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Whose oppression is this? Participatory research with Cambodian refugee women after repatriation

Phyllis Gail Robinson, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Over the last two decades, international development organizations and agencies have adopted "people's participation" as an imperative of the development process. Viewed as a prescription for redressing the imbalance of power between different cultures and systems of knowledge, its purpose has been a compensation for the "developed" world's mind/colonialization of "developing" countries. I have discovered, through my own work as a Western academic engaged in participatory educational projects in the refugee camp setting, how it is possible to use "participation" as a "smoke screen": masking how we manage and control the lives of the disenfranchised in carrying out our quest for democracy, modernization, market economies and even women's rights as human rights. This dissertation examines a research process in context. Using aspects of participatory action research, I spent two months with two groups of Cambodian women who had returned to their country after spending a decade or more in refugee camps along the Thai-Cambodian border. The main intention of this collaborative research relationship was to examine issues of reintegration. The feedback from the refugee women in my previous work in the camps and in this study with women returnees, coupled with the examination of case studies and other qualitative studies from the literature, has led to questions concerning the epistemological, philosophical and political motivations underlying "participatory" policy, education, and research. The dissertation examines the what, where, why and how of these considerations. Positioning myself among post-structural and post-modern as well as third world feminists, but with a sense of openness, I combine these world views in deconstructing the methods of negotiation in knowledge production and the dialogic process required in crossing cultural horizons with this particular group of women returnees to Cambodia. The purpose of the study is to explore ways of carrying out "the cause for social justice", without destroying it in the process.

Subject Area

Bilingual education|Multicultural education|Educational theory|Cultural anthropology|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

Robinson, Phyllis Gail, "Whose oppression is this? Participatory research with Cambodian refugee women after repatriation" (1997). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9737579.