The tarrylown letter


The proposed research will be based on a critical analysis of a participatory approach to working towards social change with groups of people. The particular approach to be studied is the ‘reciprocal maieutic approach’ (RMA) (Dolci, 1996) developed by the Italian activist, Danilo Dolci.Danilo Dolci was a peacemaker and sociologist who first came to Sicily from the North of Italy in the beginning of the 1950s in order to study the conditions of society and try to find the possible elements of change. He organized the peasants in groups and with them fought with nonviolent actions against the government who didn’t do enough in order to change the tragic situation of people living in poor and violent conditions. Dolci and the peasants had a lot of success, they won a lot of civic battles and got new schools, new streets, a dam to irrigate the farms, new life conditions for the population.

Danilo Dolci wrote over 50 books, some of them translated into more than ten different languages. He won the Lenin price for peace in 1957, and the Ghandi price in 1989; he was also a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize for 3 times.

In order to involve and empower people, Dolci was using the maieutic method.

This method is based on emphatic and reciprocal communication, and its main emphasis is in the capacity to involve all the people participating in the meeting. In fact, the maieutic method was used by Dolci among groups of people and addressed to discuss their problems. In a maieutic meeting people can freely express themselves, always being an active part of the group, as everybody is always in communication with each other The real communication became an instrument of involvement and change (Habermas, 1986).

Communication in RMA is clearly distinguished from transmission. Communication in RMA is based on active listening, real involvement, deep dialogue, values and ethics (Banks 1999) based on nonviolent reciprocal adaptation. Sincerity and compassion, empathy and honesty are fundamental to the process of real communication.

The purpose of this research project is to identify the principles of this method, to systematize its structure, and analyze its possible application nowadays. There is no systematic manual for using the maieutic approach, so this detailed research will be a new contribution to our knowledge about the approach and will contribute to increasing its usage and effectiveness.

The research will start from the analysis of the life stories of people who used Dolci’s method, and then analyse of the application of the maieutic method in organizations nowadays and see where would be possible to use it. The main subject areas of research will be sociology and social and community development.

Rationale of the project research

The maieutic method today can be a real tool for participation and communication (Chomsky, 1997), because it is promoting active community and political participation, which has been highly missed, especially in the modern society. This method can enrich and reinforce organizations, NGOs, political parties, movements, etc.

It would be also important to understand the application of the maieutic method in modern societies. Today the problems of people are different: we have global problems, which are influencing all of us. For example, environment, war, terrorism, racism. There is a huge lack of participation of people in most of the issues of common interest in Europe, and the maieutic method can be an instrument to increase the awareness and involvement of people on different levels – in social and community activities and political decision-making and processes.

Another important message, which Dolci gave, was the importance and possibility of resistance in difficult environment, for example Sicily in the 1950s. He gave the peasants the conviction that they could be relevant for their own future, that they could make a change. They did so at the end. In fact, the Sicilian peasants fought for better schools; increasing the level of education; a dam, in order to irrigate the farms; against the mafia for a better and more peaceful and honest society; against the corruption of politicians. And at the end they won the battle, and the voice of the ones “being without a voice” became stronger. Dolci taught them that people together are stronger, and everybody being in connection inside a group can be an element of change.

The main objectives of the research are to contribute to developing a method which can be taught, used and transferred to larger categories of people. Right now it is only used by people who knew Danilo Dolci personally, or who have been in contact with his organization. I would also like to undertake some case studies of his action and analyze the strengths and weaknesses of his action and method in order to develop a set of guidelines that will be of practical use to people who will be using the approach.

The “reciprocal maieutic methodology” is strongly connected with the concept of “nonviolent communication” (Rosemberg, 2001). First of all, I would like to explain the difference between the maieutic of Socrates (as outlined in the dialogues of Plato) and the reciprocal maieutic of Dolci (Dolci 1993, 1995). As the name says, reciprocal maieutic is a “reciprocal” process between at least two persons and normally done inside a group. The maieutic of Socrates was unidirectional, with one person that makes questions and another giving answer. Beginning from this and taking contributions from other great thinkers and people in action (Gandhi, 1999; Freire, 2002; Capitini, 1958; Chomsky, 1998; Moren, 2001; Galtung, 1957; etc.) Dolci arrived to create the reciprocal maieutic that he started to use in the villages of Partinico and Trappeto fighting for the rights of poor people and against mafia. RMA can be described as strategy of group communication (Habermas, 1986) that permits all the elements in the group to give their ideas and opinions, contributing through this to the development of a final common idea (Mangano, 1992). The group is guided by a coordinator that can change inside the same group. This methodology is very “democratic”, in the sense that everybody has the space to talk. It is also very important to increase the self-esteem of people, as they feel their opinion is important.

The RMA is also characterized for the nonviolent nature of its actions. In Dolci’s methodology the nonviolent approach is not only in the use of the language (Rosemberg, 2001), but also in the method of action and protest (Galtung, 1998).

In the RMA, like the pedagogy of oppressed of Freire (Freire, 2004), education aims to empower people, give them a conscience, make them free from domination. There are a lot of similarities between Dolci and Freire, especially in how both see the importance of the reciprocal communication: of the dialogue: the dialectic union between theory and practice: the need of empowerment of communities for social change: the idea of “concrete utopia”.

But Dolci’s approach is different from Freire’s in some points: 1) Dolci addresses his action not only to farmer men and poor people, but to all the classes; 2) Freire’s pedagogy is largely addressed to alphabetization of adults, while on the other hand, Dolci’s RMA is not only used in education, but also in political and social change; 3) Freire’s pedagogy is based on the Marxist approach, Dolci’s is not based only on a specific philosophical, religious or political theory, but based on the top ideas of the best thinkers he studied throughout his lifetime; 4) RMA is very much connect with nonviolent communication and nonviolent fighting methodology.

The RMA is based on the whole reciprocity communication (Rorty, 1999) and empathy of the participants addressed to empowerment of groups for social change. The coordinator doesn’t have any paricular power, he is simply making the starting questions, and the person in the role can be changed during the process. If a group meets several times using the RMA, it is expected to have a different person as a coordinator at each of the meetings.

The following features are essential to the process:
Nonviolent conflict resolution

Are characteristics of RMA:
Point of reference
Shared power
Common interest

Is necessary to the RMA process:
To be able to see each other
In a circle, hopefully without an obstacle
Flexible end time
Punctual start
Active participation
Active listening
Self reflection
An outcome/result
A “common language”
Intercultural understanding

Important questions to be answered during the research on the detailed processes of RMA would be: Who initiates the maieutic session? There is the need of a preparation? On the part of whom? What are the characteristics (attitude and qualities) of the facilitator? What are the tasks of the facilitator? How to finish the session? How long should it last? How many persons should be in present (minimum and maximum)? In terms of the language, working in international groups, should people use a common language or, speak their language and be interpreted by a translator? What are the results of the maieutic? How can the maieutic method be used for a social change? How can the maieutic method be used for promoting active participation? This research will have, from the beginning, a multidisciplinary approach, using sociology and pedagogy from an action research participatory perspective to be addressed in social work (Dominelli, 1997).

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