Title 4:

[Cover photograph: Luke King / Cover image: fern sculpture by Virginia King]

Contemporary Approaches to Participatory Action Research
in Aotearoa/New Zealand

by Carmel Cervin and Lewis Williams

Social and Cultural Studies 4
(July 2004)
ISSN: 1175-7132


We do not aim to provide a step-by-step guide to action research. In many respects this would be the antithesis of PAR as a process that demands from its participants ongoing critical analysis, a fine-tuned responsiveness, and ensuing fluidity in project directions. Rather we have chosen to hone in on specific themes of particular importance in our respective experiences. In doing so, we anticipate that many of these will also be significant issues for other researchers engaged in social action approaches to PAR. We also stress that each project is unique with its own sets of issues, answers and "rites of passage" for all participants as co-researchers. Accordingly, the monograph is largely structured around our individual accounts, each of which uses a number of headings to identify the themes encountered. Where the "fit" between our experiences has been sufficient we have used similar headings. In "comparing notes" which follows, we select two particular themes for discussion: cultural context and the operationalisation of PAR values, and communities' power/knowledge relationships with the Univer­sity. This dialogue makes apparent the simultaneous mutuality and diversity inherent in our experiences. The monograph concludes with a bibliography for further reading.

Notes on Contributors:

Carmel Cervin is a young, recently married Pakeha, from a family of six children and living in Auckland, New Zealand. Cannel completed her BA/BCom degree at Auckland University and then shifted to Massey University for an Honours course followed by her Doctorate in Social Policy. She has always had a strong interest in community responses to social justice issues. As well as her long term involvement with the West Auckland Women’s Centre, Homebuilders Family Support Scheme and the Auckland branch of the Autistic Association of NZ through her Doctorate, Cannel has also been active in advo­cating for improved mental health services and policies both locally in Auckland and at a national policy level. Carmel has been a member of the Consultative Group for Catholic Family and Community Services since 1995. She is a keen sailor, regularly crewing in races in the Hauraki Gulf, and continues to learn and enjoy playing the piano. Cannel is currently General Manager of Cervin Publishing, a family publishing business. Carmel can be contacted at

Lewis Williams grew up as one of four children on Auckland's North Shore. She is of Ngai Te Rangi and Scottish descent. Lewis has had a long-standing interest in issues of self-determination. A formative period in her early working life was as a Social Worker at a psychiatric hospital in Auckland in the 19808 where she participated in establishing a Women's Centre for women Jiving in the hospital wards. Following her work as a therapist in the areas of sexual abuse and eating/body image issues, she established a community-based organization for women experiencing eating and body image issues, aimed at self-help and community action approaches. She has since worked in a range of roles and organizations, in Aotearoa/New Zealand and internationally as a practitioner, researcher and teacher in communities, health and social service organizations, local government and universities. In more recent years, Lewis' work has focused more on theorizing community empowerment, cultural evaluation and change and ecology. Lewis now lives in Saskatoon, Canada where she directs the Prairie Region Health Promotion Research Centre and Health Promotion and Community Development Programs at the University of Saskatchewan. She plans to maintain a strong focus on participatory and action methods in the work of the Centre and related programs. Lewis can be reached at

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