Subversion, Historic Dialectic and Ideology Critique: The Marxist origins of Participatory Action-Research (PAR)

Juan Mario Diaz


Although PAR was in its origins totally embedded in historic dialectic, ideology critique and structural social class analysis, it is difficult to find any trace of its Marxist foundations in the subsequent developments. PAR co-founder, the sociologist Orlando Fals-Borda, carried out not only the most important experience of Action-Research in the Colombian setting (and perhaps in Latin America) during the early 1970 but also a significant contribution to Marxism with his approach based on critical examination of local realities. Indeed, Fals-Borda’s critical analysis was praxis in a complex way: critical and historical thinking confronted with practice in the field which, in turn, was the object of analysis and self-criticism with the aim to return to the realm of action. However, even more complex (and innovative) was the fact that this spiral of criticism and action was not confined to the individual realm of the social researcher. PAR was conceived in fact as the methodology of awakening people’s transformative potential and achieving self-empowerment. In so doing, Fals-Borda reinterpreted Marx’s XI Thesis on Feuerbach: his standpoint was that critical interpretation of the world with the people (not only for the people), and particularly with the destitute, was an actual way to change it. Surprisingly, the study of both the Marxist roots and theoretical collaboration to Marxism have been hitherto neglected. This paper is therefore an attempt to recover these two underlying aspects of PAR origins.

Ideology - Latin America - Theory and Practice