Abstract submitted for European Conference on Social Work Research 2014

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Published on: 06/11/2013

Participative learning in a PhD-project – do I practice what I preach?

It is by far nontrivial to make the necessary steps to fully adopt participative research strategies. Window dressing or false believes should be uncovered in order to learn to truly practice what is preached. This paper presentation is inspired by a remark of a renowned lecturer who was convinced for years that he was teaching participatory research strategies. He was shaken after one of his students’ participatory research projects confronted him with the fact he was not. Instead, he was, implicitly and unknowingly, still preaching more positvism than he would like. Research strategy books like “Engaged Scholarship” (Van de Ven, 2007), “Empowerment Evaluation” (Fetterman, 2005) and “The Real Social Science” (Flyvbjerg, 2012) urge the social work researcher to act in cocreative, participative and, even, activist processes in order to really make a difference. Consequently, in a social work PhD-project one attempts to balance between the supervisors’ scientific requirements, the practitioners’ expectations, the policy makers’ interests, and last but not least, the inclusion of the people in the community. It is tempting to think one succeeds or that one is on the right track, but it is important, as the example above shows, to be prepared to scrutinize these assumptions. This presentation will critically apply some of the principles from the mentioned literature to an ongoing PhD-project which is conducted within what is called a local memory website and its community in the east of Amsterdam. This self-organizing community has been collecting memories about experiences in that city district for the last 10 years, which has led to 2600 online memories and more than 20.000 comments on them. The research focuses on empowerment processes on group and community level, especially connected to the online social and cultural dynamics. The involved scholar is both volunteer within the community as an active resident, as well as ‘the community’s reseacher’. Participative learning with the audience of the presetation is aimed for, by reflecting on the various lines of activities that have been undertaken during the research period as attempts to realize inclusive, participatory research.


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  1. [...] social use of ICT and applicable research methodologies; the stuff that makes me happy. I wrote an abstract for another conference based on the inspiration I [...]

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