Transformative readings, seminars, readings, meetings, readings and erm, some more readings!

After months of speculation: ‘Dharavi?-Bangkok?-Oh-no-it-better-not-be-Dharavi!-Bangalore?-Give-us-a-clue!-Are-you-sure-it’s-not-Bangkok?-Ghana?’ on the first joint session with UDP it was determined, via an intricately embroidered fabric of a white elephant, that we are going to…BANGKOK! Sorry Dhrin.

The whole group was excited; this is the furthest I’ve been from home so I was even more thrilled.

One month into the field trip preps and the intensity has already built up! The initial excitement of going to Thailand has numbed down a notch after many readings, meetings and people getting their immunisations later (which reminds me I need to find out if I’m up-to-date!). After hours of discussions and ‘transformative’ meetings we seem to have progressed with defining the concept of ‘transformation’ and beginning to collate information to map out actors involved in the various settlement activities in Bangkok and the Baan Mankong programme.

Team C are:  Maira Andrade, Jennifer Cirne, Desirée Durousseau, José di Girolamo, Sadiqa Jabbar, Amrita Koonar, Amy Leaman, Ivana Nady, Parvathi Nair, Tatiana Letier Pinto, Tareq Razouk, Anna Schulenburg, and Su-Ann Tan. We were allocated one of the board room style South Garwood Committee rooms (a little too formal and corporate for my liking); very different to the BUDD room setting we had become accustomed to!

We’ve had about four team meetings so far, each being slightly different in format in regards to a) airing everyone’s voices, b) discussing the various readings and issues raised in them and c) identifying the various actors involved. The first day comprised meeting the group, digesting the information and planning how to direct our discussions and sessions in the following weeks.

Tatiana – Reading Manager

Amrita – Report Manager

Desirée – Chair

Tareq – distribute readings via Dropbox

Any additional meetings would be arranged for Tuesday afternoons to overlap into the early evening so that Jen could make it after work. The readings from the ‘Southeast Asia Region’ section were split with the plan to present our findings to the rest of the group.

The second meeting comprised an initial few minutes per person to raise any concerns and go through briefly what was read. After much deliberation of how and when readings should be divided, Tatiana assigned readings from the entire bibliography within the group which was emailed after the meeting. For the next week we would each read one text from the ‘Actors’ section and two from the ‘Thailand’ section. Amy would set up a blog whereby each person can upload an abstract of their readings in time for the next meetings in order for more efficient discussions. We created a schedule of term dates, deadlines and holidays to work out a plan of action for the field trip work. Su-Ann and Anna volunteered to begin the actor mapping strategy to follow up in the next meeting.

I thought that this meeting was successful in the sense that everyone had an opportunity to voice their contribution to the group. Although some would contest the apparent ‘rigidity’ of going round the table in regards to the readings person by person, I strongly believe it allowed those who are not as outspoken the opportunity to have their time. There were a number of actors identified in the readings and was a good time to allocate the task of creating a base from which all our information could be collated.

The next meeting was held back in the BUDD room which I thought was great! It may seem odd to say but it felt like coming back to the BUDD ‘home’. The room felt more appropriate somehow than the South Garwood Committee room. The style of this session was more discursive in the sense that the issues raised in the readings were explored.

Most of our readings were biased towards CODI and community-driven projects and their successes, I didn’t realise how much so until it was pointed out that it isn’t all plain sailing as there are contestations in the private sector that are not so keen on community level participation. This was oddly refreshing as it felt as though we were starting to get under the skin of CODI while losing objectivity. This naturally led our discussions towards the idea of transformations and what it means although towards the end when the time was up.

We concluded that in our private blog Amy would start a discussion about what transformation means and each of us would contribute to the thread with our thoughts based on our readings and theoretical ideas. This should lead us towards generating guidelines and principles. Before the following session I posted a blog to stimulate a discussion. This was based on our joint session with UDP student defining what makes an action transformative through the identification of dominant paradigms, how they relate to the definition of transformations and the value of the actions taken by the poor.

The following session I was assigned the task of taking notes of the meeting, a task not so easy when there are many discussions going on at the same time and at such speed! There seemed to be general consensus that we all need to, while maintaining our readings, concentrate on the notion of transformations and the first presentation and not rely heavily on readings discussions during our team time. Having noted that half the group did not have the opportunity to voice their views in previous meeting it was decided that the meeting would initially be a roundtable introduction where everyone would voice any concerns and issues that we need to confront as a group and then delve into the body of the issues raised in the texts as opposed to the actual text presentations.

Issues discussed comprised flooding and environmental impact of Bangkok sinking, the structure and relationships between various actor groups, and the need to sub-divide to discuss issues related to social exclusion, scale and the notion of resilience. The latter emerged from the contested idea of alternatives to CODI, what about the poorest of the poor who are not in the system? We questioned the reliance on only CODI as the ‘middle person’ between the Government and communities, do people have other options? This was highly debated in the group but I personally thought we needed to raise this question in order to remain objective in our explorations and not become biased towards one organisation’s approach, as did other people.

The group who developed the actor matrix explained the system of inserting information and filling in the database which essentially comprised two main sections of the ‘actors’ and their ‘facts’ and the following row would reveal the relations with other actors in the programme. We had a brief discussion based on the transformation blog to feed our thoughts, was it a process or a means to an end? General consensus was that it was a process. We decided that within the subgroups, actors would be identified and transformation defined. The subgroups were:

Scale – Amrita, Ivana, José, Maira, Parvathi and Su-Ann

Social Exclusion – Amy, Anna, Sadiqa, Tareq and Tatiana

Resilience – Desirée and Jen

The subgroups although uneven were based on people’s interests but on reflection these should have been teams of four and one of five members.

Within the social exclusion subgroup we discussed how the criterion is not necessarily just related to financial limitations but also the diverse social groups within Bangkok. These groups comprise of people from different trades, gender, sexuality (of which there are sub-types) and social stigmas. We needed to look into the social and cultural aspects of Bangkok, based on our limited explorations of social issues such as crime and drugs in Dharavi. What about the people who are not part of the system of savings and credit groups through financial and social stigmas?

Regrouping as a team there was a fruitful discussion on the notion of transformation; what it should be, what it is, the negative aspects of which social exclusion is a result, as well as the positive, who initiates and for whom? We brainstormed all the ideas and refined the definitions and criteria based on these.

The actor mapping required a great deal of time and would be inefficient to collate the information in a big group. Discussion would only be worthwhile once there was something visually to discuss as it is very complicated and ever-changing. We developed our discussions on transformations because there was something to work from. There could have been an endless discussion about the ‘hows’ and ‘whats’, therefore it was decided for a smaller group undertake this.

Considering the amount of time left before the first presentation we needed to allocate tasks to move our discussions into the production of visuals. We divided into an actor group and a transformations group each would refine the collated information and begin the task of visualising the discussions.

The final field trip seminar was interesting. Relating back to our explorations as a group questioning CODI’s role in the transformative processes of Bangkok’ slums and querying alternatives is something we should be discussing. There were some actors which we hadn’t considered in the development process such as suppliers of materials.

The presentation of Baan Mankong programme was informative as it conveyed the involvement of a private sector company, SCG who approached CODI themselves to mitigate in the project to redevelop four settlements. The issue of corporate responsibility was raised which has not been part of our discussions yet. It will be interesting to see if this project pans out.

So, this is the story so far, a month’s worth of activity splashed in the form of an essay! Next time it won’t be nearly as long!

Thanks for reading!

Sadiqa

(hibernating back to undertaking the task of the ‘real’ essay due in two days…)

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