Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Positionality and Racialization in a PAR Project: Reflections and Insights from a School Reform Collaboration

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Positionality and Racialization in a PAR Project: Reflections and Insights from a School Reform Collaboration

Article excerpt

Community-based participatory action research (PAR) projects address complex problems, which, if solved, would improve the quality of life of people in local communities (Garaway, 2004; Hall, 1992; Selener, 1997). Projects typically are collaborative in nature and involve representatives from multiple organizations who possess different skill sets, research expertise, understandings of problems, and motivations for involvement.

An important aspect of PAR is the need for ongoing and critical reflection to guide the work (Chiu 2006). Inherent in participatory research intending to expose and disrupt inequities through research with rather than on indigenous community-based researchers is the recognition of the importance of ongoing reflexivity to challenge the privilege and power relations that professional researchers bring to the collaborative research. This is especially critical in cross-racial partnerships where racialized identities of all researchers intersect in the conduct of the research in ways which open and close doors to the power disruption embedded in the intent of PAR researcher. As Lee and Simon-Maeda (2006) suggest, without critical reflection scrutinizing the intersection between shifting positionalities and racialized identities, participatory researchers risk perpetuating research practices situating indigenous researchers as the victimless others in need of empowerment. This critical reflexivity, or the individual and collaborative examination of critical moments, turning points, and blockades becomes central to authentic participatory research processes. Through self and collective reflection using conversations, writing, and retrospective examination of data as vehicles for sense-making, participatory researchers create additional data relevant to developing understanding of the impact or change achieved through the research. This reflexive examination should take place at all stages of the research. In this article, we share findings from a critical self-reflection as Black PAR researchers (Drame & Irby, forthcoming) on a collaborative participatory research initiative called "The Improving Schools Project," (1) designed to empower members of an African-American community to expand the options and quality of local public education.

I, as the first author, invited Decoteau, my co-author, to become a co-inquirer external to project, tasked with engaging me in reflexive dialogue and exercises allowing me to construct, co-construct, and re-construct my experiences and selves throughout the life of the project. His facilitation helped me confront how specific assumptions and competing commitments influenced my shifting roles and which identities were foregrounded in the researcher. Decoteau's role and identities are more fully described in the methods section. For the purpose of clarity, use of first person refers to the first author, whereas the collective "we" refers to shared understandings developed between the two authors as a result of the co-reflective work. This paper explores in particular how nested positionality within a racially neutral organization, not imbued with the racial legacies of the city, shaped involvement in a participatory research project.

Participatory Research in a Racialized World

Steeped in a deep tradition of engaging marginalized populations, PAR is often defined by level of engagement of community-based researchers in all aspects of the research and the nature of participant involvement (Suarez-Balcazar et al., 2004). While some consider insider-participants' involvement in even a cursory advisory capacity as constituting participation, others frame PAR as "authentic" only if it reflects a deep involvement on the part of insider-participants. For our purposes, we understand participation along a spectrum of practices that emerge from a set of guiding principles (Suarez et al., 2004). Ideally, participation is collectively determined with consideration given to the research context, assessment of insider and outsider participants' strengths and resources, and project goals. …

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