Development Conference at Helsinki

By Hisayo Katsui

The Finnish Society for Development Research Conference: Knowledge, Development and Academic Partnerships was held at Helsinki University on 12-14.2. It was attended by 150 people, with my rough calculation. 40 papers were presented. This annual conference has been supported by many volunteer students of Development Studies, which is the most competitive discipline to enter in the Social Science Faculty at Helsinki University. I would like to thank the organisers’ and the volunteers' great contribution to this conference.

One of the keynote speakers was Professor Tania Murray Li of Toronto University. She criticized the development interventions for simplifying the complex phenomenon of development without understanding history, for instance, that she is specialised in. Development interventions select certain target with certain methods to the context, she states. She claimed that academics can "step back" and investigate the interventions. Thereby, we can take comprehensive view about the phenomenon, and offer good analysis for the development agencies.

I think it is over-romanticising to argue the role of researchers in that way because we are next to development agencies: we also select certain context to research with certain viewpoint, which is hardly objective and comprehensive as she claimed. On the contrary, I think researchers are very subjective and use our power in creating knowledge which is highly influenced by our thinking, believes and/or knowledge.

In the workshop of “Knowledge and Power,” I presented a paper, "Is participatory research approach a burden for the researched people?" because I wanted to articulate the power that the researchers have and how we exploit it or end up exploiting it under the circumstance where the power gap between the researcher and the researched people is huge. After a few years since my PhD thesis was published, I reflected on my research methodology then and learned a lot (Katsui & Koistinen, 2008). Still I cannot overcome so many challenges to alleviate the power gap with the researched people (whom I would like to call "the research participants" in theory but cannot in practice because they remain mostly as "the researched people").

In this four-year-research-project, we still have two more years to develop our participatory research approach. To begin with, we start placing writings of Ugandan persons with disabilities on their life stories in this website.

The conference website is: http://www.kehitystutkimus.fi/index.php?option=com_content&view=section&layout=blog&id=7&Itemid=66