This project is about ‘ways of knowing’. Specifically we will be exploring the different ‘ways of knowing’ which emerge from collaborative, participatory or action research.

Our way of doing this will be experimental. The research team is made of people who have been involved in collaborative research but who have used very different techniques and who come from different contexts and/or disciplinary backgrounds.

Our way of working will be to try out methods with each other – such as storytelling approaches, visual diagramming and a Socratic Dialogue – as a way of collectively reflecting on the epistemic and ontological possibilities generated. Each approach evokes different notions of rationality and reason, different relationships between ‘thinking’ and ‘being’ and between the senses and the cognitive.

We imagine that our lines of analysis will coalesce around the different registers of knowing which come from, and are useful in, different places (to certain academic disciplines, for specific organisations, for practice or ‘know how’); the different value of the ‘research’ and the sometimes distinct ways in which worth or usefulness is assessed by different stakeholders; and the different modes of subjectivity which point to the way collaborative research demands a ‘shuttling between’, arguably a productive ‘unknowing’ (Vasudevan 2011; Pahl and Pool 2011) and a reconfiguring of cognitive, affective and embodied ways of understanding.

More about the project

Epistemology (theory of knowledge) has long been a focus of philosophical thought. Indeed the increasing intensity of the turn to collaborative research can be traced both to long standing mobilisations of, and critiques of, Enlightenment hopes for objectivity and reasoned argument. Some strands of collaborative research evoke the call of the German philosopher and social theorist Habermas (1984) of extending to all the identity of rational actors in epistemic and political dialogue (see Durose et al. 2011). This tradition can be found most powerfully in certain types of action-orientated participatory action research where collaborative teams create shared meanings (or ‘thought styles’) (Pohl et al. 2010) and come to cognitive understandings, often leading to co-authored reports/articles or exhibitions and agreed strategies for social change (Banks et al. forthcoming). Other strands of collaborative research, critical of certain types of participative research as a form of epistemic tyranny (Cooke and Kothari 2001), have led to the desire for polyvocality and ‘situated’ (Haraway 1997) and ‘partially connected’ (following Strathern 2000) knowledges. Here the cognitive sometimes becomes fused into temporal ideas of experience, becoming and emergence (Deleuze and Guattari 2004) or ‘event’ (Badiou 2005; see Siebers 2010). This has led to strands of collaborative research – found in arts and humanities disciplines and museum and arts practice and post-positivist social science – which are more interested in facilitating without reconciliation or consensus a range of different voices, have placed an emphasis on ‘unknowing’ (Vasudevan 2011) and have tended to be expressed through display, art work or experimental writing forms (Neiderrer and Reilly 2007; Kestor 2007).

We are aware that there have been attempts in some disciplinary contexts to relate these strands and to use the experiential and propositional (as cognitive) in a cyclical or parallel ways (Banks et al. forthcoming; Burns 2007). Yet the persistence of these two perspectives strongly inflects the methods through which collaborative research is carried out, as well as the process and duration of the research, and therefore, the kinds of ways of knowing, which are recognised, or desirable, at different points in the research process, as well as the ‘outcomes’ and ‘impacts’ which are made possible.

This research project will offer an innovative methodology for addressing the epistemic questions raised by collaborative research, methods, outcomes and impacts precisely by self-consciously deploying the different methods we have ourselves deployed within our previous Connected Communities projects and other collaborative research practice. We will use polyvocal methods of storytelling, non-linguistic visualisation and the more cognitive, rational and consensus building approach of a Socratic Dialogue to investigate the relationship between methods and the registers, values and subjectivities of ‘knowing’ generated through collaborative research.

Badiou, A. (2005) Being and Event. Trans. Feltham, O. London: Continuum.
Banks, S. et al. (forthcoming) ‘Using co-inquiry to study co-inquiry: community-university perspectives on research collaboration’, Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship.
Burns, D. (2007) Systemic Action Research: A strategy for whole system change. Bristol: Policy Press.
Delueze, G. and Guattari, F. (2004) A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translation and Foreward by Massumi, B. London: Continuum.
Durose, C., Beebeejaun, Y. . Rees, R., Richardson, J. (2011) Towards Co-Production in Research with Communities. London: AHRC.
Habermas, J. (1984) Theory of Communicative Action. Volume 1: Reason and the Rationaliastion of Society, translated by T. McCarthy, Heineman: London.
Haraway, D. (1997) Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium.FemaleMan_Meets_OncoMouse: feminism and technoscience. London: Routledge.
Kestor, G. (2004) Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Niedderer, K. and L. Reilly (2007) ‘New Knowledge in the Creative Disciplines’, Journal of Visual Arts Practice, 6(2).
Pahl, K. and Pool, S. (2011) ‘Living your life because its the only life you’ve got’: Participatory research as a site for discovery in a creative project in a primary school in Thurnscoe, UK’ Qualitative Research Journal 11(2): 17-37.
Pohl, C., et al. (2010) ‘Researchers’ roles in knowledge co-production: experience from sustainability research in Kenya, Switzerland, Bolivia and Nepal’, Science and Public Policy, 37(4), May 2010: 267–281.
Siebers, J.(2010)‘What cannot be said:Speech and Violence’,Journal of Global Ethics 6 (2):89-102.
Strathern, M. (2000) ‘Afterword: accountability…and ethnography’, pp. 279-304, M. Strathern, M. (ed.) Audit Cultures: Anthropological studies in accountability, ethics and the academy. London: Routledge.
Vasudevan, L (2011) ‘An Invitation to Unknowing’, Teachers College Record 113 (6): 1154–1174.


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