Tuck, 2009

Tuck, E. (2009). Re-visioning Action: Participatory Action Research and Indigenous Theories of Change. The Urban Review, 41(1), 47–65. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11256-008-0094-x

*In your Discussion post gather evidence from the paper you chose to the commitment of the principles of communicative action: intersubjective agreement, mutual understanding, and unforced consensus. It might be that the paper doesn't explicitly state these actions, or there may be evidence that the research deliberately doesn't address these actions. Provide a brief rationale for what you've can get from the paper either way, or the inferences you could make related to what the authors share (saying, doing, relating) for communicative action.

Alternatively for this Discussion post, you could also consider or make connections between the article you chose and your community engagement project if you notice connections.*


This article observes that participatory action research (PAR), by nature of being collaborative, necessitates making explicit theories of change that may have otherwise gone unseen or unexamined. The article explores the limits of the reform/revolution paradox on actions and theories of change in PAR. Citing examples from two recent youth PAR projects on educational issues, the author submits that when met with such a paradox, one can only move to a new vantage point. Four alternative vantage points, drawn from Indigenous epistemologies, are illustrated; they are sovereignty, contention, balance, and relationship.


Participatory action research, Action, Theories of change, Indigenous Sovereignty Balance, Epistemology, Reform, and revolution

CREDD and the Gateways and Getaways Project

As part of my dissertation research, I formed the Collective of Researchers on Educational Disappointment and Desire (CREDD) with a handful of high school aged youth in February 2006 to initiate research on the use and overuse of the General Educational Development (GED) credential option in New York City public schools. After observing the shrinking number of options for youth to complete a high school diploma in New York State, particularly because of the New York Regents, a now mandated series of exit exams, we suspected that the GED option was more frequently thrust upon students who, for a range of reasons, were unlikely to pass those tests. Observing also that the GED is an alternative, but not an equal alternative to the high school diploma, we designed our study to capture the experience of students who voluntarily and involuntarily exercised the GED option; the circumstances before and after; the school policies and practices that push students out of school, preventing them from secondary school completion; and possible connections to larger social inequities.

Many, many meetings took place before the group of youth researchers that would become the Youth Researchers for a New Education System (YRNES) began to work together- this was a campaign that had many moving parts, and as a piece of research commissioned by the campaign, it was at first difficult to get clear on what could be expected. Soon, we did come to an understanding that although the PAR project was requested by the campaign, and the PAR project would take up questions of school control and the need for human rights based public schooling, it would be the youth researchers that would have ownership and decision making power over the research questions, design, data collection, and analysis. In this way, the new youth research collective, YRNES, would be another one of the sovereign working parts of the campaign.

Intersubjective Agreement

Taiaiake Alfred, endorsing Six Nations member Thohahoken’s distinction, defines the Indigenous episteme of relationship as being concerned with the “‘aural tradition,” meaning that listening is the true Indigenous way, as opposed to the more common understanding of it as ‘oral tradition,’ which of course is all about speaking and not listening” (Alfred 2005, p. 199). This he contrasts with the colonial relationship as a “dynamic relationship of arrogance, complacency, and complicity” (Alfred 2005, p. 113).

However, as PAR researcher Zeller Berkman (2007) insists, action in PAR cannot be contained to the final stages of a project. (See also Tuck et al. 2008) In fact, when working with youth, Zeller-Berkman argues that it is vital to their learning and satisfaction in a PAR project that action happens early and often, over the course of a project (Zeller-Berkman 2007). I have come to think of action as having the role that fires have in the forest growing cycle of interior Alaska- forceful, with somewhat unpredictable trajectories, but necessary to regenerate and make room for new growth. Of course, fire is a bold and dangerous metaphor; maybe leg waxing captures this same goal without such high, high stakes.

Mutual Understanding

Despite our respect for those who engage in civil disobedience, most youth in both groups, because of their social locations, could not financially or academically afford to be arrested. Though the nuances of each of our decisions regarding action were bound up in considerations of consequences, audience, time, and (potential) effect, again and again it felt like we only had variations of the two predominant theories of change: incremental reform over time and an absolute break, a revolution.

Unforced Consensus

What we like about a slam book, in contrast to a survey or opinion poll, is that youth can see one anothers’ answers. When designing our project, we saw slambooks as a way to contend with what is and isn’t considered a normal experience of schooling. We saw slambooks as a pedagogical and reciprocal method of collecting data, and because of the questions we posed and the answers our slambook participants provided, the slambooks became small acts of creative contention.

When we began working with the group of youth that would become YRNES, we tried another approach, seeking to build our collective in balance (rather than as a synchronized swimming team) as much as we could from the very beginning. In many ways, the Indigenous epistemology of balance can serve as a counter to latent dogmatism, such as fetishizing equal distribution, market logic, or even “democratic” practices such as one person, one vote. (Alfred 2005; Smith 2000)

Balance is not only necessary for distributions of knowledge and responsibility within a collective, but also for a process of decolonization, or “a process of discovering the truth in a world created out of lies” (Alfred 2005, p. 280). This concept also came up in CREDD’s interviews with youth GED earners and seekers. Alex told us about his process of sorting the truth and the lies when he answered our question about the most important thing he had ever learned. “The most important thing I learned is to not give up on myself, keep my head up high, have some self respect for myself. And once I did that, I got my GED and everything. And everyday I wake up and I pick up my head high and have respect for myself.”


Raven is a hero in stories of many peoples in the North, and some of my favorite stories feature Raven (the trickster) seeking a resource or knowledge for self-interested reasons, but through his approach, yielding results for all of the surrounding peoples. “Raven challenges our conceptions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ or ‘good’ and ‘evil.’ Instead, the lessons Raven brings us are ones that demonstrate the complicated nature of living, knowing, and being.” (Brayboy 2008) Raven stories bring together the inner angles of sovereignty, contestation, balance and relationship, putting into motion all of these working parts of Indigenous theories of change.