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Master of Arts (M.A.)

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Participatory Action Research, Creative Economy, Research Process, Community Based Research


The most common goal of professional sociology is to describe and or explain the social world. However, recognizing the performative aspects of science, and in keeping with Burawoy’s (2005) emphasis on “organic public sociology,” I ague that there is latitude within the discipline to design research with the aim of linking knowledge production and social change. I also argue that the discipline’s understanding of effecting change need not be limited to outcomes such as teaching, publication, or the creation of policy; the research process itself has social effects (Hesse-Biber, Leavy, and Yaiser 2004).

Importing a performative research design from human geography (Community Economies Collective 2001, Cameron and Gibson 2001, 2005, Gibson-Graham 2006b), I co-designed a participatory action research (PAR) project with a graduate student in Geography. We hired 23 artists and artisans from Franklin County, Massachusetts forming a research team. Our goal was to act on the world in real-time through the use of peer-to-peer interviewing.

In this paper I explore the outcomes, including the challenges, of researching from this approach. The research design and the ensuing process—training members of the research team, conducting interviews, and collaborating on projects—is the focus of my analysis. I discuss how aiming for transformation shaped our research decisions. Through my analysis of the research process, and in contrast to decision-making processes from a common sense epistemology, I argue that the interactions and connections engendered by the process itself matter just as much as the ensuing sociological understanding.


First Advisor

Millicent S. Thayer