Return to Course List

Educ 888 - Participatory Action Research Methods
Fall 2007
Draft syllabus – Final version available in class

Gretchen B. Rossman, 262 Hills South –
Tuesdays, 1-4pm  273 Hills South


Overview and Goals

Participatory Action Research (PAR) is a collaborative approach to inquiry and action that emerges from the interests or problems of a specific group or community. Its overall purpose is to provide an environment and process through which a group of people may deepen their understanding of their circumstances and take action to help resolve oppressive or debilitating conditions. It focuses, thus, on local interests as sites for inquiring and taking action. PAR is enacted through a specific set of social values: it is democratic, equitable, liberating, life-enhancing, and explicitly political. The practice of PAR demands continuous attention to the ethics of the work, specifically to critically reflect upon and examine the role of the outsider, facilitator, or critical friend in the PAR process. Finally, PAR takes as its central focuses learning—of all participants—and change—both explicit and tacit theories of change and action embedded in practice.

The goals of this course are:

1. to understand the principles and methods of PAR and how these relate to other research traditions;

2. to practice using specific PAR methods; and

3. to be able to select methods appropriate to specific contexts.

Throughout the course, we will emphasize the ethical issues that conducting PAR entails, as well as how gender, social class/caste, and power generally shape participation in and the facilitation of PAR.

Organization and Teaching Strategies

The course is organized into three clusters. The first focuses on the theory, processes, and methods of PAR through readings, case analyses, and written and in-class activities. The second cluster focuses on the specific methods and activities in four contexts (communities, organizations, schools, and rural areas) for conducting a PAR project. In this cluster, we examine the methods of inquiry and action integral to PAR, providing opportunities to practice the methods through in-class activities. In the final cluster, the focus shifts to developing a set of critical criteria for assessing when, why, and how to use the methods in a specific project.

The teaching strategies for the course are based on the principle that opportunities to practice, critically analyze, and reflect are integral to learning. To that end, the course provides experiences to practice some of the various methods of PAR. On-going participatory projects will also offer laboratories for engaging in specific methods. We will also rely on cases that depict participatory projects; these draw from a variety of sectors and cultural contexts.

Requirements and Expectations

Required texts:

Stringer, E. T.  (1999). Action research, 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. (available at Food for Thought Books in Amherst)

Selener, D. (1997). Participatory action research and social change. Cornell: Cornell Participatory Action Research Network.  (available from the instructor - used)
            A set of collected readings is also required.

Suggested Other Sources: (not on reserve - try the library)

Chambers, R. (2002). Participatory workshops: A sourcebook of 21 sets of ideas and activities. London: Earthscan.

Cooke, B., & Kothari, U. (2001). Participation: The new tyranny? London: Zed Books.

Hart, R. A. (1997). Children’s participation. London: Earthscan Publications.

Hope, A., & Timmel, S. (1999). Training for transformation: A handbook for community workers, Book IV. London: ITDG Publishers.

McTaggart, R. (Ed.) Participatory action research: International contexts and consequences. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

Narayan, D., Chambers, R., Shah, M. K., & Petesch, P. (2000). Voices of the poor: Crying out for change. New York: Oxford University Press.

Narayan, D., with Patel, R., Schafft, K., Rademacher, A., & Koch-Schulte, S. (2000). Voices of the poor: Can anyone hear us? New York: Oxford University Press.

Smith, S. E., Willms, D. G., with Johnson, N. A. (1997). Nurtured by knowledge: Learning to do participatory action-research. New York: Apex Press.

Slocum, R., Wichart, L., Rocheleau, D., & Thomas-Slayter, D. (Eds.) (1998). Power, process & participation: Tools for change. London: Intermediate Technology Publications.

Stringer, E. T.  (1999). Action research, 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Reason, P., & Bradbury, H. (2001). Handbook of action research. London: Sage.

Relevant websites:               

Written Assignments:

* reflections paper incorporating your thoughts on the topics of research, participation, and social change or action - DUE February 19 (week 4)

* two papers each analyzing a specific PAR method - DUE March 5 (week 6) and April 16 (week 11)

* a final paper developing criteria for appropriate implementation of a PAR project with specific examples - DUE May 14 (final class)

Group Project:  For the second cluster of the course, four groups will present methods or activities appropriate for each phase of the PAR cycle. Groups will be formed in the second class meeting; each group will meet with the instructors to develop their presentations. Group 1 presentation – March 5 (week 6); Group 2 presentation – March 26 (week 8); Group 3 presentation – April 9 (week 10); and Group 4 presentation – April 30 (week 12).

Grading:  This course is offered on a pass-fail basis with a graded option. Those wishing to take the course for a grade should inform us in writing by the third week of class.

Accommodations:  Please inform us early in the course if you have a learning style difference or other circumstances that might affect your work in the course. Informing us early on permits appropriate accommodations to those circumstances.

Return to course List