Defining PAR

There are a number of definitions of PAR – which reflect that PAR is more of an approach than a method of inquiry.

A participatory, democratic process concerned with developing practical knowing in the pursuit of worthwhile human purposes, grounded in a participatory worldview….[and bringing] together action and reflection, theory and practice, in participation with others in the pursuit of practical solutions to issues of pressing concern to people, and more generally the flourishing of individual persons and communities. (Reason & Bradbury, 2001)

It [PAR] is about jointly producing knowledge with others to produce critical interpretations and readings of the world, which are accessible, understandable to all those involved and actionable. (Paul Chatterton, Duncan Fuller & Paul Routledge, 2007)

Participatory action research is a form of action research in which professional social researchers operate as full collaborators with members of organizations in studying and transforming those organizations. It is an ongoing organizational learning process, a research approach that emphasizes co-learning, participation and organizational transformation. (Greenwood et al, 1993).

What this research tradition provides is a shared commitment to fundamentally disrupt conventional hierarchies of knowledge production: who decides on the questions to ask, how to ask them, and how to theorise the world. (Geraldine Pratt in collaboration with the Philippine Women Centre of BC and Ugnayan Kabataany Pilipino sa Canada/Filipino- Canadian Youth Alliance, 2007)

From these definitions we can see that PAR has some key components:

  • a focus on change – commitment to participate with people to improve and understand the world by changing it (McIntyre, 2008)although there are differences between researchers as to the scale of that change and the degree to which it is focused on promoting democracy and reducing inequality;
  • context-specific – it is generally targeted around the needs of a particular group although this can vary in size from small teams to projects encompassing entire communities;
  • emphasis on collaboration – researchers and participants working together to examine a problematic situation or action to change it for the better, although there are differences in opinion as to how much collaboration is possible or necessary;
  • a cyclical process – an iterative cycle of research, action and reflection (Kindon et al, 2006) underpins the research process although it is not always clear how this happens in practice;
  • participants are competent and reflexive and capable of participating in the entire research process although researchers may adopt different standards as to the level of participation that ‘qualifies’ as PAR;
  • knowledge is generated through participants’ collective efforts and actions;
  • liberatory – PAR seeks to ‘liberate’ participants to have a greater awareness of their situation in order to take action, although for some researchers the emphasis on liberation will be tempered;
  • PAR is not just another method – more an orientation to inquiry – this means that many different methods are possible (quantitative and qualitative);
  • success is some personal or collective change – for some researchers it “depends on the credibility/validity of knowledge derived from the process according to whether the resulting action solves problems for the people involved and increases community self-determination” (Kindon et al, 2007:14) but for others the emphasis is on developing theories and practices that can be shared.

June 12th 2008.

Some posts that might help…definition

Some References & Resources

Chatterton, P., Fuller, D., & Routledge, P. (2007). Relating action to activism: Theoretical and methodological reflections. In S. Kindon, R. Pain, & Kesby, M. (2007). Participatory action research approaches and methods: connecting people, participation and place. Routledge studies in human geography, 22. London: Routledge.

Cornwall, A., & Jewkes, R. (1995). What is participatory research? Social Science & Medicine, 41(12): 1667-1676. Post on this paper.

Greenwood, D. J., Whyte, W. F., & Harkavy, I. (1993). Participatory Action Research as a Process and as a Goal. Human Relations, 46 (2), 175.

James, A. (2008). Participatory Action Research Video Presentation.

Kindon, S. L., Pain, R., & Kesby, M. (2007). Participatory action research approaches and methods: connecting people, participation and place. Routledge studies in human geography, 22. London: Routledge.

McIntyre, A. (2008). Participatory action research. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.

McTaggart, R. (1989) 16 Tenets of Participatory Action Research

Geraldine Pratt in collaboration with the Philippine Women Centre of BC and Ugnayan Kabataany Pilipino sa Canada/Filipino- Canadian Youth Alliance, (2007). Working with migrant communities: collaborating with the Kalayaan Centre in Vancouver, Canada. In S. Kindon, R. Pain, & Kesby, M. (2007). Participatory action research approaches and methods: connecting people, participation and place. Routledge studies in human geography, 22. London: Routledge.

Reason, P., & Bradbury, H. (2001). Handbook of action research: participative inquiry and practice. London: SAGE.

Swantz, M. 1996. A personal position paper on participatory research: Personal quest for living knowledge. Qualitative Inquiry, 2(1): 120-136. Post on this paper.

Wadsworth, Y. (1998). What is Participatory Action Research? Action Research International, Paper 2. Post on this Paper

Wikipedia. Participatory Action Research

One Response

  1. Thanks so much for keeping this blog active. I just completed a online seminar for a course that I am taking on adult education in the global context. In it we were discussing a chapter from Adult Educaton at the Crossroads – Learning Our Way Out, by Matthias Finger and Jose Manuel Asun (2001). One of the concepts discussed in the chapter was Participatory Action Research as a practical approach to social change and development during the past 40 years. The authors post the question, and I included it in my seminar, can PAR be applied in contexts other than agricultural and developing countries? In an effort to build upon the text in our discussion forum, I directed my classmates to this post. Great work. Comprehensive and speaks to the flexibility of PAR’s interpretation.

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