The transformative promises of participatory and action research can lead to a preoccupation with methods and tools, diverting attention from important questions about politics, purpose, facilitation, and the philosophical and pedagogical claims that underlie the use of these methods.
Reflecting on two action learning processes with community leaders and voluntary sector workers in England, which combined a series of reflective workshops with periods of practice, this article examines the nature of the learning process, the power and position of the facilitators, and the quality of this experience as a form of participatory or action research. Looking through the lenses of the critical, reflective and experiential learning traditions that underpin participatory and action research, the article asks how these theories and practices can help to explain the process. It also asks how certain assumptions about critical and experiential learning might be problematic and – while making transformative claims – actually close down necessary reflection about power, positionality and the ethical dilemmas and imperfections that arise in all research.
This article comes from the IDS Bulletin 43.3 (2012) Getting to Grips with Power: Action Learning for Social Change in the UK