PyGyRG Away Weekend 2016 New Lanark: Reflection by Melike Peterson

It’s that time of year again when we are planning our next away weekend – to give you an idea of what it’s like – this is what we did earlier this year…

Upon arriving, I was taken in by the beautiful surroundings of the restored 18th century cotton mill village where we would be staying the weekend. The nature was lush and an icy grey river snaked its way through the forest behind the hostel.
A bit unsure of what to do, as it was my first year of attending the PyGyRG Away Weekend, I went into the kitchen. Here, I ran into a happy and loudly chatting bunch of piggy away weekend attendees preparing dinner: Salad and tomatoes were being cut, plates put on the table and a tasty chilli cooked on the stove. The group consisted of young and older academics from a broad range of disciplines, backgrounds and nationalities. I felt immediately at home. That evening after dinner, we discussed over coffee, tea and wine the different subjects we were interested in as a group and would like to discuss over the course of the weekend. Our main points of interest came down to what it meant to do participatory action research (PAR), entering and exiting the field, the impact agenda and obtaining funding.

The Saturday started with an interesting visit to the Old Mill museum giving us the chance to explore the history of cotton production as well as roam free and enjoy the surroundings of the old cotton mill village. The group then climbed up to the Falls of Clyde to make the most of this sunny day in Scotland, and to visualise and engage with the central theme of this year’s Away Weekend, ‘nexus-thinking’, to tie in with the RGS-IBG annual conference later in the year..
After lunch, we came together in smaller groups to discuss the elements that make up the ‘participatory’ in PAR, with the co-production of knowledge, the potential benefits and harms for empowerment and its action-based element central to our debates. Discussion then shifted to the implications of PAR in achieving progressive change and challenging existing ideas, norms and politics. Far from trying to find definitive answers to these topics, new questions were formed that targeted the ethics of doing PAR, the ‘fuzzy’ positionality of researchers, and their role in the process of making sure ‘whose voices will be heard’.
On Sunday, conversation centred on the impact agenda and the closely-related issue of obtaining funding through research bodies and universities. We agreed that impact in itself is surely not an evil thing. Questions remain, however, particularly concerning the nature, scale and ‘measurability’ of impact, as well as the role PAR can have in this.

After saying my goodbyes, I returned to Glasgow feeling energized. As a first-year PhD student who is just about to enter the field by herself, this weekend was eye-opening and left me with a feeling of camaraderie. Having not only met people who share an interest in PAR but who willingly lay open their opinions, struggles, strategies and experiences of doing PAR was reassuring and helpful. Count me in for next year!

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