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PPRC Inception: The tale of the fish and the eagle

Drawing from the focus of his PhD work on the intersection of economics and political science , Dr. Hossain Zillur Rahman founded Power and Participation Research Centre in 1996.  PPRC’s symbolic logo is a reflection of the ethos of the organization.

The initial inspiration behind the name and logo of the organization was drawn from the concept of social transformation. It sought to deviate from institutionalised hierarchies and connect the two segments of society – the state actors who wield power and those who are subject to that power. In the field of research, there is a tendency to study these segments in isolation, but rarely have studies focused on the way these segments interact. The name Power and Participation was a declaration to uphold this research practice. The word ‘participation’ represents the voice of the people. However, the space in which people participate is defined by power structures. Hence one must also study the concept of power.

From his Dhaka University days, Dr. Rahman was involved in a Village Study Group that conducted field research at Barisal Char villages, followed by field work in Noakhali for a duration of two years. During that time, he realized that traditional economic processes do not work; those processes need to be contextualized by the forces that shape them. While power is mostly observed in the context of social power, power is also related to the state. To address the needs of the people, state actors must be brought into the discussion to observe how power manifests itself. 

After finishing his PhD, Hossain Zillur Rahman joined Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) where he worked on the Analysis of Poverty Trends (APT) project. At BIDS he tried to initially develop his ideas on creating a network between grassroots level actors and policymakers. He founded a Power and Participation Research Group as an attempt to foster these interdisciplinary ideas. However, he could not reach the full potential of this work within the scope of BIDS, which focused narrowly on economic-based research. 

Given his vivid vision for the nature of work he wanted to pursue, Dr. Zillur Rahman founded Power and Participation Research Centre in 1996, which encompassed multiple disciplines from economics, political science, sociology and anthropology. His main focus rested on two foundational elements – governance (from ‘Power’) and poverty (from ‘Participation’). Stemming from his contribution “Landed Property in Bengal: Power and Faction as an Economic Factor” in the second edition of “Peasant and Peasant Societies” by Teodor Shanin during his PhD, Dr. Zillur Rahman recognized that in order to understand people and poverty, it is essential to understand the power that governs it.

The need for an identity grounded in ideology led to the formation of the logo. The PPRC logo is essentially composed of a green circle with white outlines of a fish gazing upwards at the surface of the water, and an eagle looking down at the fish.  The circle with a division in the middle came from the deeply embedded Oriental philosophies of the unity of opposites as seen in various symbols such as the yin and yang. While the eagle was utilized as a metaphor for ‘Power’, Mao Tse Tung’s use of fish as a metaphor for people was selected as the visual representation of the word ‘Participation’. The affinity with the green color came subliminally. This logo was unveiled by Dr. Muhammad Yunus when the PPRC office was inaugurated in Dhanmondi 12/A.

The work of PPRC of studying power structures in relation to its impact on the general population reflects the philosophy behind its name and logo. PPRC continues to maintain an agenda based on the emerging needs of people. The focus is continually evolving as is reflected by the range of projects we engage in. As times change, so must we, to maintain pace with changing realities and evolving aspirations.