CBR Blog: Issue No.2

Hello folks. Welcome to post number two of PAN’s CBR blog

CBR Spotlight

This month, I’m excited to shine the spotlight on some brand new content on our website. If you click on the CBR tab, you will notice a new KTE tab. KTE is short for ‘Knowledge Translation and Exchange,’ and refers to the process through which research results are shared and mobilized with the wider community. The ‘exchange’ part of KTE is particularly important for community-based research, as it emphasizes that learning is mutual, collaborative and ongoing.

Within this tab, you will find some information pertaining to the actual process of writing academic articles in community-based research projects. This information is geared toward community members who interested in participating in the academic side of KTE, but may not have an abundance of experience or confidence.

I will keep you updated as more information and resources are added to this section of our website.

CBR Musings – Labels, Language and Limitations

In mid November, I had the opportunity to attend the Ontario HIV Treatment Network’s (OHTN) Conference entitled Research at the Front Lines: Influencing Policy, Practice and Programs. There were a lot of great presentations and plenary sessions on a host of topics. However, a key theme that kept cropping up was the issues of language and the labels we use in the context of research.

As we go about our daily lives, we often take for granted our ability to communicate with other people. Language greatly simplifies our lives. We tell the barista at Starbucks we want a Grande non-fat decaf latte, and we get exactly what we want. At the risk of over-simplifying, language is made up of symbols that have shared meaning. Without language, we would struggle to express our thoughts, desires and ideas, and our ability to communicate with one another.

Much of this goes without saying. However, it’s easy to forget that language can complicate our lives as much as it simplifies, precisely because language represents something else. I don’t want the barista to give me the words ‘Grande non-fat decaf latte,’ I want the actual drink in my hand. If I asked you to feed my cat while I go on vacation, it’s probably safe to assume that we are on the same wavelength, even if I’m picturing a calico while you’re picturing a tabby. But, what if you’re assuming I’m talking about a long-haired house cat, when I’m referring to a 600-pound lion?

One of the most fascinating (and frustrating) aspects of research is the challenge of working with imprecise concepts and constructs. Things like ‘adequate housing’ can have dozens of different and even contradictory meanings to different people. How can we advocate for adequate housing if we don’t know what we mean, or if the people for whom we are advocating have a different conception than we do? Research not only seeks to understand what these various meanings are, but also to explore why they are different, and how things like socio-economic status, race and ethnicity and other factors influence these meanings.

Most importantly, research tells us that language has power. Certain meanings hold more sway in our cultural imaginations than others. We attach ethical values to certain labels. They become shorthand for what society tells us is someone’s moral worth, ‘rightful’ place in the world, and the level of respect they should be accorded. Changing the words we use or the meanings of labels are important, if immeasurable, outcomes of research.