Trojan horse methodologies: a participatory nightmare

Dr Brian Cook1, Dr Maria de Lourdes MeloZurita, Ms Isabel Cornes, Dr Paula Satizabal

1The University Of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia


Much is made of speaking truth to power, but little attention has been given to when power does not, can not, or will not listen. Further complicating participatory governance, research on the effectiveness of the deficit model suggests that experts, like publics, should not be expected to alter their behaviours as a result of ‘awareness raising’. This presents those advancing participation with a paradox: how to contribute without, themselves, reverting to practices that resuscitate the deficit model?


Community Engagement for Disaster Risk Reduction (CEDRR) explores whether risk reduction can be achieved while limiting expert power. The research highlights the dangerous potential of a methodology that simultaneously complies with Neoliberal risk management (i.e., quantitative data, public behaviour change, and economic accounting) while intentionally limiting the ability to oversee and influence public contributions, autonomy, and behaviours. In effect, CEDRR leverages government expectations to advance public empowerment. Furthermore, mavericks within the emergency services appear to be intentionally using CEDRR to advance public empowerment while the research team, itself, seeks to promote a method that limits expert control. While successfully prompting behaviour change and limiting expert control, the method represents an ethical nightmare for researchers struggling to affect change via participation.


Brian is originally from Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. He has a BA (Honours) in Geography from the University of Victoria, Canada, an MA in Geography from the University of Western Ontario, Canada, and a PhD from the Institute of Hazard, Risk, and Resilience (part of the Geography Department) at Durham University, UK. He is presently a Senior Lecturer at the University of Melbourne.


The Institute of Australian Geographers (IAG) is the principal body representing geographers and promoting the study and application of geography in Australia. It was founded in 1958 and since then has promoted, supported and defended Australian geography.

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