About us

PyGyRG is a collective whose members aim to raise the profile and perceived value, and further the understanding and use of participatory approaches, methods, tools and principles within academic geography and beyond:

  1. The participatory geographies research group is a broad and inclusive collective of academics and non-academics who value and practice participatory approaches, principles and methods.
  2. These participatory methods include a broad variety of tools alongside critical analysis of their utility, limitations and development.
  3. A participatory approach in academic geography includes collaborating with others as partners in improving equality, justice, and other progressive social change causes.
  4. We aim to work across all spaces and places, alongside attempts to widen participation in higher education geography.
  5. We support work that results in social change outside the academy and thus seek to widen the range of what are considered to be legitimate geographical knowledge and research activities.
  6. We aim to provide a space for mutual support orientated towards those engaging in participatory approaches, especially for those working within the increasingly pressured and competitive higher education context.

What we do:

We understake a broad range of activities in order to encourage participatory approaches. This includes:

  • Running training days
  • Supporting each other in trying out new participatory approaches
  • Publishing a monthly blog on recent research
  • Running annual away weekends where we discuss methods, processes and principles
  • Sponsoring conference sessions at the annual RGS/IBG Conference in England
  • Writing papers together and editing special issues of journals
  • Holding regional meetings inviting new people to understand participatory approaches
  • Awarding masters dissertation prizes
  • Sharing resources – readings, lectures and other material
  • Sharing events and discuss issues on our email distribution list
  • Holding an Annual General Meeting where we elect new officers and discuss plans for the year ahead. We do this at the RGS-IBG Conference and email the minutes to the PYGYRG email discussion list
  • Organising keynote speakers for the RGS/IBG conference
  • Participating in the Royal Geographical Society higher education committee and events

Background to the Participatory Geographies Research Group:

Recently there has been a surge of interest in the study and application of participatory research methods. Whilst a number of geographers have used participatory approaches and methods for many years, there are a number of reasons for the more recent increase in interest across all fields of human geography. For the RGS/IBG’s Participatory Geographies Research Group (PyGyRG), these include:

  • a growing feeling that geographic research should have benefits for those affected by the social, economic and environmental issues which are at its heart;
  • the belief that groups outside the academy have meaningful contributions to make to setting agendas, project design, analysis, interpretation and writing outputs of geographical research;
  • disillusionment with the ability of many mainstream quantitative or qualitative approaches and their sets of ethical principles to effect this, or to contribute to significant change, even where findings are disseminated to policy-makers or (non-participatory) action research frameworks are applied;
  • discontent with the increasingly elitist and exclusionary nature of the structures of higher education and UK geography, including the REF, which privilege forms of research which are highly theoretical in nature, have a narrow audience and few political impacts (in contrast to theoretically aware ‘action’-oriented work, with a focus on examining the difficulties in trying to undertake such work);

In contrast, a range of participatory principles underpins participatory geographies. These include:

  • a focus on empowerment – participatory work leads to action, especially collective action, and helps people to change their lives according to their own ideas;
  • a focus on continuous learning – all participants learn from their engagement in the process; everyone has something to learn from the process;
  • A focus on reflection – practitioners adopt an approach of self-critical reflection, acknowledge the expert knowledge of other participants, and expect to learn from other participants and from the experience of their involvement in a participatory process;
  • A focus on inclusion – participatory work should be proactively inclusive – participatory work makes it easier for a wide range of people to take part and make their views heard, with practitioners actively attempting to include and seek out people who are often ignored or do not take part in other community development, consultation and/or research processes, as well as paying attention to differences and not trying to homogenise different opinions and points of view;
  • A focus on challenging established beliefs and power relations – participants recognise the importance of existing power relations in disadvantaging certain groups and individuals, seeking instead to facilitate social change through the effective involvement of disadvantaged people in social and political processes;
  • A focus on reliability and ethical practice.

Participatory geographers, therefore, often seek to work in bottom-up ways with the goal of actively engaging and benefiting groups outside academia so that traditional barriers between ‘expert researcher’ and ‘researched community’ are broken down.

We are always open to welcoming new members. Don’t forget to spread the word to students who may be interested!

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Selected resources on participatory geographies and methods can be found here.

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