Although it petered out toward the end of the week, the Irish Social Science Platform’s summer school was very worthwhile. Among the many fine sessions organised across the week was a three hour workshop with Maggie O’Neill on participatory action research or PAR. This is an approach to methods which seeks the inclusion of all those affected by research projects into those same projects, avoiding what might be termed a ‘white mouse’ effect. This is the tendency to see people in commmuities and in contexts as white mice to be examined by as opposed to involved at every stage in a research project. It extends the principle of ‘no decisions about us without us’. One of the impacts of this set of methods can be seen here. As was discussed over the week, PAR is an approach to research and not so much a method in itself, which makes it sound a little less intimidating perhaps.
During Maggie’s presentations, she made mention of the fact that PAR seeks (and I hope I am not misrepresenting PAR) the radical transformation of participation and realisation of a radical alternative. It tries to acheive this through the practice of including all participants of a project and to devise the research themselves. In doing this it employs local knowledge from the ground up rather than thinking that experts deploy their knowledge ‘on’ a community. Now I am down with that but I asked Maggie if the same extends to those seeking transformation in their own lives and those of their communities by the practice of their devotion. And while I was being somewhat mischievious, she rose to the occasion, did not take it as a personal attack on her integrity and instead engaged with it as a real challenge. Her refreshing approach was what made the day’s work so fascinating. What I meant was that I work with people who seek the transformation of this life through prayer, practical action and devotion. Does this too not seek radical transformation of our present? I’m no theologian but is this not also a way to realise praxis? (It’s just called the Kingdom? Kevin?)
If PAR employs a ground up approach, where is that ground? What constitutes the parts of the field from which it arises? If that ground only includes a commitment to a radically transformed democratic realm, where does that leave intentioned action in this world seen at the Knock Youth Festival for example? Or the work of John Lonergan in Mountjoy prison? Maggie’s dialogical research works with people seeking asylum and with women working in the sex trade. That dialogue produces a real impact for the women and men that she works with. Does ground-up work only exist in a republican frame?
I’m off work this week so expect more humble musings tomorrow.