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Remembering Orlando Fals Borda (1925-2008)
by Alfonso Gumucio-Dagron

The theoretical contributions of Orlando Fals Borda are enormous. He is considered the father of participatory action research. His writings on the subject are at the origin of several schools of thought that further develop participatory research.

Our Anthology includes his “The Application of Participatory Action Research in Latin America” (1987), in which he traces the evolution of PAR since the early 1970s. The four volumes of Historia doble de la costa (The Double History of the Coast), published from 1979 to 1986, are an impressive legacy of his applied research methods.

While seeming to be in a field not directly related to communication, Fals Borda’s contribution to communication for social change should be acknowledged. He wrote: “To participate means to break up voluntarily and through experience the asymmetrical relationship of submission and dependence implicit in the subject/object binomial. Such is its authentic essence.”

Every time he wrote, he did it from concrete experience. His theory is never up in the air. It’s grounded in community work.

When writing about knowledge and power, he underlined four techniques: collective research, critical recovery of history, valuing and applying folk culture, and production and diffusion of new knowledge. He wrote:

Thus with all these ways and techniques, advancement and transformation of oppressed peoples can be made possible in several applied fields: in adult education, in political and civic action, in socio-economic advancement, and other types of fieldwork. Additional current experiences are enriching this approach and challenging non-committed academic ways in established institutions. In this manner perhaps PAR may contribute to help build a better world for everybody with justice and peace.

Everett Rogers, one of the pillars of development communication, acknowledged the influence of Fals Borda in the evolution of his thinking from his initial “diffusion of innovations” proposition to more participatory and horizontal approaches to change. Rogers died in late 2004 and in February of 2004, in a dialogue with his long-time collaborator Arvind Singhal and with Rafael Obregón—probably one of his last interviews—he asserted the importance of Fals Borda in his professional life and thinking.

Note: Excerpts from the interview were published in Mazi 2, February 2005. including his extensive references to Fals Borda. See Mazi archives.

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