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Conflict over approaches to social science research: Participatory research as disruptive?: a report on a conflict in social science paradigms at a criminal justice agency promoting alternatives to incarceration.

Price, Joshua
June 4, 2015

Source: (2008) Contemporary Justice Review. 11(4): 387-412.

This is an ethnographic study of a clash of two paradigms of knowledge in an
organization that provides alternatives-to-incarceration programs for the criminal justice
system in a large city. As a new program evaluator for the organization I used
participatory action research to evaluate the programs he was assigned to study. Through
an account of how that participatory research was dismissed as valueless, we can see the
administrative demand in a dominant strain of criminology for data to appear objective
and parsimonious, to rely on experts, and to take the form of aggregate numbers
(statistics) used for risk management. Research is used instrumentally to secure continued
funding, to enhance surveillance, and to enhance output. Overall, the dominant paradigm
objectifies the human subject at the heart of its research, withdrawing credibility from
him or her. The participatory research, housed in another paradigm, resists this process
of objectification. Its end is social change through a process of consciousness-raising
within a project of community organizing. Not all paradigms are created equal, however.
Some are institutionally backed and others are marginal – or marginalized – in criminal
justice. The case study is a narrative means of exploring the contours of each kind of
knowledge and how participatory research is viewed, and rendered, insignificant from the
standpoint of the mainstream standards of knowledge production. (Author’s abstract).


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