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Participatory research: real or imagined

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)765-771
Number of pages7
JournalSocial Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology
Issue number8
Accepted/In press14 Jun 2018
Published21 Jun 2018


King's Authors


Background: Participatory research has as a central tenet that power relations between researcher and researched be reduced. In the last 20 years, a substantial literature has demonstrated the difficulties inherent in this as well as the troublesome nature of certain central concepts. Aims: (1) To describe and illustrate a new form of participatory research where the researchers share at least something with the participants in the research. That is, all are users of mental health services. (2) To reflect on the novel form of participatory research in terms of whether it shares, mitigates or avoids some of the difficulties of more traditional forms and to pose the question: what is a mental health community? Results: The model described is new in that the researchers have a different status than in conventional participatory research. But it is illuminated by and itself illuminates issues of power relations in research and difficulties in reducing that; gatekeepers and the exclusion of crucial groups of service users; the confusion of demographic representativeness with the silencing of marginalized perspectives; coming out of the academic space and the shifting issue of what counts as ‘communities’ in mental health. Conclusion: The examples given are moderate in scale and relevant to social psychiatry. Yet they may change methods and the definition of participatory research and at the same time be vitiated by but also illuminate dilemmas already identified in the literature albeit in different formations.

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