Chataway: “Negotiating the Observer-Observed Relationship: Participatory Action Research”

Chataway, Cynthia. “Negotiating the Observer-Observed Relationship: Participatory Action Research.” From subjects to subjectivities : a handbook of interpretive and participatory methods. Ed. Deborah Tolman & Mary Brydon-Miller. New York: New York University Press, 2001. Print.



How Do You Do PAR?


“PAR is an attitude. It is a commitment to a way of being with people, to be responsive to their needs and concerns...and to accept the vulnerability that comes with full participation in multiple layers of social complexity” (##-##). “Subjects” invited to be full participants, designing research, deciding how results will be used and represented.


Skills: range of research methods, from quant hypoth-testing questionnaires, ethnography, community dev., and visual experiential meth of inquiry (mapping, modeling, video). Chataway argues that PAR “resembles mediation, in that the outsider/mediator makes a commitment to democratic principles of practice, rather than to a particular product, and his/her job is to facilitate the emergence of answers from the system, rather than to provide answers” (##).


IRBs, etc. tend not to get PAR (b/c IRBs prioritize content over process).


C defines process as ‘dialectical’


Overview of Three Years’ Work


Chataway Figure 15.1Three years: defining research questions, developing the research tools, collecting the data, interpreting the data, and deciding whether and how to use and communicate new learnings or to move into further research (close paraphrase ##).


Immersion in culture.


Major question developed with group: "What are the barriers to designing and adopting a new system of government in this community?"


Observer or Observed?


Chataway notes that preceding section was the "technical" version of what took place.


Noted two different foci: critical focus on C as "potentially dangerous outsider" and critical focus "on community members and their responsibilities for their situation."


Observing the Outsider


constant self-definition defending from others'' research practices. Needed to use mediator skills. Respect for community.


Chataway provides several good ideas/steps, including writing a clear direct letter to community detailing plans etc. Didn''t always have clear, perfect victories. Always conscious that she represented dominant culture.


Observing the Community


recognition that her questions (born of her own fears/concerns/biases) were not her community''s questions. When she stopped focusing on her issue (external communications) and focused instead on the community''s (internal communication), began to create real change. Explains how community shaped/reshaped her questions.




How observing selves as participants and reacting to C as outsider helped create better understanding of community system and barriers to change.