Participatory Action Research

Alice McIntyre


Many years ago, when I was frustrated by one of the very humanizing moments of a participatory action research (PAR) project, I thought of something that I had heard the previous year at an academic conference: “When you get to the crossroads, take it.” Since then, I have stood at the crossroads in PAR projects multiple times-and the advice still stands: When I get to the crossroads, I take it. In other words, when I am in doubt about what to do, I do something. The “somethings” I have done in the context of PAR have humbled, encouraged, disappointed, surprised, and reassured me. They have also reminded me of the necessity of PAR within the social sciences and the need for researchers from across a number of disciplines to participate with people in improving and understanding the world by changing it (McTaggart, 1 99 1 ).

In this book, I describe how participants in two different PAR projects engaged in collaborative processes aimed at improving and understanding their worlds in order to change them. I do so by focusing on three characteristics of PAR: the active participation of researchers and participants in the co-construction of knowledge; the promotion of self- and critical awareness that leads to individual, collective, and/or social change; and the building of alliances between researchers and participants in the planning, implementation, and dissemination of the research process. I describe how the participants of both projects became the primary actors in the research process, enhancing their understanding and knowledge of issues through individual and collective reflection and investigation. I then explore how the participants took action to improve their conditions, clarify information to outside communities, and gain a better understanding of the external circumstances that structure their lives.

One of the projects I highlight is a 3-year PAR project I engaged in with a group of adolescents of color living in an inner-city community in the Northeast region of the United States. Together, we explored how these adolescents experience the multiple forms of violence that characterize their lives (Mcintyre, 2000). The second PAR project discussed in this book reveals how a group of women living in Belfast, the North of Ireland, participated in a project aimed at bringing to light the gendered violence that occurred during that country’s 35-year war (Mcintyre, 2004 ).1 By engaging in PAR processes, the women and the young people articulated how violence is produced, reproduced, and experienced in their lives. Out of those articulations, both groups implemented action plans that addressed issues  salient to them, both individually and collectively. I briefly describe those projects below…..