ISSS 2019: Participatory Action Research

The Irish Screen Studies Seminar 2019 took place in Galway, Ireland, at the Huston School of Film & Digital Media on 9-10 May. My presentation was about participatory action research in media.

Academic analyses are sometimes criticised as elitist, exclusionary, even incomprehensible. Media research can become similarly impenetrable, making it difficult to take discoveries and solutions to a wider audience. For those wishing to involve creative change-makers, particularly in a social justice context, Participatory Action Research (PAR) can be an effective method of engagement.

A number of PAR projects have involved creation of performance-based or digital media. For example, Prof. Maggie O’Neill walked with migrant women in London who drew maps and created a stage performance of their stories, which facilitated the making of a short film. Andrew Irving, likewise taking up the walking approach, co-created the photo essay “Dangerous Substances” as a reflection of the inner dialogue experienced by a person newly diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.

PAR requires community “buy-in”, a prerequisite that deftly curbs the saviour mindset frequently present in social justice undertakings. It can be used in concert with other research techniques; it is both qualitative and quantitative; it encourages reflexivity. Described by Orlando Fals-Borda as “praxis-inspired commitment”, researchers work in and with communities to address issues in a context-specific manner, opening themselves up to listen and learn as much as record and analyse.

The method brings empowerment, promotes social change, and engages the senses. It addresses the problem of moving research off the page and into the hands of those who can best implement social change, often by creating innovative digital art. Media studies is uniquely positioned to take full advantage of the creative possibilities of PAR.


Slides from the presentation may be viewed below or downloaded in .pdf form.



Notes accompanying the slides may be viewed below or downloaded in .pdf form.

Presentation notes: Participatory Action Research in Media Studies: Social Justice in Three (or More) Dimensions