Democratic encounters? Epistemic privilege, power and community-based participatory action research

Blogpost by Julia Janes

Dr. Davydd Greenwood, associate editor of AR, noted that: ”This manuscript seems to us a very intelligent and unusually sharp critique of so-called participatory practice, one that gets beyond mere denunciation of academic power”.!!

Being a sharp critic of Participatory Action Research (P/AR) has been difficult to take on, both personally and politically. As a practitioner who spent years doing P/AR, I remain critically hopeful for P/AR’s liberatory possibilities. However, I am also deeply troubled by the uneven relations of power in our research collaborations.

Beyond the risky task of embracing the diverse social locations and socio-political forces that shape our collaborations, my/our critiques run the political risk of undermining the social gains of P/AR. But if these gains are to scaffold even more democratic knowledge production, we must risk critical engagement with the messiness working with people who have very different access to power and other resources.

This paper offers a theoretical framework for thinking through what Randy Stoecker refers to as the gap between our ‘talk’ of P/AR and the ‘walk’ of our everyday practices. Drawing on two case studies: Homeless2home: A Community Exchange and Bridging Aging and Women Abuse, this paper presents a postcolonial reading of the social relations of P/AR with the aim of opening up dialogue on how power is negotiated in the campus/community encounter.

How do you engage with power in your P/AR collaborations?

Julia Janes

Julia Janes

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