What, in your opinion, is the most important historical influence in the growth of participatory research and why?
Participatory research emerged as a critique to dominant social science research, with the main objective to produce new knowledge or synthesize existing knowledge. As L. David Brown – PR is all leading to people centered development and it highlights local problems, facilitates collective action and attitudinal change among the poor and assists in building local peoples organizations.
The growth of Participatory Research: shifting from applied social science research to participatory research
Participatory research was greatly influenced by the scholarly thoughts of action research referred to as Northern Tradition. Kurt Lewin, a German social psychologist, promoted 'action research', thereby underscoring the need for new types of research for social transformation. In the 1940s, Kurt Lewin rejected the positivist belief that researchers study an objective world, separate from meanings understood by the participants as they act in the world. He coined the term action research and challenged the gap between theory and practice and sought to solve the practical problems through a research cycle involving planning, action, reflection, problem solving and rational decision making for new actions. to describe a process where social scientists worked collaboratively with a group, organisation or community.
In the 1970s, critiques of the positivist research paradigm, led scholars to seek a new approach to social change rooted in grassroots reality. They adopted Lewin's concept and method of problem solving and developed explicitly critical and emancipated action research methods, to bring together the voice of all stakeholders.
Northern Tradition reflected a paradigm shift from applied social science research to the participatory approach to applied research, which emphasised the problem solving approach to research and rational decision making by the group, through the intervention of the facilitator. Southern Tradition stemmed from works in Latin America, Africa, and Asia which underscored the importance of experiential knowledge to transform society. Theoretical framework of Paulo Freire reinforced the notion that socially marginalised people could be involved in the production of knowledge.
By this time different epistemological debates also continuing with the critique of so called knowledge and that helps to emerge a different look of dominant research methodology. The concept of ‘Women as Other’ by Simone de Beauvoir, the feminist critique of dominant research has also the effect of reconstructing the dominant research paradigm. Feminist researcher have generally accepted the principle that the only appropriate form of research to do with women, is that which has the empowerment of women as an integral part of process; and when they themselves have joined in that process, their own learning has been greatly enhanced.
In the mean time, participatory action research concept emerged independently within both the Northern and Southern Traditions and is characterized by research, educational work, and social action. Fals-Borda preferred the use of the term action research, but some time later, perhaps through interaction with the Latin American network of participatory research, he began to refer to this kind of work as 'participatory action research'.
To me, historically, evolve of Southern Tradition is the main influence a lot to emerge the Participatory Research. Before this the traditional ‘knowledge elites’ control over knowledge production systems was thus being used by the development elite to preserve the ‘status quo’ and make people dependent on the government and the elite section of society for all resources and services, including knowledge. Though by this time Northern tradition also tries to increase some participatory methods in research but they did not fully broke the so called elite knowledge system.
There is also a debate on Participatory Research, PR is mainly done by academicians though they have the talent and inclination and on the other hand grassroots people tend to be anti-intellectual, and that intellectuals in universities generally get their views form more patently scholarly work.