16: Community research

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This chapter focuses on only two approaches to research in the community. These are narrative inquiry and action research, the latter including participatory action research (PAR). These have been selected as they are considered by the authors to be of most use to practitioners, as they are both consistent with the values of community work. Also, in the case of action research, it has a developmental and change focus as well as one of inquiry. People are storytellers by nature, we suggest. Stories provide coherence and continuity to an individual’s experience and have a central role in our communication with others; stories assist us to explore and understand the inner world of the individual and his or her identity. Narrative inquiry looks at the past (the story); the present (how it is framed now) and the future (what this means for future identity and behaviour). It is not the same as interviewing people; rather, it sees people as individual case studies of self-narrative. We know or discover ourselves and reveal ourselves to others by the stories we tell.

Action research is about collaborative and democratic practices, which make it political. It is also about change to the status quo, which is why we propose that it is so relevant to community work. PAR is not just doing research projects as a practitioner. It is more a philosophical stance that enables people to question and improve taken-for-granted ways of thinking and doing.

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