Co-Creating Sustainable Futures : Participatory Action Research as a Catalyst for Political Engagement
Abstract: This study is a participatory action research (PAR) project, which means that the study is conducted with participants as co-researchers who shape the process, instead of ‘study objects’. The project revolves around sustainability in a rural setting in central Germany, but the focus of this thesis is on the process rather than the content. While PAR literature is sensitive of participants’ perspectives and power dynamics, and tends to be self-reflective, there are only few studies that focus on the researcher’s perspective. On the other hand, literature presents the need for individual and real stories of researchers, that are not ‘beautified’ by the usual way of presentation in academic research. This study was conducted in the municipality of Bad Emstal by initiating a project on rural sustainability. The methods include semi-structured interviews (with 11 actors)and unstructured interviews, as well as the analysis of secondary data, two focus groups and a researcher diary. All data was analysed through a thematic analysis, and reflected on through feedback loops with participants. The analysis shows that due to many shared experiences, the perspectives of the researcher, participants and politicians overlap a lot in the rural context. Two themes influenced the role of the researcher in this study significantly: Age and the past, as well as the rural setting. Several learnings for researchers in similar contexts are formulated based on the data gathered throughout the project. They can be summarised in three responsibilities the researcher can take over to improve their work in PAR:1. Creating a space that is open for (re-)connecting with others and trying out new structures and topics.2. Setting boundaries for themselves and facilitating a clear definition and communication of boundaries for the project.3. Supporting the community in making their efforts visible and setting realistic goals that can be reached and celebrated.Thus, it is concluded that the researcher - while having an agenda themselves - can enact their role as a change agent by being in a position of support to the community they work in.
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