Hall, 1992

Hall, B. L. (1992). From Margins to Center? The Development and Purpose of Participatory Research. The American Sociologist, 23(4), 15–28. Retrieved from JSTOR.


This article documents the development of the libratory stream of participatory research as experienced through the activities and connections of one of the key figures in the early development and dissemination of these ideas. It traces the developments in Tanzania in the early 1970s, through the establishment of the original Participatory Research Network to the elaboration of theoretical and political debates. It highlights the formulation and elaboration of participatory research as a contribution to social change in a variety of settings. It includes discussions of the feminist advance, the question of voice and the relationship of power to knowledge in transformative practice. It contains an extensive and historically valuable bibliography.


Research methods, Feminism, Women, Communities, Universities, Political research, Educational research, Historical materialism, Community development, Latin American literature

  1. What does participatory research mean to Hall?

Participatory research has been expressed most generally as a process that combines three activities: research, education and action (Hall, 1981). Participatory research is a social action process that is biased in favor of dominated, exploited, poor or otherwise ignored women and men and groups. It sees no contradiction between goals of collective empowerment and the deepening of social knowledge. The concern with power and democracy and their interactions are central to participatory research. Attention to gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, physical and mental abilities, and other social factors are critical. (p. 16)

In contrast writers form the libratory tradition of participatory research have framed their work explicitly within contexts of power and transformation. Participatory research: joins people together for radical social change (Maguire, 1987:29); enables oppressed groups to acquire leverage for action (Fais Borda and Rahman, 1991:4); presents people as researchers in pursuit of answers to questions of daily struggle and survival (Tandon, 1988:7); breaks down the distinction between the researchers and the researched (Gaventa, 1988:19); acts as a flow-through mechanism between indigenous and western science (Colorado, 1988:63); and returns to the people the legitimacy of the knowledge they are capable of producing (Fais Borda and Rahman, 1991:15). (p. 17)

  1. How would Hall see the Meyer and Fels paper as participatory action research? How do these approaches to AR differ and where do they overlap?

The literature on participatory research has always been vague on the question of methods. This is so because for participatory research, the most important factors are the origins of the issues, the roles that those concerned with the issue play in the process, the emersion of the process in the context of the moment, the potential for mobilizing and collective learning, the links to action, the understanding of how power relationships work and the potential for communications with other experiencing similar discrimination, oppression or violence. In addition participatory research is based on the epistemological assumption that knowledge is constructed socially and therefore that research approaches which allow for social, group or collective analysis of life experiences of power and knowledge are most appropriate. (p. 20)

The principle is that both issues and ways of working should flow from those involved and their context. (p. 20)

Shiva of India for example has noted that the scientific revolution of Newton and Bacon was a male, Eurocentric, white science that by its invention immediately created nonscience or ignorance among people or in places that did not share in this particular way of knowing. Western science rendered invisible ancient, feminine, proearth ways of knowing (Shiva, 1989). (p. 21-22)

It seems to me that Hall would see Fels & Meyer as intending to engage in Participatory Action Research (PAR) from the outset. Their foundational goal was to improve the health of incarcerated women. The temptation was present to fall back on traditional, positivist approaches when Fels and Meyer approached their participants with transcripts to be coded. However, the women in the prison exerted their own power (per Hall (p. 23): "A exercises power over B when A affects B in a manner contrary to B's interests; in other words A gets B to do what he or she does not want to do. B") by pushing back on what they saw as the researcher's misconceptions. In doing this, the women truly became co-researchers with Fels and Meyer.

In the end, then, I think that Hall would approve of Fels and Meyer's paper as one that presents both a narrative of their project, but also a self-conscious meta-narrative of the challenges of PAR.

  1. Map out the development of participatory research as outlined by Hall.
  2. Hall offers a number of issues: methods, feminism, voice, power, role of the university - choose one and consider this issue in light of the Meyer and Fels paper.