BUDD FIELDTRIP TO BANGKOK IN 3 ACTS
So finally a post. I did have something written in my log book… a pre-field trip entry that somehow never managed to free itself from cellulose. These demanding processes for multi-tasking performances where never my strongest…
ACT ONE - Individuals of a collective (20 May 2012)
In my pre-fieldtrip thoughts, just before our field trip, after having been submerged in the ‘collectiveness’ of the Ban Mankong (BMK) program for such a great while, I found myself mostly curious about how the individual perspectives and performances of those participating in the BMK project, both of those benefiting residents and of those managing and facilitating the whole process, would be revealed to us in the field, its dimensions and how it influenced the program.
We had studied most of the complex socio-economic reality of the program and the key question of land and conditions of access to it by the most dispossessed. Looked in deep at the actors involved and researched the issues/problems that could be drawn from our investigations. Throughout our work and in our consecutive presentations we played, reshuffled and played the cards again, continuously dissecting the knowledge that was accessible to us, and then again feeding from our feedbacks.
But this wasn’t enough… I kept on feeling something was missing.
We had become knowledgeable of the BMK program it is true… but I felt our knowledge of the subject was still of a ‘dry kind’ - As if there was another dimension that was still missing, dimension I had only glimpse ‘fishing’ from loose articles and news online… not enough to fully grasp - The individual perspective. The subject’s words.
It’s not hard to understand why I felt this component missing - I already carry around something as fifteen years of professional practice, and during those I became very accustomed to working with people. Either in commercial practice or in development, I firstly worked directly with the subject of my work and secondly researched around the same subject. But in the case of the academic work/research in BUDD it has worked the opposite way around - Your first contact is with the ‘books’ and the experts… and only after will you meet the subjects.
By then we had been always accessing the perspective of those either, studying the program, or managing/working with it - Only in Bangkok would we access the very personal and individual perspectives of those involved with it, in the field, in a daily basis. And In the end I found this to be the ‘glue’ that had been missing. The matter that gave cohesiveness to all the academic knowledge we had been exposed to.
I realized I simply had been having a difficult time conceiving a program like BMK, completely dependent on collective action and organization, without understanding the individual wants and needs that create the basis for all of it to grow on… those that are actually the tiny individual dynamos that all together, building collective synergies, make the BMK program possible.
As Soomsok herself says, “Ban Mankong is not a program about housing. It’s a program about people”.
People, collective are strong, isolated are weak, inexpressive. The best chance of gaining a voice, many times political, is through collective organization in order to be able to fight for what we believe in, and this usually happens around collective interests and objectives.
In the case of people who don’t have many financial resources their dispossession is even greater - For the residents of Bangkok that live in informal settlements and aspire to see their houses ‘formalized’ and integrated in the city, collective action is the most efficient way to fight for the right to live and work in the city, and the right to be recognized a full citizenship status.
People being central to the BMK program, makes them one of its major challenge, but also where its greatest opportunities will inevitably lie.
I saw the individual motivation of people as key to the functioning of the whole program, either as a initial catalyst or to keep the ‘momentum’ during the program.
Important here is not to confuse ‘individual’ with kinds of egocentric motivations, but to understand it inside the dimension of the individual motivation - a relational complex where come to play family ties, close social relations, support and dependences, livelihoods opportunities and access to a safe and secure environment in which to live in.
Across the sites we visited, I found the lack of motivation to be a recurrent obstacle to the development of the ‘formalization’ process of the city put forth by the BMK program, hindering the process for up-scaling - may it be scaling up by mere replication, strengthening processes or reaching the transformative level of institutional influence and change.
So here I question - How to keep the motivation of those who only engage in collective action to achieve their personal objectives, and after lose interest in the collective dynamics? Without keeping that momentum the collective action slowly fades and residents simply go on with their ‘individual’ lives… and there is the lost of community sense.
Maybe in these peoples perspective, the program served its end when providing them access to proper housing and relative secure tenure… and that’s it. - They will most certainly keep on thinking like this if the greater possibilities of collective organization are not made evident to them.
We saw that in some of the cases where there is a ‘healthy’ savings group in place, and collective dynamics is finding useful ways to keep answering the individual needs and wants in innovative and useful manners, we encounter ‘healthy’ communities, with positive future perspectives and built on dynamic network relations. And these would frequently have gone beyond the initial ‘strategies for housing financing’, and diversified their funding alternatives for areas as Livelihood insurance, Health and Education and even community welfare schemes to care for the eldest and disabled.
In my opinion there are lessons to be learned from what is happening in the ground, and opportunities for the program to exercise the ability to innovate and adapt to different subjects and circumstances. Adaptability and flexibility are key.
To keep individual motivation going, BMK has to start accommodating both diversity and individual initiative, and cater for the sense of belonging of residents, much needed to ensure long term sustainable solutions.
So in the end, this may mean that the program may need to be prepared to go from ‘acupuncture’ interventions… to several degrees of strategic transformation.
(Act 2 to follow…)