Last autumn I was very pleased to go to the University of Limerick and present at their excellent conference on methodologies in law. The conference was aimed at doctoral students and there were many in attendance. I presented on participatory research: what is it? Why would you do it? What are the benefits, and the risks, of engaging in this approach to research? The organisers are now finalising an edited book coming from the conference, and I have written up my presentation as a short chapter. The chapter does not purport to tell people how to go about particular means of doing participatory research. Rather, it aims to open doctoral students’ minds to the possible benefits of doing participatory research and to the sets of questions that one might usefully work through when undertaking participatory research. The full chapter in its pre-print mode is available here, and it ends:
Originality is, of course, the Holy Grail of doctoral students. That the candidate has made an original contribution to knowledge is, at core, the basic requirement for being awarded the degree for which you have studied for at least (and often far more than) three years. Originality is also achievable in many means: there is no one right way to establish it. Certainly a well-constructed, curious, intelligent research question that pushes the boundaries of existing knowledge is more or less essential, but so is how one pursues the fundamental task of the PhD: pursuing that question through a well designed research project. In doing that, your choice of methodological approach is important, and participatory research can be an excellent framework for the acquisition of original knowledge, which is then processed, considered, analyzed and marshaled into an argument that constitutes an original contribution to knowledge. Participatory research can lend a new kind of authority to assumed knowledge, present real world heterodoxies to doctrinal orthodoxy, enrich a set of findings, and greatly enhance the originality and practicability of research findings. However, all of this can only be achieved if two conditions are met: (i) the research enquiry justifies the methodology, and (ii) the researcher engages seriously and carefully with the process and the participants.