Challenges, Contradictions, and Celebrations: Attempting Participatory Research as a Doctoral Student
Participatory research asserts itself as an emancipatory approach to knowledge creation available to even the most oppressed people of the world. Yet, in the early 1980s, I found myself, an Anglo, middle-class, college- educated, North American feminist obsessively questioning: Was this approach available to me as a doctoral student? Could I do it?
Participatory research is a process of collective, community-based investigation, education, and action for structural and personal transformation. Because of the explicitly communal nature of participatory research, the question became not whether I could do participatory research, but rather, could I get involved in a collective participatory research effort as part of my doctoral research.
The purpose of this chapter is to reflect on the challenges, contradictions, and celebrations of attempting participatory research within the framework of doctoral work in a North American university while living in the small, multicultural southwestern community of Gallup, New Mexico, a border town to the Navajo Nation and Pueblo of Zuni. Reflection on the struggles I encountered in practice will inevitably illuminate some of the theoretical and methodological contradictions still to be worked out within participatory research. This is the essence of praxis. Likewise, reflection on the concrete details of the Former Battered Women's Support Group Project will vividly illustrate the phases or components of the ideal participatory research process as tempered by the less than ideal conditions we encounter in reality.
I purposefully titled this article "attempting" participatory research because some say that the Former Battered Women's Support Group Project was not real participatory research. By many standards, in the end, it may