Social Change: Why we should embrace Participatory Action Research (PAR)

I was disturbed to read that an advisor would decline to participate in a dissertation committee for disagreeing with the mixing of politics and psychology (Brydon-Miller, 1997). Research, especially psychological research, has played important roles in helping to move social progress. At any point in time, researchers will look into topics and subjects that have never been researched before. It is here that hypotheses are formed and proven or rejected. For one to out rightly conclude politics and psychology cannot mix is to me perhaps an insult to knowledge generation. How else could society have moved from racial and gender discrimination to the notion of all people being equal? How else could society have moved from having women stay at home predominantly as home-makers (other terms include “house wives”) to become CEO’s on Fortune 500 companies (Molla, 2014)? All these came about after thorough research rejected the notion that only men can perform these responsibilities effectively.

Women would never have broken the proverbial glass ceiling. It is my belief that many in the past would have required for evidence that a woman can become effective in a CEO’s role. It is impossible to prove anything when a person is not given the chance to do so in the first place. This is the same perspective that I hold when looking at Participatory Action Research (PAR). The role and importance of PAR should be allowed to explore knowledge generation without being bounded to certain themes like Marxism, Feminism, and Critical theory. The interpretive and critical approaches that Brydon-Miller (1997) point to, illustrate that human interests cannot be confined to narrow themes.

Suggestions of ethical failures or a lack of separation between the researcher and the research are by themselves not sufficient to invalidate the need for PAR. If data collection and validation methods are established, the outcomes can be invaluable for society at large. It is obvious that when PAR is suppressed, only entrenched corporate interests will be able to undertake self-serving research where the agenda is hidden but the outcomes pre-determined World-Campus, 2014). It is time that Participatory Action Research should be allowed to thrive and their findings accepted after going through peer reviews. This is healthy for generating knowledge in alternative ways, and also for social progress.


Brydon-Miller, M (1997). Participatory Action Research: Psychology and Social Change. Journal of Social Issues (53- 4) Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Molla, R., (2014) Meet the Women CEOs of the Fortune 500 Retrieved from

Social Change/Participatory Research. Lesson 13. Penn State World Campus, 2014


  1. What a great topic! Social Change. We should embrace PAR. And who better to enhance or trigger this change but applied social psychologists in the making.

    I could not agree with you more about the importance of an individual’s interests and/or perceived realities – how he or her feels and interprets, at the individual level, should matter and count for something other than just specific “data” gathered statistically as participants in a manipulated study. But as you stated, it is when the agenda is veiled and the guises shift to apply various meanings to accommodate different views, depending on the angles in which they are viewed from, would not allow validation to be made.

    I was writing my blog and researching YouTube for a video on Cognitive Dissonance and came across this interesting video which is extremely pertinent to our discussion, and your post (see link below). And it is because Participatory Action Research should be considered a vital tool in exploratory fact finding that I am baffled as to why or how it could be shunned or disregarded when questions are posed and left unanswered. Perhaps it is as you so eloquently suggested, and I’ll paraphrase, sometimes those questions are sidestepped and purposely avoided to not reveal a concealed truth? Depends on the “stakeholder” and what is at stake I would imagine.

    My biggest problem with the application of this method is how the “intrigued mind that wants to know”, depending on who feels threatened or would be effected by the questioning and/or request for transparency, could have a position or perspective refuted can take offense, almost shifts and manipulates the situation back to his or her favor. And here is where we have all the programming and propaganda – that by definition means “half-truths” or better identified as “misinformation”.

    Look at our societies, whether here at the academic level – sharing and building on to one another’s ideas constructively, or on a political theater or religious theater. There are numerous “taboo topics” that result in loss of life, started wars, promote conflict, have broken homes, ended relationships, etc. all because of a difference of opinion. If someone can’t understand how “2+2 is made to be 5”, and we’re told “this is right” and we know it is not, “it equals 4”, and say “no, this is wrong”, how can we not question that equation? (See 1984 spark notes link below for a refresher on the slogan)

  2. Ivan David Rogers

    Getting involved in a different culture and realizing the nature of the behaviors can be a trickly proposition. Research can provide us the maps to explore beyond the realm of our expectations. Whether it be social research or participatory research the outcome can be surprisingly different that our original goals and intents. Once involved in a situation where culture and contact with the people in a certain area are experienced, our views may change. We become an extesnsion of their feelings and way of life. We have empathy for them, but at the same time, we establish a rapport and being to understand why they behave in certain ways and react to situations the way they do. To err is human, but to be compassionate and drop the chains of research sometimes takes the lead.
    It’s unfortunate that our American journalists were beheaded in a foreign country. They too were researching foreign lands. However, they became victims of the culture and maybe they too had empathy for the practices engaged by the people in that country. We will never know what went through their minds at the end. It is apparent that they had empathy for the people in that country. They mingled and became a part of the daily lives of the people there. However, they were not given a chance to draw their conclusions and offer references to their findings. Even though they tried to engage in the culture in an effort to better understand the daily practices and violence, they were denied the privileges of drawing conclusions and offering accounts of their findings. In this instance, the consequences of the research by these two men were devastating. Their findings regarding the culture of this country were stopped by a definite act of violence that was a major belief and practice of this region’s culture itself–beheading.

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