Participatory Action Research: Contributions to the Development of Practitioner Inquiry in Education

Mar. 31, 2009

Source: Educational Action Research, Volume 17, Issue 1 (March 2009),
pages 79 - 93.

The notion of teachers studying their own practice and working with students and community partners to address issues of inequality in schooling is the radical root of many forms of educational practitioner inquiry. But this emancipatory foundation of practitioner inquiry is currently under threat by efforts to limit the focus of this engaged form of knowledge generation to narrowly defined and decontextualized problems, disconnected from critiques of unjust and inequitable social conditions. Participatory action research (PAR) provides a framework for recapturing the potential of practitioner inquiry to bring about meaningful change. PAR expands the notion of researcher to include a range of stakeholders who collaboratively engage in all phases of the action-reflection cycle. The intentional focus on collaborative research, action for social change, and participant education shifts inquiry from an individual to a collective endeavor, intentionally aimed at transformative personal, organizational, and structural change. PAR is an openly and unapologetically political approach to knowledge creation through and for action. It is political in the sense of naming and unsettling relationships of power. The struggle to maintain, or in some cases introduce, a counter-hegemonic edge to action research, including all types of practitioner inquiry, frames this work. The diverse community of participatory action researchers has unique contributions to offer the dialogue about the nature and consequences of various forms of educational practitioner inquiry. In this article, the authors briefly address the origins, purposes, values, and unique aspects of PAR. They then identify some of the contributions PAR can make to the common goal of improving educational practice and contributing to positive change in the lives of children, their families, teachers, and communities. The authors also consider some of the tensions that may arise when they attempt to integrate the principles of PAR into practitioner inquiry along with strategies for addressing these concerns in creative and constructive ways.

Updated: May. 14, 2009