The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Building Our Collective Strength Through Unequal Partnerships: Reflections On Participatory Action Research From Multiple Standpoints

Thursday, January 16, 2014: 3:30 PM
HBG Convention Center, Room 008B River Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Rupaleem Bhuyan, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Participatory action research, as inspired by feminist and emancipatory principles seeks to ensure that people whose lives are impacted by research, actively shape the processes to generate and apply research knowledge. There remain, however, significant institutional and interpersonal challenges to sharing resources and building consensus when conducting research. The risks for people who engage in anti-institutional and decolonizing knowledge production are also unevenly distributed among researchers who have varied social locations vies-a-vie each other, the institutions in which they work, and the broader community (i.e. international student who is a research assistant, doctoral candidate, pre-tenured faculty researcher, community member). University and community-based researchers who share decision-making roles within a hierarchical context, test the boundaries of anonymity and confidentiality that is often closely guarded under ethics protocols for ‘human subjects’. The attributes and products of research activities are also narrowly constructed such that the papers presented at conferences, peer-reviewed publications, and even community reports, overshadow the consciousness raising of PAR that can influence daily social practices in the areas of community practice, policy advocacy, and the practice of substantive citizenship.

In this presentation, we illustrate the praxis of decolonizing, feminist and anti-oppression research methodologies from the perspective of a group of women[1] who worked together on a university-based participatory action research project including: the principal investigator, graduate research assistants, and an MSW practicum student. We illustrate our varied standpoints while engaging in participatory action research with the Migrant Mothers Project, which explores how Latina women’s migration to Canada has been shaped by violence and how women with precarious migratory status in Canada practice substantive citizenship for themselves and their children. This presentation highlights the perspectives of graduate students who are integral to the daily operations of university-based research, but are often rendered invisible or neutral in analyses of power in the production of research knowledge. Even when researchers—typically referring to the principal investigator and co-investigator—employ feminist and anti-oppression research methodologies, there has been little attention to the process of developing feminist consciousness within a research team that includes people who are multiply-positioned within the University and broader community.

This presentation includes a brief description of the Migrant Mothers Project, the research goals, activities and approach to participatory action research. We then present a series of personal narratives from several research staff who took part in different stages of the project, to illustrate in what ways our own standpoints informed our approach to feminist and anti-oppression research. Through reflexive analysis of different stages of our research and community organizing, we explore how we pursued feminist, anti-oppression, and emancipatory principles through our various roles. We also discuss ways in which we navigated interlocking oppressions within the University, across not-for-profit institutions, and in the midst of hostile immigration policies that shaped our research activities and our relations with one another.


[1] Our research team involved a range of women identified individuals with varied gender identities, sexual orientation and gender expressions.