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When Participants Don’t Wish to Participate in Participatory Action Research, and When Others Participate on Their Behalf: The Representation of Communities by Real and Faux Participants


This article focuses on methodological and epistemological issues arising from a research project with two Gypsy communities (2010–2012) in the South West of England. Although the two communities seem to share cultural roots and values, and live within a few miles of each other, they have contrasting experiences within the education system and very different relationships with the surrounding mainstream communities. The article explores difficulties emerging as a consequence of the contrasting positions of the participant communities, the differing research aspirations and practices across the research team, and also the tensions between ethnographic work and participatory action research. It queries the problematic nature of participation, and proposes the concept of the faux-participant.

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With thanks to the British Academy and also to Cornwall County Council, the funders of this work. With gratitude, also, to the participants in the project and to the sensitive and hard-working individuals who kept this research going, despite all the difficulties. Finally, in memory of Ginny Harrison-White, who worked with integrity and courage for Gypsy communities.

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Correspondence to Martin Levinson.

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Levinson, M. When Participants Don’t Wish to Participate in Participatory Action Research, and When Others Participate on Their Behalf: The Representation of Communities by Real and Faux Participants. Urban Rev 49, 382–399 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11256-016-0390-9

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  • Roma
  • Gypsies
  • Ethnography
  • Participatory action research