Repositioning Ethical Commitments: Participatory Action Research as a Relational Praxis of Social Change

Caitlin Cahill


The development of participatory action research (PAR) reflects an ethical commitment to creating conditions for social change to be used by the community for their own purposes. But what are the ethical issues and responsibilities involved in participatory research? And how do these differ from the ethical guidelines mandated by our Institutional Review Boards (IRB)? Here I illustrate how participatory research grounds the IRB’s abstract ethical principles in terms that are meaningful to the community, referencing a youth participatory video research project “Equal access to higher education for all “ that focuses on the challenges undocumented students face trying to go to college. My analysis engages this project as a way of exploring participatory ethics as a relational praxis, specifically outlining the epistemological orientation of participatory action research (PAR) as an ‘ethic of care’. The Equal Access project raises critical questions relevant to our conceptualization of risk and responsibility. I argue that participatory research re-positions our understanding of ethics within the broader socio-political, global context of our everyday lives. With this in mind, researchers have a collective responsibility to address ethical questions of representation, political strategy, and emotional engagement.


participatory action research; ethics; social change; Institutional Review Boards; undocumented students; risk; responsibility representation; political strategy; emotional engagement

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ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies - ISSN: 1492-9732