Geography Participatory Action Research
Sam Halvorsen
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0210


Participatory action research (PAR) is an approach that strives to take seriously the ethics and politics of the processes and outcomes of doing research. As implied in its name, PAR is oriented toward collaboration at various moments in the research cycle and holds social and environmental change as a key objective, combining individual agency and structural transformation. PAR draws from diverse historical and geographical experiences, including North American action research and Brazilian radical pedagogy, to promote a research approach that collaborates with participants to identify and attempt to address particular situated issue(s). It thus brings to the fore questions of unequal power relations between those involved in research (e.g., participants, researchers, communities) in order to directly and collaboratively tackle them, in turn providing a more ethically sensitive and politically relevant approach. PAR draws on both established methods (e.g., interviews) and sometimes develops novel methods (e.g., participatory video and diagramming). PAR has also provided fruitful ground for dialogue with radical (e.g., postcolonial) epistemologies concerned with addressing the power hierarchies implicit in research practices and in promoting social and environmental justice. Nevertheless, there exist numerous criticisms and warnings over the limits to the collaborative and transformational claims of PAR, and the discourse of “participation” has proven susceptible to rapid co-optation from above (e.g., neoliberal development discourse). This has led some to focus exclusively on social change and “militant” research, while others drop claims of action and remain focused on methods of participation. I am grateful to Kye Askins, Mike Kesby, Sara Kindon, and two anonymous reviewers for their comments on a draft version, many of which have been incorporated into the final text. The entry would not exist without the tireless work of PAR activists and scholars to which its sole authorship does no justice.

General Overviews

There is a large volume of book-length engagements with PAR. Kindon, et al. 2007 provides one of the most comprehensive overviews of all aspects (e.g., epistemological, methodological, ethical) of PAR and is the go-to reference in human geography. Other key books include Whyte 1991, on PAR in industry and agriculture; Fals-Borda and Rahman 1991, grounding PAR in the experiences of the Global South; McTaggart 1997, providing international perspectives; Reason and Bradbury-Huang 2007, a large international handbook on action research; and McIntyre 2008, a detailed reflection of two PAR projects. More recent overviews include Chevalier and Buckles 2013 and Kemmis, et al. 2014. The ever-expanding body of literature on PAR is testimony to its immense geographical, practical, and epistemological scope. Despite criticisms, there is little sign of scholarly engagement slowing, with the authors of Kindon, et al. 2007 working on a sister volume (provisionally titled Critically Engaging Participatory Action Research: Praxis, Paradox, Potential) and a new SAGE Handbook of Participatory Research being developed by the Institute of Development Studies (UK). Kindon, et al. 2009 provides a comprehensive if dated overview of PAR from a geographical perspective.

  • Chevalier, J. M., and D. J. Buckles. Participatory Action Research: Theory and Methods for Engaged Inquiry. London: Routledge, 2013.

    Good overview based on the authors’ extensive experience with PAR practitioners and theorists across and the world. Written in a modular format with the aim of being directly applied to learning at schools, universities, and research institutions.

  • Fals-Borda, O., and M. Rahman, eds. Action and Knowledge: Breaking the Monopoly with Participatory Action-Research. New York: Apex Press, 1991.

    Provides several reflections from some of PAR’s key practitioners and theorists. Particular emphasis on grounding PAR in the experiences and practices of the Global South.

  • Kemmis, S., R. McTaggart, and R. Nixon. The Action Research Planner: Doing Critical Participatory Action Research. London: Springer, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-981-4560-67-2

    Authors reflect on their experiences and seek to promote new ways of understanding participation, action, and research. Participation, for example, is (re)thought via the work of Habermas and practice through the influential work of Schatzki.

  • Kindon, S., R. Pain, and M. Kesby. Participatory Action Research Approaches and Methods: Connecting People, Participation and Place. London: Routledge, 2007.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203933671

    Influential text by human geographers that consists of twenty-six short and collaboratively written chapters on varying aspects of PAR in thought and practice. Aims to represent the cyclical nature of PAR by moving across reflection-action-reflection while grounding discussion in a range of contexts from across the world.

  • Kindon, S., R. Pain, and M. Kesby. “Participatory Action Research.” In International Encyclopaedia of Human Geography. Vol. 8. Edited by R. Kitchin and N. Thrift, 90–95. Oxford: Elsevier, 2009.

    Overview of PAR including historical origins, core debates and critiques, methodological questions, and ethical dilemmas.

  • McIntyre, A. Participatory Action Research. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2008.

    DOI: 10.4135/9781483385679

    Provides a thoughtful reflection of PAR from two research projects: understanding and transforming problems of urban youth at a North American inner-city public school and a consciousness-raising PAR project with women from a community in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

  • McTaggart, R., ed. Participatory Action Research: International Contexts and Consequences. New York: SUNY Press, 1997.

    Examines PAR in thought and practice from a range of international perspectives from Europe, Latin America, and Asia. Particularly helpful for appreciating how PAR has emerged within historically and geographically specific contexts, thus exposing commonalities and differences.

  • Reason, P., and H. Bradbury-Huang, eds. Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice. London: SAGE, 2007.

    Large edited volume with extensive set of contributors and discussions. Includes epistemological and practical debates alongside multiple case studies.

  • Whyte, W., ed. Action Research. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE, 1991.

    Provides several international case studies of PAR with a particular focus on its uptake in industry and in agriculture.

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