Participatory Engagement for Sustainable Innovation in Karen Communities
Keywords:Karen, Ecomuseum, Social Design, Heritage, Sustainable Engagement
This paper reports on heritage fieldwork by the Mahidol Cultural Anthropology Museum, carried out from 2019 to 2020, with a group of four Karen villages in Doi Si Than, or ‘Four Creeks Mountain’, a valley in the remote Northwest of Thailand. The research aimed to find and introduce sustainable business models in Karen ethnic communities using essential heritage products and intangible practices. Additionally, the community offers an example of Thai integrated farming, which we analyzed as a case of innovative, intergenerational heritage practice, and that we helped turn into a more sustainable economic mainstay of the community. The method used throughout the process was participatory action research blended with social design, as well as building on a long-term engagement. As a theoretical framework, we adapted Design Thinking to Paulo Freire’s Education of Liberation model to create an eclectic ‘Four Creek Mountain’ approach in order to do justice to local circumstances and establish a shared set of explicit social values. We compared the results with de Varine’s concept of the ecomuseum to find a suitable action perspective. The findings show that local heritage practices can successfully be used to re-engage communities with today’s broader society on the condition they are embedded in intergenerational co-operation based on trust, and with social designers (urban curators) acting as connectors, thus ensuring the community’s ownership of the process.
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