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New Ways of Studying Europe? Participatory Action Research in the Service of European Studies

Karen Heard-Laureote, Helen Drake, Andrew Waterman

The aim of this paper is to explore the application of experiential, participatory, action research in the European Studies context, with reference to two distinct but complementary cases of network formation. The first case concerns the origins and development of a policy network: the European Coalition for Vision (ECV); the second, the origins and development of a professional academic network: UACES (the world's biggest academic association for European Studies). In both cases, we as researchers position ourselves as observers (scholars), participant subjects and therefore also objects (as advisor and chair, respectively); and as stakeholders in the research whereby scholarship is itself a form of engaged action.Despite the many strengths of action research such as its ability to make theory "actionable", its collaborative and participatory nature, the accessibility of its findings and its engagement with participants on an equal basis (Reason & Bradbury, 2013), very few political science scholars employ this research approach. This may be attributed to the weaknesses associated with participatory action research such as the assumed introduction of bias which is thought to occur when the relationship between the researcher and the researched might be criticised as being too close thus detracting from the development of objective detachment from research participants (Duffy, 1986), its time consuming nature (Blaxter, 1996) or action research findings being apparently limited in their applicability to local situations and cannot be generalised across wider populations (McDonnell, 1998).Taking account of this mixed picture where participatory action research in theory is concerned, this paper explores some of the most salient issues, which have arisen from our practice. We reflect on our findings and their significance for the study of Europe.

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