The Beginning is never the beginning: Co-producing action research space

Abstract provided on behalf of the author: Hilde Refstie

It is often difficult to identify when a particular research project begins. Action research, for example, is often presented as emanating from a group of participants without it necessarily being revealed how a particular research constellation came into existence. Stakeholder analyses are presented, but relatively few studies unpack how the research projects are conceptualized and how participatory relationships are built in this process (Arieli, Friedman, & Agbaria, 2009McArdle, 200220042008Mehta, 2008Wicks & Reason, 2009).

In this article, I will use the example of an action research project with informal settlement groups in Malawi and their partners to explore whether an increased focus on ‘beginnings’ can help make visible how situated knowledges and power relations influence the co-production of action research space.

This article uses a narrative autobiographical approach to analyse the initial phase of a collaborative action research process with informal settlement groups and their support organizations in Malawi. I’ll discuss how the research topic emerged, the process of identifying entry points, and how negotiations among participants, partners, researchers and institutions at different levels co-produced the action research space.

I found that interrogating the multiple beginnings of an action research project can make visible situated knowledges and power relations that influence a research process. The challenge is how to make this interrogation a collaborative exercise that captures the multiple positionalities and perspectives of partners and participants.

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Malawi, where the author’s research was conducted

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