Participatory Action Research (PAR) is a powerful path to research and encompasses a secure directive – Research with participants, rather than on participants. The concept is difficult to define, but the principles are aligned towards breaking down the barriers between the researcher and the researched. As a newcomer to the world of research, I am confident that I would have entered this field with my own agenda; my set of issues and a list of questions which I perceived to be important to others. Is this the kind of researcher I want to be? I think not.
I want to make a difference to those who feel that a change is not just needed, but necessary. A change for members of a community or workplace, whereby they formulate the problem and interpret the findings, with me as the facilitator (Tandon, 2005). By enabling participants to become part of the research process, there is an opportunity for them to gain that vital tool… knowledge. Which in turn equals power.
I want my research to be about the oppressed, the impoverished and those who feel disempowered. I have an emancipatory interest, which I discovered when I completed my first EdD assessment which was to write a Position Paper – A short excerpt. Habermas’s early work (1971) acknowledged that emancipatory learning can also lead to powerful ideologies been questioned and scrutinized. These ideologies, on the surface, may appear benevolent and considerate, yet they drive authority and control. Emancipation aims to bring to light the action of power and to generate social justice.
PAR is greatly influenced by the work of Kurt Lewin (1890-1947) and more recently has evolved to encompass a ‘bottom up approach’, which gives participants the power and knowledge to make changes to their community.
However, consider this for a moment.
Scenario: I conduct PAR within a community of nursing students who have specific learning difficulties (SpLD’s). The participants identify a multitude of incredibly diverse issues, based upon personal perspectives and opinions, resulting in a lack of agreement of the key issue(s) for consideration. Then add to the mix ‘me’ a senior lecturer at their university, immersing myself within their community.
I can do that, I was, and still am a student… Or can I?
However, who has the power? I approach PAR with the intentions of an egalitarian relationship, what do the students believe the case to be? Can PAR within this scenario truly be achieved and produce legitimate research?
Changing a situation requires reflexivity and to conduct this type of research, the research process itself becomes a focus of inspection.
My next blog will attempt to address some of the issues raised. You’re views are appreciated.
Redmond, B. (2004) Reflection in Action: Developing Reflective Practice in Health and Social Services. Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing Ltd.
Tandon, R (2005) Participatory research: Main Concepts and Issues. In R. Tandon (ed.) Participatory Research: Revisiting the Roots. New Delhi: Mosaic Books.