Sheffield hosts leading expert on Participatory Action Research

Events at the University of Sheffield this June have offered a fascinating insight into both the history and the everyday practicalities of Participatory Action Research (PAR).

Speaker at PAR event June 2018
Speaker at PAR event June 2018

Events at the University of Sheffield this June have offered a fascinating insight into both the history and the everyday practicalities of Participatory Action Research (PAR).

On Tuesday (26 June 2018), Dr. Juan-Mario Diaz, an expert on participatory research methodologies, was invited to speak on the topic “Participation Action Research (PAR): History, developments and challenges ahead.” The event drew a wide range of students and staff from across the University, as well as several attendants from the local community.

Participatory Action Research (PAR) is an approach to doing research that challenges traditional methods by placing participants in a central role at every stage in the process. Rejecting the usual separation between researcher and researched, the intention is that researchers work in collaboration with those they are researching in order to co-produce knowledge.

The approach has become increasingly popular in recent years, with the University of Sheffield currently engaging in a large-scale PAR project exploring socio-environmental conflicts in Colombia.

The talk was followed by an interactive workshop (27 June 2018), which gave a group of postgraduate research students the chance to take part in a range of exercises and activities designed to help them reflect on the practicalities of conducting PAR.

Patricia Schappo, one of the students in attendance, said: “The workshop was a great opportunity to explore an approach that challenges some of the main features of traditional social science research. I'm really looking forward to applying some of the insights to my own project.”

The origins of Participatory Action Research can be traced back to Orlando Fals Borda (1925 – 2008), a leading Colombian sociologist and political activist. Fals Borda believed that the purpose of research should go beyond understanding the world: researchers should also actively seek to transform it.

Primarily working with poor, rural communities in Colombia, Fals Borda developed a variety of methods for capturing local knowledge in order to challenge dominant historical narratives and fight social injustice. His work drew international attention during his lifetime and continues to inspire researchers and social scientists around the world.

Dr. Juan-Mario Díaz completed his PhD at the University of Roehampton in 2017. In a comprehensive study of Fals Borda’s intellectual history, he explored a wealth of unpublished works and correspondence with other scholars stored in five archives across Colombia, the USA and Switzerland.

His findings shed new light on Fals Borda’s critique of political violence in Colombia and its relation to the origins and development of PAR. He was awarded Honorable Mention with the Association of Colombianists for his thesis, and is currently working on a post-doctoral project proposal on employing art-based initiatives alongside PAR.

Juan-Mario said: “It was a genuine pleasure to be able to share some of my own knowledge and experience with such an enthusiastic group of young researchers. I look forward to working with academics in Sheffield in the future as they look to implement participatory methods, which I believe can provide a fresh, ethically sound approach to research in the social sciences and beyond.”

The events were organised in collaboration with the Faculty of Social Sciences, and the Department of Geography's 'Geographies of the Global South' Research Cluster.

Text: Henry Staples

Photos: Miguel Kanai, Hannah McCarrick

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