NEW BOOK LAUNCHED – People’s Knowledge…Escaping the White-walled Labyrinth

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The world of research run by universities and other institutions is dominated by a culture that is white, upper-middle class and male. When people from communities that have previously been excluded are asked to take part in research – even participative research – they are seldom able to do so on equal terms. Instead of being supported to draw on the expertise that they have gained from their life experience, they find themselves trapped in a ‘white-walled labyrinth’.

People’s Knowledge and Participatory Action Research opens up a new realm of understanding, one that has been created by authors who are mainly non-academics, and who bring their own perspectives on the production and validation of knowledge.

The book attempts to address some of the tensions between traditional and more participatory approaches to research by exploring three questions:

  • What kinds of oppression can take place when people who experience exclusion work with professional researchers?
  • How can knowledge be truly co-produced in a spirit of mutual learning and respect?
  • What are the most promising approaches to build future alliances for creating a ‘people’s knowledge’ that treats equally the professional researcher and those whose expertise comes from their life experience?

The book ends with some signposts for transforming participatory and action-orientated approaches to research in order to achieve social and environmental justice.


Praise for this book:

‘People’s Knowledge and Participatory Action Research offers a radical exploration of the deep knowledge held within communities under siege by neoliberalism and traditional forms of science; the dedicated refusal to surrender this knowledge to the hegemonic gaze of “experts”, grip of white supremacy or bribes of corporate interests, and the joy and delicacies of engaging in participatory research for justice. A must-read for community-based researchers and even more so for academics deluded by fantasies of expertise. Congratulations!’

Michelle Fine, Distinguished Professor of Social Psychology, Women’s Studies and Urban Education, City University of New York.


‘This book is an important contribution to helping all of us — academics and grassroots-led researchers — to think through what it means to collaborate. Clearly written and with both practical wisdom and theoretical reach, it is a book to get some useful conversations started.’

Keri Facer, Professor of Educational & Social Futures, University of Bristol and AHRC Leadership Fellow, Connected Communities


‘Given the pressing environmental and social justice issues facing society today, research should be moving towards a co-production of knowledge with communities. However, too often it is questionable whether it is, or whether there continues to be a top down process of knowledge dissemination to the public from the “white walls” of the academy. Through writing, reflection, poetry and the visual arts, this book draws out these issues — political, ethical, and social — and provides an important platform for people outside these walls from which to speak about their collaborative knowledge production practices.’

Jacqueline Vadjunec, Associate Professor, Department of Geography, Oklahoma State University


‘This engrossing and timely collection exposes the weaknesses of conventional academic research. The authors outline a new approach for action research, taking us in a direction that will help heal the many divisions in our fractured world. Anyone involved in research, whether in universities, community organizations or governments, should read it. I loved the fresh voices on gender and race. We should all write letters to our younger action researcher selves acknowledging how colonized we have been. When we liberate ourselves we liberate those with whom we partner. This would be a great deal.’

Hilary Bradbury, Editor of Handbook of Action Research and Action Research Journal.



The book has been published by Practical Action Publishing as an e-book. 

You can download a copy from the link below:

People’s Knowledge and Participatory Action Research Book (PDF 3.6MB)

Also available in Español:

Conocimiento popular e Investigación acción participativa (PDF 2.3MB)


Print copies available from Practical Action Publishing.


Introduction Editorial collective

  1. Learning at the University of Armageddon Anonymous contributions
  2. Making connections in the “white-walled labyrinth” Mayra Guzman, Cedoux Kadima, Grace Lovell, Asha Ali Mohamed, Ros Norton, Federico Rivas and Alpha Thiam
  3. Examining our differences Asha Ali Mohamed, Asma Istwani, Beatriz Villate, Emilia Ohberg, Eva Galante, Fatma Mohamed, Ijaba Ahmed, Hinda Mohamed Smith, Lucy Pearson, Mayra Guzman, Salma Istwani, Shanti Sakar, Susanna Hunter-Darch and Tamanna Miah
  4. Cultivating an anti-racist position in post-race society Jasber Singh
  5. Poems Chris JaM
  6. A puzzling search for authenticity in academia Lucy Pearson, Javier Sanchez Rodriguez and Asha Ali Mohamed
  7. Community media and cultural politics on Tyneside Hugh Kelly with Graham Jeffrey
  8. A civil rights activist reflects on research David Clay
  9. LiverNorth: combining individual and collective patient knowledge Tilly Hale
  10. The original citizen scientists Editorial collective with paintings from Haiti by Michel Lafleur
  11. Signposts for people’s knowledge Tom Wakeford

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