The methodological approach of participatory research springs from adult education within the field of
the positivistic approach across social sciences on the one hand and the internal aspect of popular participation
movements, such as overcoming the delegation´s democratic limits and the research of a more
complete democracy which grants the requests of largely marginalised social groups, on the other.
On an international level, during the 70s, the ICAE (International Council for Adult Education)
welcomed the innovative movements in participatory research which were to affirm themselves mostly
within the associative movement of more disadvantaged social classes in developing countries and began
to promote their theoretical and methodological reasoning as well as the use of EDA programmes throughout
associative networks across the five continents.
Participatory research rejected the interpretation of social needs, above all those of the less affluent
population, according to the reasoning of scientific and ascetic objectivity. In practice however, this was
linked to the fundamental interests of the dominant classes and therefore did not take the power struggles
between the classes and the social and cultural groups into account. It supported the involvement of the
populations themselves, even more so when their exclusion from the management of public affairs increased.
This was their objective and educational process: the research method, which did not condition
and discriminate cultural transmission, allowed the divide between official legitimate knowledge and
popular knowledge to be overcome. As a result, providers of education/training and adults being trained
became involved in the common research process into people´s own needs, thereby returning to adults the
cognitive power of which they had been dispossessed during the expulsion from the educational system
and during their social and economic marginalisation. In this process, it is recognised that it was only
through the creation of endogenous knowledge that the internal development process tailored to local
cultures could be optimised. In the alliance with popular emancipation movements, education responded
in this way to the obligation to contribute to the liberation of marginalised groups.
In Europe, it is generally in societies whose technology and economy is more advanced that participatory
research into adult education has had to be confronted with social and economic reality as well as
with more complex and sophisticated cultural dimensions. It has been put to the test in formal and
informal adult education programmes, in research methods and contents of more accredited disciplinary
knowledge compared to the content and ways of thinking of adults who are officially deficient in education.
In practice, however, they do bring problems and cognitive evidence with them, the disciplinary
knowledge of which was not always able to provide adequate solutions.
It is not a coincidence that the European adult learning Network supported by the ICAE in the
seventies and eighties found it intensely difficult to be accepted in the research environment during the
revision of the EDA´s policies. Participatory research put forward an epistle of knowledge which did not
refer to itself and appeared to be neutral on a scientific level, but which measured itself against other forms
of knowledge elaborated by those people who themselves presented problems that the world of legitimate
knowledge was not only incapable of resolving, but, in fact, aggravated. Participatory research introduced
criticism of adult education to the affluent society and its explorative and reality-distorting systems, denouncing
its separation and discriminations.
Participatory research in Italy, but also in other European countries, has encountered similar approaches,
albeit less focused on the protagonist dimension of developing subjects with regard to the assumption
of their problems and knowledge. With action research as with intervention research, participatory
research views the research method as the link between theory and practice, problems and their
solutions in social and educational action.
Participatory research is becoming more commonplace in the "Knowledge Society" towards which the
post-modern and post-industrial world of the "Global Village" is moving, along a path where there is no
return to the past. This poses a problem of quality of knowledge, the creative and participatory dimension
of which forms an integral part in the projection of lifelong learning.
Orefice, P. (1988) Participatory Research in Southern Europe, in Convergence, Toronto: ICAE, 1-2, pp. 39-48
Salazar, M.C. (Ediciòn a cargo de) (1992) La investigaciòn-acciòn participativa, Inicios y desarrollos, Madrid: