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People’s Knowledge and Participatory Action Research: Escaping the White-walled Labyrinth

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The world of research run by universities and other institutions is dominated by a culture that is white, upper-middle class and male. When people from communities that have previously been excluded are asked to take part in research – even participative research – they are seldom able to do so on equal terms. Instead of being supported to draw on the expertise that they have gained from their life experience, they find themselves trapped in a ‘white-walled labyrinth’. People’s Knowledge and Participatory Action Research opens up a new realm of understanding, one that has been created by authors who are mainly non-academics, and who bring their own perspectives on the production and validation of knowledge. The book attempts to address some of the tensions between traditional and more participatory approaches to research by exploring three questions: What kinds of oppression can take place when people who experience exclusion work with professional researchers? How can knowledge be truly co-produced in a spirit of mutual learning and respect? What are the most promising approaches to build future alliances for creating a ‘people’s knowledge’ that treats equally the professional researcher and those whose expertise comes from their life experience? The book ends with some signposts for transforming participatory and action-orientated approaches to research in order to achieve social and environmental justice. Praise for this book: ‘People’s Knowledge and Participatory Action Research offers a radical exploration of the deep knowledge held within communities under siege by neoliberalism and traditional forms of science; the dedicated refusal to surrender this knowledge to the hegemonic gaze of “experts”, grip of white supremacy or bribes of corporate interests, and the joy and delicacies of engaging in participatory research for justice. A must-read for community-based researchers and even more so for academics deluded by fantasies of expertise. Congratulations!’ Michelle Fine, Distinguished Professor of Social Psychology, Women’s Studies and Urban Education, City University of New York. ‘This book is an important contribution to helping all of us — academics and grassroots-led researchers — to think through what it means to collaborate. Clearly written and with both practical wisdom and theoretical reach, it is a book to get some useful conversations started.’ Keri Facer, Professor of Educational & Social Futures, University of Bristol and AHRC Leadership Fellow, Connected Communities ‘Given the pressing environmental and social justice issues facing society today, research should be moving towards a co-production of knowledge with communities. However, too often it is questionable whether it is, or whether there continues to be a top down process of knowledge dissemination to the public from the “white walls” of the academy. Through writing, reflection, poetry and the visual arts, this book draws out these issues — political, ethical, and social — and provides an important platform for people outside these walls from which to speak about their collaborative knowledge production practices.’ Jacqueline Vadjunec, Associate Professor, Department of Geography, Oklahoma State University ‘This engrossing and timely collection exposes the weaknesses of conventional academic research. The authors outline a new approach for action research, taking us in a direction that will help heal the many divisions in our fractured world. Anyone involved in research, whether in universities, community organizations or governments, should read it. I loved the fresh voices on gender and race. We should all write letters to our younger action researcher selves acknowledging how colonized we have been. When we liberate ourselves we liberate those with whom we partner. This would be a great deal.’ Hilary Bradbury, Editor of Handbook of Action Research and Action Research Journal.
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... Co-creation of knowledge is a means of responding to and respecting the call of the 'researched' for mutual participation in knowledge creation and addresses the power academia holds, 'They [scientists] have the power to distort, make invisible, to overlook, to exaggerate and to draw conclusions based, not on factual data, assumptions, hidden value judgements and often-downright misunderstandings' (Smith 1992, 53). Reciprocity in research, hence mutual accountability, adds quality to results and calls for respectful and trustworthy handling of the shared stories and knowledge (Kenton et al. 2016;Vaioleti 2006). The research process reflected here was inspired by the South African San community which is respected by many marginalised groups in South Africa for providing a good example through their Code of Research Ethics. ...
... Time is a critical component in trust building amongst the co-researching group members and between the co-researchers and the scientist; unfortunately, time is a rare resource in the ever-shorter duration of research projects (Hall and Nahdy 1999;Pingault et al. 2020). Consequently, innovative forms of education and experimentation are required for the creation of a 'symbiotic relationship' between co-researchers, as users of knowledge and academia, as part of formal knowledge creation (Anderson and McLachlan 2015;Hall et al. 2001;Kenton et al. 2016;Ponzio, Gangatharan, and Neri 2013). It is not only about knowledge per se, but about creating transformative knowledge and the process toward it; in other words, how the co-researchers perceive their reality (problem knowledge), how they aim to change their status quo (target knowledge), and how to implement innovation and change (transformative knowledge) (Schneider et al. 2019;Scholz 2017). ...
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Purpose Traditionally, marginalised community members have been perceived by academics as providers of information and end users of research results. Co-research (community research) reverses this paradigm and uplifts ‘the researched’ to co-creators of knowledge and advocates for their own solutions to problems. Design/methodology/approach A co-research approach was developed, employed, and scaled by urban farmers in Cape Town, South Africa. Data was collectively gathered using mixed methods: primarily, focus group discussions, farming diaries, a vulnerability assessment, a structured survey, and a validation discussion. Findings The participants perceived the research process itself to be much more important than results, as they learned to challenge their own preconceptions, dismantled the cultural scaffolding which impeded their understanding of their world, and developed agency over processes for change. Practical implications The mutually developed results were used by the co-researchers to establish a representative body which advocates for policy action to address small-scale farmers’ needs. Theoretical implications Co-research goes beyond participatory action research by addressing its bottlenecks, such as actors’ limited involvement in data collection. Originality/Value This long-term study was led by actors who have been historically excluded from access to education. This study actively encouraged the inclusion of excluded voices and calls for a paradigm change in knowledge creation and democratisation of research processes.
... McLaughlin's (2009) critique describes how the term 'service user' for example has more recently been replaced by the term 'expert by experience', which better describes the complexities involved, as it suggests a relationship of equals (thus more akin to participatory approaches?). Participatory methodologies are considered as being more reflexive, iterative and flexible, in contrast with the more rigid linear designs of conventional sciences (Cornwall and Jewkes, 1995), the system for which is described as 'immoral' and 'tainted' (Wakeford, 2016). Community participatory research is seen to be more 'ethically aware' because it takes greater account of participants' rights and responsibilities (Centre for Social Justice and Community Action (CSJCA), 2011). ...
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There is an urgent need to ‘get creative’ with the way we tackle social and nutritional inequalities. The Food as a Lifestyle Motivator (FLM) project has explored the use of creative participatory approaches to engage ‘harder to reach’ communities in dialogues to improve their well-being and life skills. Preliminary findings have confirmed that food can be a powerful catalyst for social inclusion with the potential to empower ‘marginalised’ individuals. Part of this exploratory study has involved two participatory food events (November 2015 and November 2016) run in a local day centre for drug and alcohol rehabilitation. The aim of these events was to bring together key stakeholders (from the service user and provider communities) to exchange food-based knowledge, using collaborative and co-creative participatory approaches. Following ethical clearance, a range of data were collected at the events to assess their ‘social impact’. These consisted of (1) audio interviews (service providers and users), (2) oral surveys (service users and key workers) and (3) observations of social cooking and eating engagement, and creative visual arts (photography, collage, food games and quizzes). In this article, we detail how the range of creative approaches used has successfully engaged individuals (average attendance: n = 80, service users: n = 32) to participate in these food-themed events. We reflect on the overarching themes from data capture of the social and therapeutic aspects of food (activities). We also reflect on the collation (and curation) of findings, systematically critiquing the approaches used, including consideration of ethics, and drivers for engagement. Finally, we consider how the utility of such creative approaches can optimise public engagement activities, not only to enhance research impact but also to inform collaborative developments with and between service users, service providers and other stakeholders, with the potential to lead to transformative food-related changes.
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Tom Wakeford and Javier Sanchez Rodriguez make visible the traditions of participatory action research that have evolved in social movements and their interaction with academic knowledge.
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El mundo de la investigación está dominado por personas de raza blanca, clase media alta y género masculino. Cada vez más, las universidades y otras instituciones en investigaciones ‘participativas’ o ‘inclusivas’ buscan la incorporación de aquellas personas de base comunitaria que hayan sido previamente excluidas. No obstante, apenas pueden formar parte en términos de igualdad, pues en lugar de darles apoyo para que hagan uso de la experticia que han adquirido a partir de su experiencia vital se encuentran atrapadas en un ‘laberinto de paredes blancas’. Al compartir sus perspectivas sobre la producción y validación del conocimiento, el equipo de autores de Conocimiento popular e Investigación acción participativa, la mayor parte no procedentes del ámbito académico, abren nuevas dimensiones a la comprensión. El libro aborda algunas de las tensiones entre los enfoques de investigación tradicionales y aquellos más radicales, participativos y orientados a la acción. Ofrece indicadores de cómo podría el conocimiento ser verdaderamente coproducido en un espíritu de aprendizaje y respeto mutuos. También destaca algunos de los más prometedores enfoques de construcción de alianzas futuras para la creación de un ‘conocimiento popular’ que trate de manera equitativa a la investigación profesional y la experticia a través de la experiencia. Este libro debería ser leído por aquellas personas interesadas en investigación sobre justicia social y ambiental en general, y en enfoques de investigación participativa y de acción en particular, incluyendo los ámbitos de desarrollo comunitario, salud y medicina, medio ambiente y desarrollo, antirracismo, derechos humanos y estudios de género.
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This Briefing Paper is intended to share ideas and learning arising from the authors' experiences of using arts-based methods in food research and engagement, as well as to give some insights into the issues that arose from a workshop for academics and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) developed by Brighton and Sussex Universities Food Network (BSUFN) and hosted by the Food Research Collaboration (FRC) in 2016. It examines the use of participatory and community-centred approaches to explore pressing food policy questions, as well as providing guidance on how to apply these methods in practice. It is intended to be relevant to academics, particularly those interested in using participatory action research methods, and CSOs working with community groups on food issues. The authors' main interest is the way in which arts-based methods provide a set of tools which can reveal, and give voice to, perspectives on food issues which remain otherwise absent from research and policy debates. In the authors' experience, this happens either because community members are not asked for their views or because of the way in which much traditional/positivist/biomedical academic research is based around predetermined research questions that do not provide adequate space for community members to explore and voice their own concerns. It could be said that to date, much food research has failed to meaningfully engage with the general public, both during the research process itself and in raising awareness and achieving changes in the food system, which the research evidence indicates needs to happen. The paper firstly outlines why food research is a necessary and important area of exploration. Following this it examines the development, lineage and underlying principles of participatory and arts-based methodologies as approaches to research. Three arts-based and participatory methods are then reviewed in greater detail: i. Photography and film ii. Drama, and iii. Collage. These three methods were the focus of the BSUFN/FRC workshop in 2016. For each of these three examples, theoretical and methodological implications and ethical issues are discussed, enabling readers to fully consider how and why they might apply these approaches. In reviewing these emerging and alternative approaches for engaging communities in research processes, this paper presents a consideration of ideas, narratives, positions and actions relating to food, research and knowledge construction. The authors believe this paper to be an important addition to debates around how arts based and participatory methods might improve the processes, impact and contribution of food research. The paper presents a collaborative effort between academics, researchers and civil society organisations (CSOs) all of whom are concerned with improving research, learning and engagement in relation to food. The paper concludes with recommendations and suggestions on how academics and CSOs might use these methods as part of their research and/or practice.
Book
Undoing democracy : neoliberalism's remaking of state and subject -- Foucault's birth of biopolitics lectures : the distinctiveness of neoliberal rationality -- Revising Foucault : homo politicus and homo oeconomicus -- Disseminating neoliberal rationality I : governance, benchmarks and best practices -- Disseminating neoliberal rationality II : law and legal reason -- Disseminating neoliberal rationality III : higher education and the abandonment of citizenship -- Losing bare democracy and the inversion of freedom into sacrifice.
Chapter
Analytical RutsWhat does the Standard Deviation of an IRR Series Measure?Plains, Foothills, and MountainsExplaining IRR VolatilityVolatility of the MultipleThe Time-Weighted ComparisonConclusion
Book
A book in the What is? methodology series edited by Graham Crow aimed at a broad academic audience with an interest in the research approach but without expertise in it. The book describes and contextualises inclusive research – covering how to recognise it, understand it, do it, and know when it is done well. This includes the following chapters: Inclusive research defined, Inclusive research as an evolving set of practices, Inclusive research: stories from the field, Inclusive research under fire: criticisms and defences, Summary and where next? The pursuit of quality in inclusive research. There are also pointers to further reading and resources. The book focus extends beyond the field of learning disabilities and across a range of disciplines, but it is significantly informed by the ESRC-funded study Quality & Capacity in Inclusive Research with People with Learning Disabilities.