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The pro's and con's of a questionnaire

The way it is presented here, this Framework is a tool of analysis. It is based on a mechanistic approach. Whereas mechanistic tools may be appropri-a-te for nature ("hard" sciences) - but even that is debatable - or for economics and class conflicts - also doubtful -, it is very questionnable as far as people's values, religiosity and culture is concerned. People's culture is holistic and is not to be "analysed" by mechanistic tools (see "Cultures and Development - Quid Pro Quo no. 10/11 about this idea). The Framework and its questionnaire are useful as reminders of the various elements to be looked into. They may be considered as a sort of minimal check-list. They may help social workers to broaden the scope of their enquiry from the well-known issues of class, exploitation, justice, technology, production, etc. to other aspects. In this way, one may say that this Framework is a welcome complement to the existing mechanistic tools of analysis such as an economic cost-benefit approach, a functionalist or a narrow applied marxist analysis, which are generally much too narrow or which leave out culture. This being said, it will not suffice to train social workers in the use of this new tool. More important will be to develop his or her art of listening and looking, an ability to see or to have an intuition of what happens. This cannot be achieved without a process of knowledge and transformation of self. The activist's own mechanistic approach must be confronted so as to open his or her person to a holistic experience of him/herself, the other and the world. Not only his or her skills must be increased, but also and even more impor-tantly his or her vision.

Ideally, this Framework is to be used by the Community at stake. The people of a given community may find it useful to apply it among themselves for purposes of clarification. This is perfectly valid. In that case, many of the words of caution which follow may loose part of their validity.

If however outsiders are applying the Framework and the questionnaire, a fundamental point is to be made : beware of a new mechanistic approach, this time in the field of culture !

The Framework above is not to be researched into simply by asking a set of questions. It is well known that questionnaires can be deceptive. Answers should be interpreted with great caution as people may have all kinds of reasons not to speak their mind. Often they will give the answers which they believe the interviewer expects or likes. Or they will be afraid - sometimes for very good reasons ! - of the use made of their answers and exercise self-censorship. Or they may be even influenced by the thinking of the social activists which accompany the interviewer. In fact, it might be advisable for outside researchers not to be seen by a community as allied to the social workers, as these workers may have already moulded people's opinion and cultures through their community development efforts. Terms like "equality", "participation", "justice" may be used in the answers as a result of conscien-tization, while it may not (or not yet) be fully part of people's spontaneous set of values. The wording of the question is important. Flexibility, and above all respect, is in order. One must also bear in mind that questions, like any "tool of analysis" may pre-determine the answers and jeopardize the openness of the interviewer to what happens. This brings us to the second word of caution regarding this Framework and its questionnaire.

Communication through non-verbal signs

Commmunication is not only oral. A culture, a people, a village "speak" in many ways. Silence can be very eloquent and tell an observer as much as articulate answers.

Father Y. Ambroise, an Indian sociologist, rightly insists that great care, intuition and observation are required as far as the non-verbal language of a community is concerned. Demeanor of man and women, bodily postures, changing attitudes in the presence of other persons (e.g. when a caste person walks by a harijan) are important. Where do women sit in meetings ? What tattoos do people wear on their body ? How are they dressed ? What are their songs and proverbs about? What music do they play ? What "spor-ts" are there, what kind of "leisure"? What toys or games do chil-dren have? More such questions must be looked into: place of village meeting; site of temple, of the school, etc. How does the house of the leader look like in comparison to the other houses ?

Generally speaking, an observer will have to look and listen to the "signs" given by a communi-ty (semio-tics). A key concept in this quest may be, to put it in Maori parlance: "What are the dreams of the people? What has been an experience of pain?" This was made clear to an APHD group by Philippe Fanchette, then of INODEP (later with the WCC).

To "know and to "love"

What matters most is the observer's openness and his or her empathy. An element of love (in Buddhism, metta or loving kindness, which leads to karuna, compassion) is important in any genuine effort to know people. This means that the element of time is very important. A short visit with a series of questi-ons, will not do justice to the wealth of a people's culture nor to the complexities of their daily lives. Metta and karuna (loving kindness and compassion) are integral parts of the effort to know. Knowledge becomes then also Jnana (deep insight, meditation towards awakening) to put it in hindu parlance. In judeo-christian tradition, the hebrew word for love and for knowledge is the same. When Abraham loved Sarah, the Bible says "Abraham knew her".

Social scientists may be worried about the subjectivity creeping into research. What do we make out of this objection? This Framework was put together by people concerned about social issues, about people's suffering and happiness and they know it should be used with karuna. This basic concern and love must be balanced out with other considerati-ons including the scholarly demand for "objectivity" through non-involve-ment, emotional neutrality and distancing oneself from the "object" of one's research. Surely the demands of rigourous and disciplined thinking remain valid. But to learn to know a people is not like to go "hunting" for data. As Raimundo Panikkar puts to us, beware of the "epistemology of the hunter". The hunter's approach to game may be efficient, but it is deadly. This type of knowledge turns people into objects. Rather than understanding, it is better to "stand under". This Framework can help if it is just seen as a modest reminder within a larger process of human encounter where the observer "stands under" peoples' spell...

This encounter may bring the observer a lot of knowledge. But, above all, it may change his or her life. This is the gift of the poor to those who can really listen.

The Zen way to knowledge

D.T. Suzuki, the great Zen master has expressed in his own masterful way what the paragraphs above have tried to bring accross. This is, to conclude, a quote from his "Lectures on Zen Buddhism" (from Zen Buddhism and Pshycoanaly-sis, D.T. Suzuki, E. Fromm and R. De Martino, eds. Harper and Row, New York, 1970) :

"The scientific method in the study of reality is to view an object from the so-called objective point of view. For instance, suppose a flower here on the table is the object of scientific study. Scientists will subject it to all kinds of analyses, botanical, chemical, physical, etc. and tell us all that they have found out about the flower from their respecti-ve angles of study, and say that the study of the flower is exhau-sted and that there is nothing more to state about it unless something new is discovered accidentally in the course of other studies.

The chief characteristic, therefore, which distinguishes the scientific approach to reality is to describe an object, to talk about it, to go around it, to catch anything that attracts our sense-intellect and abs-tract it away from the object itself, and when all is supposedly finished, to synthesize these analytically formulated abstractions and take the outcome for the object itself.

But the question still remains: "Has the complete object been really caught in the net?" I would say , "Decidedly not!" Because the object we think we have caught is nothing but the sum of abstractions and not the object itself. After the net is drawn up, we find that somet-hing has escaped its finer meshes.

There is, however, another way, which precedes the sciences or comes after them, to approach reality,. I call it the Zen approach.

The Zen approach is to enter right into the object itself and see it, as it were, from the inside. To know the flower is to become the flower, to be the flower, to bloom as the flower, and to enjoy the sunlight as well as the rainfall. When this is done, the flower speaks to me and I know all its secrets, all its joys, all its sufferings; that is, all its life vibrating within itself. Not only that : along with my "knowledge" of the flower I know all the secrets of the universe, which includes all the secrets of my own Self, which has been eluding my pursuit all my life so far, because I divided myself into a duality, the pursuer and the pursued, the object and the shadow. No wonder that I never succeeded in catching my Self, and how exhausting this game was !

Now, however, by knowing the flower I know my Self. That is, by losing myself in the flower I know my Self as well as the flower.

I call this kind of approach to reality the Zen way, the antescientific or metascientific or even antiscientific way."

(S : Verhelst, Cultures et Développement - Quid Pro Quo)

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