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Relational Dialectics in Community-Rooted Research and Partnerships
* 1, 2 , 3 , 3 , 3 , 3 , 3
1  Department of Communication, University of Louisville
2  Envirome Institute, School of Medicine, University of Louisville
3  University of Louisville


Addressing environmental health disparities and improving health equity as well as overall community health rests in large part on partnerships, especially those between researchers and community members and groups. Employing the theory of relational dialectics, we analyze relationships in a large, interdisciplinary research project examining how community health is influenced by increases in neighborhood greening (e.g., planting trees, shrubs, grasses). Relational dialectics posits that, as we engage in relationships with others, opposing tensions shape our interactions.1,2 As Bakhtin noted, these opposing pulls occur due to the multiple goals and needs of relational partners and are evidenced through communication with others. Rather than “either/or” viewpoints, relational partners have “both/and” perspectives, where differing feelings exist simultaneously (e.g., desires for both interdependence and separateness).3 Through communication, relational partners negotiate these competing dialectics. Examples of such dialectics include separateness-connectedness, certainty-uncertainty, openness-closedness, and equality-inequality.

During this multi-year study, a number of partnerships were developed between research team members and individuals residing in focal communities. The focal communities were low-SES, located near an interstate, rife with pockets of crime, and low in overall greenness (e.g., tree canopy). Examples of partnerships include development of a Community Advisory Board, work with neighborhood associations and schools, and collaborations with community groups and city council members. In the analysis, we examine how relational dialectics shaped communication and influenced the research project and the relationships. We share several challenges associated with this type of collaborative community work (e.g., balancing community needs and goals with research aims, academic distance versus community integration) and detail the lessons we have learned through these community-rooted endeavors.

Keywords: relational dialectics; greenness; community partnerships; communication