The Society for Applied Anthropology is pleased to announce that Orlando Fals Borda has been selected as the recipient of the Bronislaw Malinowski Award for 2008.
Professor Fals Borda is best known for developing the theory and methodology of Participatory Action Research (PAR), now widely used by applied anthropological, educational, and medical practitioners working with local communities and taught in academic and training settings. He has combined pathbreaking academic production and institutional leadership with social and political activism on behalf of, and working with, disempowered groups. This has earned him an international reputation as a scholar-activist.
Orlando Fals Borda was born in Barranquilla, Colombia, on July 11, 1925. After high school in Barranquilla, he studied English Literature and History for his B.A. at the University of Dubuque, graduating in 1947. He was taught by prominent Latin Americanists Lowry Nelson, at the University of Minnesota, where he took his M.A. in 1953, and T. Lynn Smith, at the University of Florida, where he earned his Ph.D. in Sociology in 1955. After graduating with his Ph.D., Fals Borda worked in Brazil as a consultant for the Organization of American States. Returning to Colombia, he was the Director General for the Ministry of Agriculture from 1959 until 1961. In 1957, along with Camilo Torres Restrepo, he founded the Faculty of Sociology at the prestigious Universidad Nacional de Colombia, becoming the faculty’s first dean and continuing in that role until 1967. He is known as the “father” of sociology in Colombia.
Fals Borda’s work in the 1960s was concerned with studying and directing social change. He helped form Juntas de Acción Comunal, local community boards. In his writings, he intended to shock polite Colombian society by revealing the existence of everyday violence. In 1966-67, he was a visiting Professor of Sociology in the Institute of Latin American Studies at Columbia University. From this period came his work on the resistance of the popular classes in Colombian history. At this point, Fals Borda left the academy, becoming Director of Research for the United Nations’ Research Institute on Social Development in Geneva until 1970. From the 1970s, he devoted himself full-time to independent research and activism, working mainly with impoverished rural communities and local activist organizations, especially in the Atlantic Coast region. It is out of this experience that Fals Borda developed his PAR approach.
From 1970-75, Fals Borda directed the Fundación y Acción Social. In the 1980s, his base was as the president of the Consejo de Educación de Adultos de América Latina, a highly politicized popular education organization. Since the 1990s, Fals Borda has been both involved in formal politics as a critic of the state of political-economic affairs. He was involved in the process to construct the 1991 Colombian constitution, and in 1991 he became a member of the Colombian National Constituent Assembly.
Besides serving as President of the Research Committee on Social Practice of the International Sociological Association, Fals Borda has won several awards, including a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation award, the Hoffman Prize from the United Nations, the Kreisky Prize from Austria, and the Medal of Order of Boyacá, Colombia. He has been awarded Doctor Honoris Causa degrees from the Universidad Central de Venezuela, the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, and universities of Boyacá and Antioquia.
Fals Borda’s work has been recognized and lauded by his colleagues. In 1986, the Colombian Sociological Association had a special roundtable on Fals Borda’s work. In 1990, a film was made by the University of Calgary. In the fall of 2006, several organizations in Colombia put together a homage to Fals Borda with the converence “Seminario Investigación, Etica y Política: Homenaje a Orlando Fals Borda.” And an Interntional Symposium on “Action Research Education in Contexts of Poverty” at the Universidad de La Salle, Bogotá, Colombia, is scheduled for May 2007.
Fals Borda has left applied anthropologists and other applied researchers with an important legacy in his published interventions on the origins, epistemology, and implementation of PAR. These include such articles and book chapters as “Power/Knowledge and Emancipation” (1996), “Participatory Action Research in Social Theory: Origins and Challenges” (2001), “A North-South Convergence on the Quest for Meaning,” “The Application of Participatory Action Research in Latin America,” and “Participatory Action Research in Colombia: Some Personal Feelings” (1997). Besides his own reflections, the debt owed to Fals Borda’s work has been acknowledged by scholars working on PAR in a wide range of disciplines in a wide range of contexts.