Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Examining Researcher Identity Development within the Context of a Course on PAR: A Layered Narrative Approach

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Examining Researcher Identity Development within the Context of a Course on PAR: A Layered Narrative Approach

Article excerpt

Participatory action research (PAR) challenges a positivist scientific paradigm through a practical approach to social inquiry that is embedded in real-world issues and solutions (Kemmis & McTaggart, 2005; Levin, 1999). While "PAR" references a family of diverse traditions, the approach sometimes referred to as critical participatory action research (CPAR) takes a distinctly critical, emancipatory stance toward research as it draws on the work of Paulo Freire (1970), Fals-Borda and Rahman (1991), Martin Baro (1994) and, more recently, Michelle Fine (2017) and others in working toward the empowerment or liberation of marginalized individuals through engagement in knowledge creation. Three primary features distinguish this particular PAR approach (hereafter referred to as "PAR") from other methodological approaches: shared ownership of the research, collaborative knowledge production, and a change orientation (Kemmis & McTaggart, 2005). Because of the emphasis on action or activism as a goal of research, this approach is inherently political (Sandwick et al., 2018; Santos, 2015).

The actual practice of PAR can take many forms and depends on the input of all members of a research group, or collective, to determine data collection and analysis activities as well as preferred ways of disseminating results. Because of this, PAR is often characterized as an epistemological stance toward research rather than a method (Fals-Borda & Rahman, 1991; Santos, 2015), which "signals a larger commitment to challenging prevailing power inequities, within and beyond our research" (Sandwick et al., 2018, p. 475). Fals-Borda and Rahman (1991), influential early PAR practitioners, warn that the action-oriented, epistemologically-motivated methodology risks being coopted if divorced from its commitment to the democratization of "ordinary people's knowledge" (Lind, 2008, p. 223). Authentic, critical PAR is a vivencia--a way of life--rather than a blueprint for inclusive research or a panacea for the often exclusionary, marginalizing practices of more traditional forms of inquiry (Fals-Borda & Rahman, 1991; Sandwick et al., 2018).

This methodological way of life requires a reorientation to the ideology, purposes, and practices of research, decentering elite "experts" as the owners of knowledge and decisionmaking (Foucault, 1980; Habermas, 1979) and instead prioritizing the experiences and expertise of those closest to the issues being studied and most affected by the decisions made (Fine & Torre, 2006). In practical terms, this requires a redistribution of power and positions the university-based researcher as a co-researcher alongside community-based researchers (Lind, 2008). This can be a disorienting and difficult shift for those socialized in traditional approaches to knowledge creation.

PAR epistemology also rejects the typical definition of research as the systematic extraction of data or a researcher-designed intervention, which can unintentionally entrench power hierarchies between researcher and subject (Curry, 2012). This type of research, like some others, cannot be fully designed in advance or kept to a pre-determined timeline; it requires flexible, evolving, and reflective planning in response to arising complexities and unanticipated dilemmas (Fine & Torre, 2006; Kemmis & McTaggart, 2005; Knapp, 2016). Careful and critical consideration of a university-based researcher's positionality in relation to her co-researchers, explicit negotiation of roles, and a continuous practice of reflexivity can help scholars recognize and ethically respond to difficulties in the project and unanticipated ethical dilemmas (Call-Cummings, 2017; Call-Cummings, Hauber-Ozer, Byers, & Peden Mancuso, 2018; Guillemin & Gillam, 2004). In addition, it can be difficult to recognize the "action" component; the process of engaging in PAR itself can foster change in the form of an increased sense of empowerment and awareness or consciousness of one's position in the world (Call-Cummings, 2015; Fine & Torre, 2006). …

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