An Epistemological Break: Redefining Participatory Research in Capabilitarian Scholarship, Journal of Human Development and Capabilities

Melanie Walker, Alejandra Boni, Carmen Martinez-Vargas, Melis Cin
Journal of Human Development and Capabilities

In putting together this special issue of “Epistemological Break: Redefining participatory research in capabilitarian scholarship”, we wanted to push at the (decolonial) boundaries of participatory research. Our intention was not to make claims about a perfect version or understanding but rather to encourage a debate about participatory research, and how there is a variety of practices which may be more or less oriented to transformative education processes, relationships and flourishing. Therefore, this special issue builds on the developing literature on participatory research and capabilities (for example, Walker and Boni 2020; Martinez-Vargas 2022; Mkwananzi, Cin, and Marovah 2021). As the editors, we argue for an approach to PR which advances human development and takes up the challenges of decoloniality and the production of knowledge about people’s lives, people who are too often the objects of development aid research even by well-intentioned researchers and practitioners. We unpack the complexities and tensions of such research projects through reflecting on different understandings of a participatory paradigm and argue for imperfect, decolonial, anti-racist, anti-sexist and transformational research that challenges colonial power hierarchies and relations and takes communities (often historically silenced) as the subjects of their own experiences and epistemes. Such research enables much-needed political engagement that can reconcile and integrate communities’ values, agendas and worldviews into PR and mobilise a cooperative ethos essential for epistemic justice.