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Health Promot Int. 2013 Mar;28(1):61-72. doi: 10.1093/heapro/das037. Epub 2012 Sep 5.

A realist-constructionist perspective on participatory research in health promotion.

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Institut de recherche en santé publique de l'Université de Montreal, Public Health Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


Clarifying the contours of research in health promotion (HP) is an ongoing challenge. Research in this action-oriented field has traditionally been developed based on values such as participation and empowerment. Consequently, many forms of participatory research have emerged throughout the years, and participatory research has positioned itself as a core competency of HP and public health. This paper argues that participation as a normative stance guiding methodology, or as value, is a fragile posture upon which to position research practices. The argument is based on a realist-constructionist perspective of science and specifically uses Law and Latour's notion of inscription device and Callon's actor-network theory to suggest that participation is an epistemological necessity and that participatory research practices may be considered as inscription devices. These theoretical notions help clarify the consequences of participation on knowledge production. Finally, the article refers to Stengers's work to propose an ecology of research practices that defines obligations and exigencies for HP with respect to knowledge production and that are more consistent with the field's values of social justice and equity.

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