Highlighted Selections from:

Relating Action to Activism: Theoretical and Methodological Reflections


Kindon, S, R Pain, and M Kesby. Participatory Action Research Approaches and Methods: Connecting People, Participation and Place. Taylor & Francis, 2007. Print.

Highlights from Chapter 24, "Relating Action to Activism: Theoretical and Methodological Reflections," by Paul Chatterton, Duncan Fuller, and Paul Routledge. http://www.northumbria.ac.uk/static/5007/2008pdf/action.pdf

p.2: Since the mid to late 1990s there has been a resurgence of interest in questions of political relevance within many disciplines, alongside a range of other themes focused around exploring the significance of what ‘researchers’ do. So there have been powerful critiques of research methodology and the voices or ideas silenced by it, emphasizing politically committed research (Nast 1994); increased recognition and negotiation of the differential power relations within the research process (Farrow, Moss and Shaw 1995) and multiple activist-academic positionalities (Merrifield 1995); a growing focus on who research is produced for and whose needs it meets (Nast, 1994; Farrow, Moss and Shaw 1995); interest in understanding the inter-subjectivity between activist-academics and the researched (e.g. McDowell 1992, Staeheli and Lawson 1994, Laurie et al 1999, Moss 2002); and increasing significance across the social sciences in ‘public’ and/or ‘participatory’ variants of sociologies, geographies, anthropologies -- Highlighted apr 5, 2014

p.2: For us, activism, academic or otherwise, and participatory action research are not the same thing, and in this section we want to suggest a few reasons why this might be so. -- Highlighted apr 5, 2014

p.3: For us there is a need for reflection on the extent to which those involved in PAR and participatory research should look beyond ‘tools’, ‘techniques’ and ‘outputs’ and also live up to the challenge of delivering transformative social change. -- Highlighted apr 5, 2014

p.3: But for us as activists, we outline below lessons from our experiences which raise many questions around the enaction and performance of ‘research’, and which could be used as a focus for exploring the extent to which PAR can be more than a way of informing policy or improving service delivery, instead being used as a vehicle for liberation, radical social transformation and the promotion of solidarity with resisting or struggling ‘others’. -- Highlighted apr 5, 2014

p.3: In contrast to PAR, the overriding motivations of activist ‘research’ is to develop practice aimed at social transformation rather than the use of a set of tools aimed at the 'production of knowledge' and the ‘solving’ of ‘local’ problems. Or in the words of Italian Marxist, Antonio Conti (2005), 'the goal of research is not the interpretation of the world, but the organisation of transformation'. -- Highlighted apr 5, 2014

p.3: So, for us ‘research’, participatory or otherwise is not just about acquisition, cataloguing, ordering and the publishing of information on groups to help them, but jointly producing knowledge with resisting others to produce critical interpretations and readings of the world which are accessible, understandable to all those involved, and actionable. -- Highlighted apr 5, 2014

p.4: At the end of the day, the key to good activism is finding ways to insert knowledges into groups in ways that are accessible and don’t increase dependency or hierarchy, to explore how to offer both radical critiques and inspiring alternatives which are translatable and seem doable, and know when to intervene and criticise and when to accept and support. Putting solidarity into practice also means co-producing contextually-relevant knowledge which are useful and accessible to groups in their struggles. These could take the form of pamphlets, zines, guides, websites which may be more readily used and understood by the general public. -- Highlighted apr 5, 2014

p.5: Some of the most transformative encounters come through what Giroux (1992) has called ‘border pedagogy’ which eschews fixed notions of us and them or good and bad tactics, but rather recognises the many ruptures between groups, and embraces and questions differences and newness however shocking.

Challenging power relations means working with groups to uncover structures of power to empower people to take control of their own lives. The pedagogical project of Paulo Freire (1974, 1979, 2004) has been to insist on the dialectical relationship between the oppressor and the oppressed. It is only through this dialectical relationship that we can unpack relationships and causalities which structure injustice. This is the process of conscientizacao, through which we recognise our presence in the world, and, rather than adaptation or adherence, we recognise that history is unfinished business that we can intervene in. Through this we can acknowledge that there is oppression and inequality not merely external oppression of the ‘other’, but that we too are subject to oppression and in turn subject others to it. It is not enough to understand how we think power works ‘out there’ if we overlook our role in reproducing power. We are all in some ways oppressed and in turn oppressors. There is a double movement then both recognising our own role in perpetuating inequality and injustices and larger examples of systematic oppression (see also Cloke, 2002). How this affects our work is crucial. We need to find ways to do quality, useful research which also challenges and confronts power relations and empowers people. This is no easy task.

-- Highlighted apr 5, 2014

p.6: Further, how can we possibly gauge the effects of our encounters? Rebecca Solnit’s (2004) suggests that ‘causes and effects assume history marches forward, but history is not an army. It is a crab scuttling sideways, a drip of soft water wearing away stone’ (2004: 4). In this confused landscape, Solnit continues, ‘the angel of Alternative History tells us that our acts count, that we are making history all the time’ (2004: 75). -- Highlighted apr 5, 2014

p.7: Developing our utopias means denouncing how we are living and announcing how we could live (Freire, 2004, 105). This is a tricky process. There are no simple answers or blueprints, nor should there be. Along the way we will come across ideas and values that might be uncomfortable and unmanageable. But that is the rawness and energy of being involved in social change. We suggest those involved in PAR consider these perspectives on change, especially when offering solutions or writing up final reports. -- Highlighted apr 5, 2014

p.8: Clearly, we have to get the balance right between continuing to do research in the social sciences, whilst also constantly challenging the underlying premises of what we do, why we do it, who it really helps, and whether it is actually needed. Much of this may be out of our control. -- Highlighted apr 5, 2014