Participatory video as a research and communication method for social change

Participatory video implies several changes to the knowledge processes involved in the research and the power dynamics within them. First, as with other participatory approaches, it inverts the relationship between the researcher and the researched (Chambers, 1995), while recognising that power imbalances still pervade this relationship.

It shifts the perspective of who is the ‘expert’ away from the researcher and towards the researched as those who hold the most knowledge about their own realities. In that sense participatory video is about opening the spaces for that knowledge to be given greater weight, as opposed to the weight of the knowledge of the external researcher. In inverting the relationship between the researcher and the researched, the process of participatory video also opens new possibilities for how that knowledge is perceived by policy makers.

Violence Framed: Participatory Video in Action Research

This film shows how participatory video is used as a tool for action research on violence in Brazil, Mexico and Nigeria. Using stories recounted by the researchers, the film explores the difficulties and challenges of researching violence, and gives examples of how researchers used participatory video to overcome some of these. It also probes the limitations of participatory video as a tool for researching violence.  


How does PV in research relate to power relations, roles, and identities?

The process of participatory video and related critical inquiry has the potential to interact with existing power relations, roles and identities within the research community.

  • One possibility is that participatory video leads to an inversion or disruption of existing power relations, as in the relatively powerless using video to hold more powerful actors to account.
  • Another possibility is that participatory video leads to a reproduction or reinforcement of existing power relations, as in reinforcing the voices which are already dominant within a specific community. This can arise particularly if there are weaknesses in the facilitation that do not adequately take into account who has access to the camera and how it is used.
  • A third possibility is that rather than simply  reinforcing existing power relations, participatory video might submerse them: It might ignore or evade particular structural issues and address these in a tangential way in order to escape censure.

Reference: Joanna Wheeler, Seeing Like a Citizen: Participatory Video and Action Research for Citizen Action, in: Nishant Shah & Fieke Jansen (eds.). 2011. “Digital (Alter)Natives with a Cause? Book 2 – To Think”.