Tyranical participation: The need for an institutional perspective

In a recent post I explored some criticisms of PAR by those with a positivistic standpoint.  In this post I examine some of the criticisms of participatory approaches as experienced in the field of development.  Bill Cooke and Uma Kothari* argue that, in this field, there has been an inexorable spread of participation as an approach that has produced tyrannical effects resulting in illegitimate and unjust exercises in power. Continue reading


Questioning PAR’s benevolence: Recognizing negative effects

41J 7CdBBDL._SL160_ In a previous post I explored some criticisms of PAR as a “scientific” method – the writer argued that PAR could not be considered “research” because it is riddled with bias and offers limited opportunities to theoretical development as it is so focused on an individual case. In this post, I explore the views of some proponents of PAR who would fundamentally dispute these criticisms, arguing that PAR poses a significant challenge to traditional research, but recognize that PAR is not necessarily benevolent in its effects. Sara Kindon, Rachel Pain and Mike Kesby* argue that PAR researchers need to recognize the power dynamics within PAR and the potential for negative effects. Continue reading

PAR: Reflections from the frontline

So far my exploration of PAR has been largely theoretical and has missed a practical perspective. Marja-Liisa Swantz*, provides some corrective – offering an insight on PAR in practice as she explains her work, started in 1965, in two regions of Tanzania.

Swantz immersed herself into the local community and found that she became too involved in people’s lives to stay as an observer developing friendships with people whom she did not want to view as “informants”. Her view is that participatory research is undertaken from “inside the culture, from the premises of the people and the situation”. She recognizes that this means that it is open to criticism for not being “objective” but argues that the observations of an insider, who has everyday contact with people and participates in their activities, is likely to be less subjective than those made by an outsider who will have less understanding of the practices they are studying. This makes sense although there may be some challenging issues such as becoming too immersed in a community to the point that practices become taken for granted; practical issues around having the time to ‘go native’; and the acceptance of the community for an outsider to become an insider.

Continue reading

Participatory research: Power and Problems

Getting to grips with “what is participatory action research” requires considering what we mean by the term “participatory” and how it is different to other forms of research. Andrea Cornwall and Rachel Jewkes* explore this theme within a health context and make the case that participation is a feature of most research. They argue that what distinguishes participatory research from conventional research is not primarily about methods or theory but concerns the “location of power in the research process”. What does this mean? Continue reading