The Principles, Possibilities, Politics, and Potential Pitfalls of Community-Based Educational Research
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. Please check back later for the full article.
Globally, there is a shift, however slight, toward embracing educational research that has a social justice intent, based on the principles of inclusion, authentic participation, and democratic decision-making. This shift toward doing research with participants, rather than on them, could be seen as a reaction to the criticism of contemporary universities being exclusive and in need of finding ways to connect with traditionally marginalized groups. In short, universities need to be more responsive to the real learning and development needs of communities and use their theoretical knowledge to complement and facilitate, rather than to direct, research conducted in partnership with those whose lives are directly affected by the phenomenon being studied. Community-based educational research (CBR) accepts local knowledge as the starting point of sustainable change and the learning and development of all involved as a nonnegotiable outcome of the research process. CBR has thus an educative intent; it is also inherently political because it aims to change systems that breed inequity.
Yet these very characteristics stand in opposition to the neoliberal, silo-like models of operation in academia, where the bottom-line trumps social impact in most strategic decisions. Negotiating the bureaucratic boundaries regarding the ethics of community-based research becomes a major hurdle for most researchers and often leads to compromises that contradict and undermine the ideal of partnership and equitable power relations. There is a pressing need to rethink how we “do” community-based educational research, to ensure it is truly educational for all. This begs the question, in what ways does the academy need to change to accommodate educational research that contributes to the sustainable learning and development of people and to the democratization of knowledge? Community-based educational research can help close the gap between theory and practice, between academic and community researcher.