Participatory research as we now know it, with its emphasis on practice in conditions of exploitation and poverty, originated in Third World countries such as India, Brazil, Mexico, Tanzania and Colombia. Participatory research emerged around 1970, when socials scientists who shared a particular concern about life conditions among the rural poor, became dissatisfied with our training. Our conceptions of Cartesian rationality, progress, and "normal" science had been challenged, and we sought alternative emancipatory modes of research and action. This included looking for conceptual elements to guide our fieldwork that would take us beyond our tentative first steps with social psychology, Marxism, phenomenology and classical theories of participation, including action.
But Implicit action alone was not enough. We have felt that it was important to continue to respect the immanent validity of critical methodology, which, as Gadamer taught us, implies one logic of scientific investigation (1960). We wanted to perform our tasks with the same seriousness of purpose and cultivated discipline to which traditional university research had aspired. For example, besides establishing a rigorous and pertinent science, we wanted to pay attention to grassroots people's knowledge. We were ready to discard our learned jargon and to communicate instead through everyday language. Moreover, we tried innovated frames of reference like sharing work with collectives and local groups to lay enlightened foundations for their empowerment.
Curiously enough, and in hindsight, we can say that we anticipated postmodernism. At that time, European thinkers were just warming up to this subject. We went beyond them with our attempts to articulate alternative discourses to systematic observations and experiences in the field. This remains a crucial difference among us.
From our concerns arose three broad challenges which were related to the scientific and emancipatory construction we were attempting. The first one touched on the relationship between science, knowledge and reason; the second, on the dialectics of theory and practice; and the third on the subject/object tension. I will now briefly describe each challenge and our attempts to face them.
Center for International Education