The Future of Participatory Research

I thought it would be apt to write my last post (certainly for a few weeks!) drawing on the concluding reflections of Peter Reason and Hilary Bradbury in the latest Sage Handbook on Action Research Participatory Inquiry and Practice.  Their conclusions are wide ranging and so I will continue, as I have in the last few posts, to summarize and comment on how these ideas might influence participatory approaches in general, also seeking, where appropriate, to connect ideas specifically to PAR.

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The challenges of PAR’s increasing legitimacy

Budd Hall, Director of Community-based Research at the University of Victoria, is an expert on PAR. In his paper, “In from the Cold? Reflections on participatory research”, he tracks how participatory research emerged in Tanzania in the 1970s to examine PAR in the present day. He provides an eye-witness account of how a network of individuals from around the world combined to influence and establish the credibility of a new way of doing research. Recalling the influence of Paulo Friere and Orlanda Fals Borda (the first to combine the terms participation, action and research), Hall describes the early meetings of researchers in Holland, New Delhi, Caracas and Tanzania and indicates some of the risks, most notably the imprisonment of Maria Christina Salazar, Colombian scholar and wife of Orlando Fals Borda who was seen as being too close to political movements seeking change. The formation of a Participatory Research group in North America and the promotion of participatory approaches to research within Universities were all part of a process that has meant that PAR methods are now routinely taught in Universities.

“One might say that participatory research has come “in from the cold”, that it has come in from the margins to become an accepted member of the academic community.”

However, it is that acceptance by the Academy that poses some contradictions and challenges.

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