Summary

This paper sets out to explore the implications of participatory action research (PAR) as a method of encouraging older people from minority groups to have a ‘voice’ in defining knowledge, theory and practice about their lives. Recent policy in Britain has promoted the recognition of diversity of experience in later life ( Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, 2006) and the importance of working with older people as equal partners ( Audit Commission, 2004). At the same time, notions of partnership and service user involvement in both research and practice development are now firmly established within health and social care practice. Despite this, the needs of older lesbians and gay men are still very much invisible within mainstream policy and practice ( Heaphy et al., 2004). PAR approaches seek to address issues of power, politics and empowerment ( Bradbury and Reason, 2001) and therefore offers an inclusive method of working with marginalized and excluded voices. This is important in research with minority groups, as their experiences can be masked by imposing mainstream categories and assumptions ( Pollner and Rosenfeld, 2000). The paper considers participatory action research as a methodology for inclusive social work research and uses a case study to explore the methodology. It reviews the ‘cycle’ of research using the six principles for working with disempowered groups identified by Whitmore and McGee (2001). The paradoxes involved in participatory research are explored, including issues of inclusiveness and exclusivity, and the possibility of ‘untold truths’ ( Lundy and McGovern, 2006). The challenges involved in striving for inclusive and empowering research methodologies are discussed, exploring the implications for ‘outsider’ researchers, and the challenges of working with ‘variant truths’.

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