Knowledge in action: Negotiating power in development

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1 Scopus citations


How can sociopolitical theories inform participatory action research and what are the implications for development? I answer this question by reflecting on a research, training, and networking project that I conducted with small-scale rooibos tea farmers in postapartheid South Africa. My research team was comprised of community-based farmer leaders who sought representation in an industry marked by acute inequalities. Guided by Freire’s theory of conscientization, we employed a multi-paradigmatic framework to address questions pertaining to governance and identity. Theoretical training enabled my team to systematically interrogate differential power dynamics, illuminating the sociopolitical terrain. In return my co-investigators taught me to embrace a more situated understanding of power, helping us to shift the relations of research and practice. Yet we were unable to scale up outcomes due to material barriers, suggesting that knowledge alone is not power. Our experience illustrates the limitations of conscientization as a model for participatory development as well as its potential for delivering a multi-paradigmatic theory of social transformation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)480-497
Number of pages18
JournalAction Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • Development
  • South Africa
  • conscientization
  • democratization
  • participation
  • social justice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Strategy and Management
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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