meaning of their stereotypical behavior could not occur only through dialogue with the girls. Our view was that if the girls become involved in some activities together, as in sports where the focus is on notions like team building and personal skills rather than just their femininity, there might be more opportunities for exploring group emancipation and the development of identities other than stereotypes.
A third concern that became urgent before the PAR described here came to end was that of shelter. As an increasing number of youngsters decided to try to disengage from their street careers and as they were exploring other venues, it became quite clear that to continue sleeping and living in the street was hindering them from fully exploring alternatives to street life. We rapidly realized that offering some shelter in the form of institutional settings (reception centers) was not the answer. Many street children develop an autonomy that is suppressed by the authoritarian and paternal treatment they receive in such settings, and not surprisingly most run away (p.168) the moment they get the chance. Therefore, we started to experiment with forms of supervised apartments in which the participants collectively assumed the supervisory task themselves. As was expected, many problems arose and needed to be attended to. Conflicts with landlords and other tenants often reflected the prejudices most people held with regard to street children. Whenever there was theft or other infractions in the neighborhood, the children were suspected and accused. However, these initial experiments were encouraging, and they demonstrated the organizing skills that many of the youngsters had acquired by virtue of surviving under the harsh circumstances of the street.
The ‘In-between’ Position
We were quite aware of the fact that in accompanying street children we were situating ourselves in an in-between position: dissident youngsters on the one side and a scornful and hostile mainstream society on the other. While mediation between the children and family, school, police, social and probation workers, reception centers, and other instances was certainly an important aspect of fieldwork, it did not mean that we remained neutral. On the contrary, we sided with the children as a means of validating their experiences, not so much as victims or deviants but more as active actors who were trying to cope with being excluded. Obviously, this was a politically sensitive position. However, it enabled us to witness their day-to-day reality and to advocate not only for an increased mutual tolerance between mainstream and deviant street societies, but also, and more importantly, to advocate for a genuine, humane representation of a young excluded population living precariously on the fringes of society.
Despite the fact that we had opted for a soft collective advocacy approach, it did not save the NGO under whose auspices the PAR project was undertaken from being dismantled by Egyptian state officials in April 2001. The NGO went to court to contest the decree and the case is still being reviewed. This raises a question regarding the appropriateness of soft advocacy in light of escalating conservatism in the North and repressive regimes in the South. Behind this question is the issue of ‘resistance,’ an issue which fortunately seems to be making its way again onto the agenda of social activists, albeit slowly and tentatively.
In both the North and the South we are witnessing the rise of a wave of political discourses that heavily invest in the revival of one of the most pernicious, yet stable, dichotomies constructed by human thought, namely, (p.169) ‘good versus evil.’ This can only add fuel to a mounting fundamentalism, which may have well started in the South but is today equally manifest in the North. Resisting this global and exclusive binary of ‘good and evil’ as advanced by the fundamentalists is no easy task for today's activists in light of the intensification of surveillance mechanisms31 and the blatant exercise of power (under the guise of preemptive security measures). Activists in the North are now experiencing some of what has been until recently considered to be the ‘fate’ of their Southern counterparts, namely, the shrinking of the democratic margin of maneuver permitting the existence of nuances and a dialectical sensitivity to go beyond the simplistic/fundamentalist discourses of good versus evil.
In the face of such a regressive state of affairs many activists understandably feel pessimistic regarding the prospect for any meaningful emancipation in terms of social justice, at least for the immediate and medium terms. However, even if the prospects for emancipation at the structural level seem dim, if not nil, this does not preclude the prospect of pursuing emancipation through social processes at the local level. This becomes even more important when we realize that the present situation is further aggravated by the resonance the fundamentalist discourses have among the masses. This resonance carries the risk of waking the dormant totalitarian in us and we are likely to witness the insurgence of moral entrepreneurs with different vested self-interests ranging from fear and desire to protect oneself to power trips and even psychotic disorder. These moral entrepreneurs are familiar faces in the South and include those who give themselves the right to impose on others what they consider to be the right and good way to live. They are not found solely in the ruling hierarchy, but are also comfortably niched in the social fabric of the day-to-day reality of ordinary people. In the North, some moral entrepreneurs seem to be coming to the surface in the context of such groups as the moral majority as well as in the context of rising patriotism and the war against terrorism.
It would thus seem that today's activists increasingly need action strategies at the local level that aim at resisting the trickle down of oppressive tendencies with a view to saving some of the essential values of the humanist project. Such action strategies can be articulated using the practice of ‘emancipatory resistance.’ Emancipation here gets its (new) meaning in the collective process of resisting fatalism, of elucidating the dynamics and the underpinnings of the global situation and its ramifications at the local level, and of identifying means to resist. While these acts of resistance may (p.170) not have a significant impact at the macro level, their values reside in the very process through which local communities and groups come together to resist the hegemony of fundamentalist discourses, of individualistic and market values, of capitalist rationality and the often ensuing fatalism.
In April 2001, after the forced closure of the NGO, participants including myself felt overwhelmingly discouraged, if not depressed. It took more than a year to recover and to start reorganizing. In December 2002, Ranya and Samir, along with two other street workers and the children who had started to assume street work tasks just prior to the dismantling of the NGO, decided that they would not wait an extended time period for the court to settle the dispute between the NGO and state officials. Instead, they began to study the feasibility of establishing a new NGO. In November 2003, the new organization was officially set up and resumed operation in September 2004 upon reception of grants from the very same donors who were supporting the dismantled NGO. The emancipatory process with Cairene street children was thus re-launched.
(29) Becker's notion of ‘moral entrepreneurs’ includes both the roles of ‘rule creators’ and ‘rule enforcers’ that individuals and groups may play to regulate morality in a community context.
(31) “The FBI is currently asking libraries to provide them with lists of the books and internet sites consulted by their members as a way of building ‘intellectual profiles’ of individual readers,” The Washington Post, National Weekly Edition, 21–27 April 2003. Even more frightening is the creation by the Pentagon of a system of ‘total surveillance’ of all six billion individuals that constitute the inhabitants of the planet, as reported in Le Monde Diplomatique, August 2003.