Voices of Change: Participatory Research in the United States and Canada

By Peter Park; Mary Brydon-Miller et al. | Go to book overview

7 Participatory Research as Critical Theory: The North Bonneville, USA, Experience

DONALD E. COMSTOCKAND RUSSELL FOX

Who has the right to create knowledge? Is this the sole prerogative of professional elites or should the people affected by new knowledge participate in formulating the problems to be studied, collecting and analyzing the data, and deciding how to use the results? This is the key question raised by participatory researchers, who argue that traditional social science creates knowledge that is used by elites to control, pacify, and manipulate people and that much modern science is, often unwittingly, a technical and ideological means for maintaining that control. To counter this, participatory researchers undertake studies designed to empower the oppressed. Local communities and workplace groups decide on the nature of the problem to be investigated and learn about their lives by collectively participating in the investigation of local and extra-local forces shaping their lives. Based on this knowledge, the community may take collective action aimed at social change. Investigation, education, and action are combined in participatory research as dialectical moments of a process of self-emancipation.

The initial characterization of participatory research was attempted by Hall ( 1977), who described it as research which (1) is of direct and immediate benefit to the community, (2) involves the community in the entire process from the formulation of the problem to the interpretation of the findings and the discussions of how to seek solutions, (3) is seen as part of a total educational experience which increases community awareness and commitment, (4) is viewed as a dialectical process, a dialogue over time and not static, (5) fosters mobilization of human resources for the solution of social problems, and (6) requires the researcher to be conscious of the ideological implications of research.

Since Hall's initial discussion of participatory research, numerous re

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