Abstract ‘Love’ is poorly explored as an ethic and framework of practice in community work for transformational social change. This is despite the large body of work regarding love as a foundation of activism, as articulated by bell hooks, Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatma Gandhi and Thich Nhat Hanh. These and other activists promote the radical potential of love; yet, the social work, community work and international development sectors do not actively engage with love as a process for sustainable structural change. This article shares a framework of practice of love-based community work that was developed through a co-operative inquiry with ten rural community workers in Liquica, Timor-Leste. I describe our co-operative inquiry method and share the group's design, data and analytical approaches and findings. I then discuss the group's collaboratively developed framework of love-centred community work. I show that our egalitarian process and framework of love in community work reflects feminist, radical and Freirean theories and indigenous worldviews, demonstrating how international development donors can more openly embrace collaborative and grassroots frameworks for practice in Timor-Leste. Introduction bell hooks’ (2000) theory of the ‘love ethic’ provides a unique feminist perspective to structural social change. Like influential activists Martin Luther King (1963), Mahatma Gandhi (2005) and Thich Nat Hanh (1993), hooks proposes that love can transform inequitable structures of domination, such as patriarchy, capitalism and racism, to alternative systems of equality and peace. Love is a verb and an action with characteristics of care, affection, responsibility, respect, commitment and trust (hooks, 2000). Love involves knowing and recognizing the full humanity of another (Gaita, 1999) and taking responsibility for others’ wellbeing (Bauman, 2003). Activists aim to transform loveless structures of inequality and their manifestations of poverty, corruption, violence and greed. In Timor-Leste, civil society is highly influenced by activist events such as the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre, the 1999 UN-sponsored independence ballot and the 2006 political-military crisis (Wigglesworth, 2013), which aimed to influence equitable nation-building processes. Internationally, the social work profession is grounded in community work and activism (Dominelli, 2006) to challenge structural inequality (International Federation of Social Work [IFSW] 2012). However, social and community work movements have limited research to support practitioners to practically, effectively and safely work through love (Morley and Ife, 2002; Butot, 2004), despite its recognized importance by leading development theorists (Edwards, 2005). I am particularly interested in the potential of love to align community work more closely with indigenous-centric approaches such as ecofeminism and buen vivir (a Latin American paradigm promoting rights of nature and people) that emphasize relationships between people and planet (Shiva, 1989; Acosta, 2011). This article explores love as an ethic of action for social change in Timor-Leste. I present a ‘love ethic’ practice framework developed through a co-operative inquiry with grassroots community work practitioners, volunteers and community members in rural Timor-Leste. The article begins with a literature review regarding love and community work and civil society in Timor-Leste, and an explanation of the research context and methodology. I then discuss the process, data and collaborative analysis of our co-operative inquiry. The article concludes by discussing potential implications of our group's research and framework of practice for community work in Timor-Leste and internationally. Consistent with co-operative inquiry principles, throughout this article I use inclusive language that positions me within the co-operative inquiry group, as initiating researcher and co-inquirer. Love and community work In activist literature, love is understood as collective nonviolent action for social change for justice and equality (Fromm, 1957; King, 1963; Hanh, 1993; hooks, 2000; Gandhi, 2005; Kahane, 2010). However, love is absent in mainstream social work ethics and practice, purportedly due to the profession's colonialist history of ‘missionary benevolence’ (Butot, 2004, p. 9) and the incompatibility of love and rational professionalism (Morley and Ife, 2002). In Banks’ (2006) analysis of 30 codes of ethics of national social work associations, only the Swedish code mentioned love, discussed as a grounding of values and practice regarding human dignity and worth. The absence of love may also be a rejection of doctrines such as Christianity that, when improperly deployed, dehumanize and oppress institutions and persons (Williams, 1990). Importantly, hooks (2000) argues that abuse cannot co-exist with love, denouncing actions such as child sexual abuse and racism. Nonviolence, as deliberate non-harmfulness, enshrines love for the oppressor when resisting structural inequality (King, 1963; Tolstoy, 1970; Hanh, 1993; Gandhi, 2005). Somerville (2011) proposes that King Jr's nonviolent ‘beloved community’ of universal flourishing and meaningful connectedness can be achieved through mutual respect based on equal worth, democratic decision-making, a mutuality of freedom and order, a right to participate and justice. Controversially, Gelderloos (2007) denounces nonviolence as ineffective, racist, statist and patriarchal, preferring tactics like militancy for revolutionary change. However, research by Chenoweth and Stephen (2011) affirms the long-term effectiveness of nonviolent civil resistance. Indeed, love is considered fundamental to lasting social change by connecting the private and public and values and action (Morley and Ife, 2002). Similarly, dialogue, found in the ‘plentitude of the act of love’ (Freire, 1989, p. 35), encourages solidarity and co-operation between the oppressed and oppressor. With a transformative commitment to relationships, dialogical community work encourages practitioners to awaken love through ‘a fundamental, counter-cultural shift towards the other’ (Westoby and Dowling, 2013, p. 34). hooks’ (2000) theory of love reflects feminist community work by rejecting patriarchal violence and pursuing gender equality (Dominelli 2006). Yet most literature regarding love and community work is generally blind to gender inequality, and available empirical research is inconsistent about the radical imperative of love. Butot's (2004) qualitative research with seven Canadian social workers found that love in critical social work is spirituality conceptualized as the intrinsic interconnectedness of all beings. Love is liberating through respecting humanity beyond social construction. Although limited by a very small research sample, Butot's proposed social work practice reflects hooks’ impetus for love as an antidote to domination. Conversely, Fitzgerald and van Hooft's (2000) Socratic dialogue with nine Australian nurses found that love in nursing involves going beyond the duty of care as competent risk-takers committed to the betterment of others before the self. Love is restricted to the relationship between nurse and patient, with narrow political scope. I identify a significant lack of empirical literature regarding love in community work for structural transformation, particularly research using dialogical methodologies to generate knowledges in non-English speaking contexts. Additionally, most conceptualizations of love, including hooks’ work, do not consider a bi-directional spiritual relationship between people and nature, despite indigenous worldviews in Timor-Leste and elsewhere that challenge Western human dominance over the earth (Ogungbemi, 2008; Rose, 2008; Acosta, 2011; de Carvalho, 2011; McWilliam and Traube, 2011). This study with community workers in Timor-Leste attempts to contribute to these knowledge gaps. Community work in Timor-Leste Since independence in Timor-Leste in 2002, Timorese civil society has steadily grown (Wigglesworth, 2008). National organization Belun (meaning ‘friend’ in Tetun language, lingua franca of Timor-Leste) lists more than 800 international, regional, bilateral, national and community-based organizations throughout Timor-Leste (Belun, 2013), including in rural communities that comprise 70% of the national population (National Statistics Directorate [NSD] and United Nations Population Fund [UNFPA] 2011a). Commitment to locally led development is evident in national civil society networks such as FONGTIL (Timor-Leste NGO Forum) and Rede Feto (Women's Network). Timorese civil society is necessarily active. In 2013, Timor-Leste was ranked 134th on the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index (UNDP, 2013), and basic human rights are unable to be universally achieved due to widespread poverty in the postconflict context. According to UNDP, 68% of Timorese people experience multidimensional poverty and 37% live below US$1.25 per day. Furthermore, Timor-Leste was unlikely to achieve all Millennium Development Goals by 2015 (Ministry of Finance 2014). Feminization of poverty is evident: Timor-Leste's maternal mortality rate is 300 maternal deaths/100,000 live births (UNDP, 2013), a quarter of women are malnourished and one-third of women have experienced domestic violence since the age of 15 (NSD, 2010). To address these issues, numerous Timorese civil society organizations adopt a community development approach, with interventions including capacity building, education and awareness-raising. In her analysis of Timor-Leste civil society, Wigglesworth (2008) explains that from Indonesian occupation in 1975, civil society was organized as resistance, church and youth/student movements. With independence, international donors had greater influence on local organizations and activities: … the vast majority of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) are led by the educated younger generation who desire to participate in the development of an independent Timor Leste. These organisations have often found it difficult to obtain donor funding to do what they consider important, and the desire to obtain funds has led sometimes to their greater attention to donor articulated needs than to the needs of the communities which they seek to serve. (Wigglesworth, 2008, p. 2) Although some international donors promote participatory grassroots social action in Timor-Leste (see, for example, The Asia Foundation, 2015), several authors suggest that localized priorities and approaches of Timorese civil society have been sidelined by donor processes such as tokenistic community participation, acculturation of Timorese community workers into Western development practice, bypassing customary governance, short-term vision and free marketization (Moxham, 2005; Neves, 2006; McGregor, 2007; Brown, 2009). Neves (2006) argues that Timor-Leste has been ‘co-opted to adopt global standards and ideologies set up by rich countries, and to neglect our reality and our local values’ (p. 18). This restrains Timorese people from developing and applying culturally strengthening and contextually relevant community work theories that encapsulate faith-based ethics, the people's liberation movement and indigenous knowledges such as spiritual relationships between people and land, tara bandu, customary governance and traditional social systems and rituals (Brown, 2009; de Carvalho, 2011; McWilliam and Traube, 2011). My research engaged Timorese community workers to collectively develop a framework of practice that honoured local knowledges, using domin (‘love’ in Tetun) as the foundational concept. I triggered the discussion on love as it felt relevant to activist movements for equality, indigenous practices such as permaculture and tara bandu [communally agreed traditional Timorese customs regarding social norms, practices and behaviours (Belun and The Asia Foundation, 2013)], and a dominant religion of Catholicism, which promotes love as a central principle. My initiation of this study could be viewed as another example of externally imposed development theory that marginalizes localized worldviews or urges inappropriate practice. However, although I proposed the broad research focus, the co-operative inquiry method was deliberatively selected for participants (co-inquirers) to critically explore the relevance of love to community work, shape the dialogue and collectively develop a theory of practice that reflected their worldviews. Research context and methodology The overarching research questions were ‘What is love in community work?’ and, ‘How can love transform structural inequality?’ They were deliberately general to support co-inquirers to design more refined research questions. In Timor-Leste, co-inquirers chose to explore how community workers express love to the community. The research involved the co-operative inquiry method, a democratic and emancipatory process with cycles of Reflection and Action whereby a group of co-inquirers systematically refine ideas and practice (Reason, 1988). Context and sample The co-operative inquiry was conducted with ten community workers, volunteers and community members who work with rural peoples in Liquica, Timor-Leste. This was one of three case studies in my doctoral study regarding love in international rural community work (the other sites were Lobitos, Peru and Margaret River, Australia). Liquica is a coastal town of 20,938 people (NSD and UNFPA, 2011a), situated 35 km (one-hour drive) from the nation's capital, Dili. Agriculture and fishing are the area's main economic industries (NSD and UNFPA, 2011b). The town is known for a tragic massacre that occurred during the Indonesian occupation on 6 April 1999, when between 30 and 100 people were killed in the local Catholic Church (Robinson, 2003). More than forty non-government organizations, community-based organizations and community groups are based in Liquica, working with issues such as peace and conflict resolution, women's rights, agricultural production, land rights, environmental protection, education and veteran's rights (Belun, 2013). A local women's rights organization hosted the inquiry meetings and invited local community workers, volunteers and community members to participate. Potential co-inquirers attended an induction meeting to discuss the research topic and method and decided whether to participate. At this meeting, I explained the cyclical process and values of the co-operative inquiry, including: all co-inquirers commit to understanding the method and make it our own; engage in participatory decision-making and authentic collaboration; and, create a safe space for emotional expression (Heron, 1996). We developed the inquiry schedule (weekly two-hour meetings with individual actions between each meeting) and discussed ethics considerations such as informed consent, privacy and benefits to participants. The co-operative inquiry sample is outlined in Table 1. Table 1. Demographics of co-inquirers in Liquica, Timor-Leste Co-inquirer demographic Female Male Total Group size 7 3 10 Number of Timorese organizations represented – – 3 Civil society role: community worker 5 0 5 Civil society role: volunteer 0 3 3 Civil society role: community member 2 0 2 Age: 18–25 0 0 0 Age: 26–40 4 3 7 Age: 41–55 3 0 3 Age: 56+ 0 0 0 Highest education level: primary 1 0 1 Highest education level: secondary 5 1 6 Highest education level: vocational 0 0 0 Highest education level: university 1 2 3 Co-inquirer demographic Female Male Total Group size 7 3 10 Number of Timorese organizations represented – – 3 Civil society role: community worker 5 0 5 Civil society role: volunteer 0 3 3 Civil society role: community member 2 0 2 Age: 18–25 0 0 0 Age: 26–40 4 3 7 Age: 41–55 3 0 3 Age: 56+ 0 0 0 Highest education level: primary 1 0 1 Highest education level: secondary 5 1 6 Highest education level: vocational 0 0 0 Highest education level: university 1 2 3 Co-inquirers were aged 26–43 (mean of 32.3 years), with a range of primary, secondary and university level education. University-educated participants included two young male volunteers and me, the initiating researcher. The five employed community workers were all female. Community workers and volunteers represented three community organizations providing programming in women's rights, maternal and child health and peace and conflict resolution. The research was conducted in Tetun, with a Timorese interpreter providing translation to English. I also spoke intermediate Tetun. Co-operative inquiry method Co-operative inquiry supports co-construction of knowledge (Heron, 1996) through a ‘self-fulfilling feedback loop’ within a living system (Wadsworth, 2008, p. 33). Our research aimed to subvert elitist concentration of power by opening up and including the ‘powerless’ in decision-making (Stringer, 2007) to generate a community work framework based on love. We completed five full cycles of Reflection – Action – Reflection, and each cycle involved four stages: Stage 1 is decision-making about the upcoming Action; Stage 2 is applying the Action; Stage 3 is full immersion in the Action with openness to experience and Stage 4 involves sharing and analysing data from the Action and reviewing the research launching statement (Heron, 1996, pp. 49–50). Our six Reflection meetings involved various strategies to support decentralization of power, democratic decision-making and inclusive participation. Each Reflection meeting began with a reiteration of the concept of research cycling, including principles of participation and sharing power. Co-inquirers collaboratively developed the meeting agenda and delegated a co-facilitator. In a circle, we then individually shared our data from the preceding action, while one person recorded key ideas. After each co-inquirer shared our data, we questioned and commented on the data, stimulating critical discussion. Our process for data analysis and interpretation was collaboratively developed through group discussion. We often laid notes on the ground and organized, analysed and interpreted the data using thematic coding, identifying key concepts and trends. After analysing the data, we developed our next Action, reflecting the theme determined in our initial co-operative inquiry design. Each Reflection meeting concluded with a reflection on the co-operative inquiry process, including our feelings and experiences. I initiated the general research topic; however, honouring co-operative inquiry values, I did not dictate the process of group-based design, data collection and analysis. Instead, my role was to guide empowering processes that supported participation, personal change and collective knowledge construction. Research findings and analysis With permission from my co-inquirers, I report my perspective of our critical process and collaborative data analysis, avoiding further interpretation and providing insight into the co-operative inquiry process. Forming our co-operative inquiry The First Reflection meeting of a co-operative inquiry involves designing the inquiry structure and topic (Heron, 1996). We began with a recapitulation of the research topic and process, signed participant consent forms and introduced ourselves. After I explained aspects of social research ethics, we listed collective values to guide our research process, including listen to each other's ideas and trust each other, consideration, participation, be active during discussion, give people time to speak, don't push yourself too hard, confidentiality and privacy, honesty, understand each other and mediation. We determined a 6/10 voting requirement for decision-making and decided our co-operative inquiry structure, considering various dichotomous options provided by Heron (1996, pp. 40–48), outlined in Table 2. Table 2. Heron's types of co-operative inquiries Inquiry type Description Description Full/partial Full form inquiry: Initiating researcher and co-inquirers participate in decisions and experience in Action and Reflection phases. Partial form inquiry: Initiating researcher and co-inquirers fully participate in decisions, but initiating researchers only partially participate in experience while co-inquirers fully participate in experience. Inside/outside Inside inquiry: Action occurs in the same place within the whole group. Outside inquiry: Action occurs in members’ work or personal lives, outside the group meeting. Closed/open Closed boundary: Inquiry only focuses on interactions within and between the co-inquirers. Open boundary: Includes interaction between the co-inquirers and others outside the group. Structured (Apollonian)/unstructured (Dionysian) Structured (Apollonian) inquiry: A rational, linear, systematic, controlling and explicit approach with sequenced steps. Unstructured (Dionysian) inquiry: An imaginal, expressive, spiralling, diffuse, impromptu and tacit approach. Informative/transformative Informative inquiry: Describes practice. Transformative inquiry: Transforms practice. Inquiry type Description Description Full/partial Full form inquiry: Initiating researcher and co-inquirers participate in decisions and experience in Action and Reflection phases. Partial form inquiry: Initiating researcher and co-inquirers fully participate in decisions, but initiating researchers only partially participate in experience while co-inquirers fully participate in experience. Inside/outside Inside inquiry: Action occurs in the same place within the whole group. Outside inquiry: Action occurs in members’ work or personal lives, outside the group meeting. Closed/open Closed boundary: Inquiry only focuses on interactions within and between the co-inquirers. Open boundary: Includes interaction between the co-inquirers and others outside the group. Structured (Apollonian)/unstructured (Dionysian) Structured (Apollonian) inquiry: A rational, linear, systematic, controlling and explicit approach with sequenced steps. Unstructured (Dionysian) inquiry: An imaginal, expressive, spiralling, diffuse, impromptu and tacit approach. Informative/transformative Informative inquiry: Describes practice. Transformative inquiry: Transforms practice. Source: Heron 1996, pp. 40–48. Group members designed our inquiry as transformative to encourage personal change, and open and transparent but with closed boundaries, maintaining the current group size and constitution. We also wished to conduct the same activities in each Action phase, a structured (Apollonian) inquiry. Our ‘launching statement’ (collective topic or research goal) was ‘Aproximasaun domin [nebe] hatudu ba komunidade liu husi serbisu no hahalok’ [The ways that love is expressed to the community through work and actions]. We also identified several themes to explore and refine our understanding of love and contextualize love-based community work, including: Saida mak domin? [What is love?]; Domin iha familia [Love in the family]; Domin iha komunidade [Love in the community]; Hahalok domin [Expressions of love] and Objetivu domin/serbisu domin [Love's objective/work of love]. The meeting concluded by developing our First Action to individually conduct before the next Reflection meeting. The Action involved self-reflective journaling through writing and drawing regarding what is love?; what are different types of love? and asking other people about love. What is love? At the Second Reflection meeting, we shared and analysed our data from the First Action by writing definitions of love on sticky notes and thematically categorizing them for collective interpretation. For example, under the theme of service, one definition was, ‘love is like a shady place that provides space for us and also for our family.’ Some other definitions of love were, ‘love is like a candle that gives light,’ ‘love is like water that gives us life,’ and ‘loving myself means looking after myself and being careful of my health, both mental and physical.’ Collaborative interpretation of the 55 coded definitions identified key concepts for a collective definition of love, including love as subject – materials, appreciation, practical, concern, responsibility for our behaviour, a pathway, an important key for living, attitudes and feelings from the heart and a seed. Acknowledging the diversity of information, love was summarized as feeling and action. We also identified many types of love, including self-love, love for family, community, community leader, work, the church, the nation, nature and God. Love in the family Our collaboratively developed Second Action involved individual journaling about the question, ‘What are my feelings and actions regarding love in the family?’ When presenting our data at the Third Reflection meeting, ideas of love in the family included ‘forced love’ (obligatory love), communication, sharing work, time and food, helping each other, being patient, accepting reality and feeling calm. One co-inquirer highlighted that love in the family involves trusting each other and listening to each other, as ‘then there will be peace.’ Another co-inquirer explained love in the family as a circle representing the Holy Trinity, with Father as the creator, Mother as server/saviour and Children as spirit. The servidor (server) emerged as a role of someone who loves in the family; in particular, several co-inquirers identified mothers serving by preparing food, caring for children and ‘looking after everything’. A co-inquirer said love in the family means it is harmonious and happy, and another suggested it involves giving children freedom to play, study and do jobs around the house. One co-inquirer associated love in the family to equal rights between women and men. Figure 1 shares a co-inquirer's drawing of a woman caring for a sick family member. Figure 1. View largeDownload slide A co-inquirer's drawing of love in the family. Figure 1. View largeDownload slide A co-inquirer's drawing of love in the family. Group discussion explored love in relation to issues such as gender inequality, freedom for young people to explore and learn, culture, poverty and human rights. Our collaborative data analysis identified that love in the family involves hope, peace, concern, trusting each other, preparation, protection, participation, freedom, collaboration (sharing workload), communication, honesty and reality. Love in the community Our Third Action involved journaling about the question, ‘What is love in the community?’ At the Fourth Reflection meeting, co-inquirers explained that love in the community has values of reconciliation, nonviolence, protection and security, non-discrimination, no racism, no status, unity and partnership between families, Xefe [Chief] and organizations. Processes of love in the community include knowing, trusting and helping each other, working together and strengthening unity, communication, responsibility, respect, participation and consultation, celebrating, sharing and ‘developing ideas with people that are not alike’ by appreciating differences of opinion. Several co-inquirers identified specific activities such as distributing mosquito nets and medicine, preventing sickness, teaching cooking skills and providing information. One co-inquirer explained that love in the community involves ‘learning from the past, celebrating together and having hope for the future’, while two others highlighted environmental protection. Figure 2 shares a drawing of a woman reading to children. Figure 2. View largeDownload slide A co-inquirer's drawing of love in community. Figure 2. View largeDownload slide A co-inquirer's drawing of love in community. In our initial discussion about the data, some co-inquirers felt that a community is loving when all community members think alike, telling people what to do, not supporting diversity and limiting freedoms – concepts contrary to egalitarian community development theory. However, we also highlighted that love involves freedom, protection of children and unity. Our comprehensive data analysis identified love in the community as communication, protection, working together, no discrimination, nonviolence, participation, responsibility, honesty, respect, trust, reconciliation, giving advice and unity. Our emerging concept of love in the community was interpreted through a collaborative role play of a community education session about child protection, with an ‘expert’ providing information to community members about strategies to ensure children's safety. Collective reflection highlighted the role play did not sufficiently reflect love in the community because it lacked a question and answer session, which limited community participation and dismantling of power between the ‘expert’ and community members. Expressing love in community, family and workplace The Fourth Action considered the question, ‘how is love shown (or expressed) in the community, family or workplace?’ Small groups shared our data from the Fourth Action by role-playing stories of expressing love in the community, family or workplace. The first group led a role play of a community worker responding to a domestic violence incident, including interrupting the violence, police intervention with the male perpetrator and relationship counselling. The second group role-played someone accompanying an ill person to the doctor. The third group role-played neighbours responding to a house fire. Collective analysis of the role plays identified actions of expressing love in the community, family or workplace of patience, witness, trust, looking after family and self, collaboration, responsibility, giving your time, solidarity, observation, mediation, being professional, helping each other and calming each other. How do we work through love in the community? The Fifth (and final) Action considered the question, ‘how do we work with love in the community?’ journaling about our personal practice and research learnings. The Final Reflection meeting began with the group sitting in a circle holding hands and one-by-one identifying words we associate with love, while passing a ‘pulse’ (hand squeeze). Some words included peace, protection, contribution, action, participation, respect, trust, communication, relationship, freedom, helping, hope, unity and responsibility. Each co-inquirer then shared a summary of love in community work. For example, a co-inquirer explained that community working through love involves respeito (respect) as an important aspect for society; kolaborasaun (collaboration) as the community works together when facing challenges; responsabilidade (responsibility) through protection and security in society/community/environment and komunikasaun (communication) between a community and local leaders or village councils. Collective analysis of our data identified various approaches of love in community work, such as communication, trust, empathy, respect, collaboration, reconciliation and hope. Through lengthy dialogue, we developed a final response to the original launching statement, as follows: Domin mak hanesan hahalok nebe ita hatudu liu husi manera oi-oin hodi ema seluk bele sente ho diak: liberdade, demokrasia, toleransia, moris, adaptasaun, unidade no felisidade [Love is actions that we show through a variety of ways so that other people feel freedom, democracy, tolerance, alive, adaptation, unity and happiness]. A collaborative drawing (Figure 3) depicts our framework of love-based community work. Figure 3. View largeDownload slide Collaborative framework of love in community work. Figure 3. View largeDownload slide Collaborative framework of love in community work. Group members explained that ‘Domin hanesan ai hun ida’ [Love is like a tree]. Love is founded in the tree roots of hahalok [actions]. The tree trunk and branches are processes of demokrasia [democracy], unidade [unity], paciencia [patience], serbisu hamutuk [working together], rona malu [listening to each other], fiar malu [trusting each other] and respeita [respect]. This process results in fruits of felicidade [happiness]. Fruit and leaves falling from the tree represent the liberdade [freedom] that comes from love, and new saplings, the jerasaun foun [new generation] of trees, indicate that love is cyclical and ongoing. Process reflections Each Reflection meeting involved collective reflection of the co-operative inquiry process. The data suggest that the inquiry was an empowering experience for co-inquirers. For example, in the Third Reflection meeting, co-inquirers conveyed enthusiasm about the research, feeling energized, engaged and involved in debate. They affirmed they were learning and ‘opening our minds’. In the Fourth Reflection meeting, identified strengths were information-sharing and hearing new ideas, while challenges were language difficulties and unequal participation. In the Final Reflection meeting, we acknowledged the co-operative inquiry was a new experience with significant learning, and it enabled us to develop new knowledge, action and theory we could proudly implement at work and in our personal lives. Co-inquirers also highlighted a deeper understanding of love, participatory research and community work and new friendships. Identified challenges of our process were lengthy and sometimes confusing translation between Tetun and English, participation difficulties (attending every meeting and different energy levels in group activities) and managing diverse ideas and needs. As initiating researcher, my role as methodological guide supported co-inquirers to embody co-operative inquiry principles and process. This sometimes required me to challenge co-inquirers. For example, when planning the Second Action, some co-inquirers wanted to observe love as feeling and action in their families. I gently highlighted that co-operative inquirers do not speak on behalf of others; rather, we explore our own experiences and worldviews. We instead developed a self-reflective action. My role also involved supporting co-inquirers to apply validity procedures to critically question the data. In the Third Reflection meeting, we discussed Heron's (1996, pp. 131–157) co-operative inquiry validity procedures, including questioning the data (who, what, when, where, why and how); encouraging divergence and convergence of opinions; collaborative interpretation; and, research cycling. This led to collective compilation of validity processes for constant referral. Notably, my guidance role diminished as co-inquirers actualized the co-operative inquiry. Discussion Honouring the collaborative tradition of co-operative inquiry, I will not further interpret our participatory data and analysis. I will, however, discuss the research outcomes in relation to the literature, which may have implications for community work research and practice in Timor-Leste and elsewhere. Our collective framework of love-based community work reflects and extends reviewed activist literature. Our construct of love as action for social change to achieve happiness, freedom and democracy reinforces the social justice imperative of other discussions of love (Fromm, 1957; King, 1963; Hanh, 1993; hooks, 2000; Gandhi, 2005; Kahane, 2010). Specifically, our framework highlights reconciliation, particularly relevant in postconflict Timor-Leste. This affirms hooks’ (2000) assertion that compassion and forgiveness can sustain a loving community. Nonviolence writings also emphasize reconciliation between oppressed peoples and oppressors and love for the enemy (King, 1963; Tolstoy, 1970; Hanh, 1993; Gandhi, 2005). Importantly, Nelson et al. (2000) advocate self-love amongst oppressed people in reconciliation processes. Although acknowledged as a type of love, self-love was not particularly prioritized in our co-operative practice framework. Our framework also reflects hooks’ (2000) articulation of community as a ‘circle of love’, with love in action as being kind and courteous, mutual giving, sharing and greeting and communication. However, hooks’ concept of community is limited to family and friends. Our concept of love-based community work extends hooks’ work to include community based on place, identity or interest, regardless of kin or friend relationship. Emphasizing connectedness [echoing Butot (2004) and Morley and Ife (2002)], we suggest that love in community is participatory, democratic and values-based service, reflecting dialogical approaches (Freire, 1989; Westoby and Dowling, 2013). Existing ‘beloved community’ approaches do not consider environmental love, nor connect social and environmental justice (King, 1963; hooks, 2000; Somerville, 2011). In contrast, our research extends anthropocentric frameworks to locate love in context. Our co-operative inquiry includes love for nature as a typology of love, consider environmental protection as love in community, and represents love as water, sun and a tree. Reflecting Timorese indigenous worldviews (de Carvalho, 2011; McWilliam and Traube, 2011), our framework recognizes the interconnectedness of people and planet and the cyclical nature of love-based community work to sustain living systems (Wadsworth, 2008). Our co-operative inquiry considers various forms of love, such as self-love, love for family, community, nature and spiritual love, although they are not necessarily considered equal. Fromm (1957) and hooks (2000) both stress the holism of love as an all-encompassing orientation. However, these and other authors (Lewis, 1960; King, 1963) also differentiate types of love, acknowledging multiple experiences and priorities. Although our framework specifically focuses on love in community work, we suggest that all types of love involve democratic and collaborative processes of mutual respect and trust for universal happiness and freedom. Potential tensions between different types of love can be mediated by a common commitment to value-based, nonviolent and dialogical practice. This research also highlights the complexity of love to transform structural inequality, in particular gender inequality. Throughout the inquiry, ‘service’ emerged as a key role for women. hooks (2000) identifies service as a necessary dimension of communal love, and service reflects the Golden Rule construct of unconditional giving, honouring the humanity (Gaita, 1999) and priority (Fitzgerald and van Hooft, 2000) of the other. However, a gendered division of service means that women can be encumbered with a ‘labour of love’ in the household and community that can result in economic dependency, poverty and exploitation of women (Graham 1983, p. 13). Similarly, co-inquirers initially reinforced traditions of ascribed power based on age and position (e.g. Xefe), promoting hierarchical relations. Through ongoing discussion about equality, the group eventually recognized the incompatibility of love with unequal power, and emphasized sharing power in love-based community work through democratic and participatory processes. This approach appears vital to avoid exploitative applications of love. The participatory research process was an opportunity for co-inquirers to transform power relations through love. It was evident that co-inquirers initially had limited understanding and experience of participatory research and participatory community development theory and practice, despite working in programmes funded by international donors that value participation (see Moxham, 2005). In contrast to shallow ‘participation’ in the dominant neoliberal development agenda (Neves, 2006; McGregor, 2007), our group prioritized democratic participation – a time-consuming and sometimes frustrating process to devolve power. I frequently supported co-inquirers to navigate issues of unequal participation based on age, gender and qualifications and share power, encouraging co-facilitation, circular sharing of data for equal speaking time and small group activities. Importantly, such participatory approaches have heightened ethical considerations (Manzo and Brightbill, 2007), and our collaborative values were necessary to nurture safe participation. Co-inquirers reflected that the inquiry process supported awareness of power and action to transform imbalances, acknowledging that this was not always achieved. Finally, the collaboratively identified challenges of this study are not unexpected in cross-cultural participatory research. Co-operative inquiry is chaotic (Heron, 1996), requiring respectful relationships, flexibility and communal trust of process. Reflexive consensus decision-making becomes more comfortable with time and experience. Additionally, language translation can be inefficient and risks filtering information, and is compounded by social, cultural and educational differences (Mikkelsen, 2005). This can be addressed with linguistic member-checking and co-inquirer note-taking. Furthermore, while participation may wane during discussion, expressive data collection and analysis methods such as theatre, bodily movement, drawing and story-telling can be engaging and empowering and celebrate indigenous worldviews. Finally, this research highlights tensions for the initiating researcher between providing methodological support and decentralizing power. Reflexivity is crucial to ensuring process actualizes collective values and co-operative inquiry principles. Conclusion This co-operative inquiry explored the values and practices of rural community workers in Timor-Leste who identify as working through love. The final practice framework highlights that love-based community work is a value-based and process-oriented approach that integrates dialogue, non-violence, participation and indigenous worldviews. Our research proposes that love involves building relationships of ‘trust’, ‘respect’ and ‘empathy’ to holistically connect the self, family, community, humanity, environment and spirituality. Community workers can nurture these relationships with approaches such as policies to mitigate environmental impact and workplace conditions to support gender equal families (flexible working hours and on-site childcare). By prioritizing ‘democracy’ and ‘working together’, our framework suggests community workers who are guided by love work to dismantle hierarchical organizational structures for collective decision-making with service-users about programme design, implementation and evaluation, while supporting self-advocacy through capacity strengthening and peer mentoring. By focusing on ‘reconciliation’ and ‘freedom’, love-based community workers can help support change at local, household, community and structural levels by actualizing deliberative dialogical practice to shift power to marginalized peoples. Love-based community work is evaluated according to community members’ ‘happiness’ and flourishing. This study also suggests that co-operative inquiry is an appropriate method for community members in Timor-Leste to collaboratively generate localized, value-based and culturally strengthening community work frameworks that encapsulate indigenous and spiritual worldviews. In particular, research cycling, creative methods, democratic decision-making and collaborative analysis and interpretation can support co-inquirers to generate collaboratively owned knowledge through practice, encouraging personal transformation, increased confidence and skill-sharing. It is recommended that in Timor-Leste, international development practitioners and donors work with community workers to engage with their complex indigenous living systems (Wadsworth, 2008) and collaboratively develop dialogical and non-hierarchical approaches to community work. Funding This research was supported by the Zonta Club of Dunsborough; and Business and Professional Women Australia. Acknowledgements The author acknowledges her supervisor Professor Margaret Alston, Associate Professor Rosemary Sheehan and Dr Deborah Western at the Monash University Department of Social Work for their mentoring and editing support. Naomi Joy Godden is a feminist and environmental activist from rural Western Australia with 15 years of community work experience. Her research interests include feminist participatory action research methodologies, gender justice, sustainability and activism for transformational change. 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