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.

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