Many communities across Canada today are challenged by conditions that approach social and economic disintegration. As agencies of the state cut back their financial support of welfare services, citizens are faced with both increasing levels of stress and fewer forms of relief provided by established institutions. For researchers, the challenges of a shrinking resource base are compounded by ongoing epistemological and methodological controversies within social science. The recent emergence of a "postmodern" critique of traditional social-scientific methodology arises from some profound reorientations in the philosophy and the social context of the social sciences, reorientations that are reflective of fundamental economic and political transformations. This paper describes the action-research program we have designed and implemented in response to these challenges.

Starting with a small core of citizens from the community of Hespeler, Ontario, we have been using ethnographic methods to trace the networks of which these people are part and the ways in which those networks are constructed and maintained. The insights gained from this inquiry process are being used, in turn, to develop methods of strengthening local support structures, through collaborative processes of research and action. Such strengthening forms of interaction are not only desirable on their own terms. They also provide a model for restructuring relationships among research participants, and among forms of knowledge and being.

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