Featured Musing Musings

Why More-than-Human Participatory Research?

Michelle Bastian: This is an excerpt from a post that originally appeared on the More-than-Human Participatory Research project blog, which explores the theory behind the project. Our aim is to bring participatory research paradigms into conversation with work on more-than-human communities.


Inspired by a variety of feminist epistemologies, as well as emancipatory movements from South America and Africa (e.g. Freire 1970 [PDF]), the central components of the co-production agenda have been the desire to support the inclusion of marginalised voices in the research process, to make research accountable to those it affects, and, in the process, to transform the practice of research and knowledge production. To date, discussions of co-production have taken place in a range of areas including public service provision (Verschuere, 2012), health services (Gillard, 2010), management and organisational research (Antonacopoulou, 2010; Orr, 2009), as well as broader debates about science, policy and the public realm (Nowotny, 2001). However, in our current context, where the failure of the enlightenment project to produce knowledges that support sustainable ways of life has become clearly apparent, there are strong incentives to extend this agenda by thinking through what, and who, research might still need to take into account.

Intriguingly, one of the foremost current proponents of participatory research – Peter Reason – has explicitly argued that the ethical and political imperatives implicit within the co-production paradigm need to be extended to non-humans (Reason, 2005). Claiming that we need to re-conceive ourselves as embedded within biotic systems, Reason characterises the notion of the more-than-human as an emergent edge within participatory research. Like other writers on co-production within sustainability research (Maclean, 2009; Pohl, et.al. 2010), he notes that non-humans are both marginalised from, and affected by, research processes. The need to more explicitly engage with the problem of how to place non-humans at the heart of the research process has also been noted by feminist biologist Lynda Birke in relation to Human-Animal Studies (Birke, 2012, 152). Even so, the work of exploring how co-production might be redesigned to take non-human participants into account is still to be undertaken.

Read the full post here.