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Soc Sci Med. 1996 May;42(9):1235-46.

Dynamics of participation in a community health project.

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Department of Psychology, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa.


Although the term 'participation' is widely used in discussing community development strategies, there has been relatively little said about the characteristics of 'participatory relationships', i.e. the interactions between community developers and those who stand to benefit from community development initiatives. There is seen to be a need for case studies which attempt to understand the relational and communicative processes involved in participatory development. The paper presents an analysis of the participatory dynamics of a community health development project. The principal source of data is interviews conducted with thirteen selected participants in the project. Analysis of interview data using a structured hermeneutic method led to a description of the meaning of participation for each of the participants interviewed. Further interpretation led to the identification of a number of modes of participation in the project as a whole. For each mode of participation descriptions were developed of how it was perceived by others not participating from that mode. An attempt was made to understand the dynamics of the project in terms of the relationship between the different modes of participation and in terms of the discrepancies between how participants saw themselves and how others saw them. Finally, these problems were discussed at a general theoretical level and suggestions were made about how such problems might be alleviated.

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