Connecting relational wellbeing and participatory action research: reflections on ‘unlikely’ transformations among women caring for disabled children in South Africa

Elise J. van der Mark*, Teun Zuiderent-Jerak, Christine W. M. Dedding, Ina M. Conradie, Jacqueline E. W. Broerse

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Participatory action research (PAR) is a form of community-driven qualitative research which aims to collaboratively take action to improve participants’ lives. This is generally achieved through cognitive, reflexive learning cycles, whereby people ultimately enhance their wellbeing. This approach builds on two assumptions: (1) participants are able to reflect on and prioritize difficulties they face; (2) collective impetus and action are progressively achieved, ultimately leading to increased wellbeing. This article complicates these assumptions by analyzing a two-year PAR project with mothers of disabled children from a South African urban settlement. Participant observation notes, interviews, and a group discussion served as primary data. We found that mothers’ severe psychological stress and the strong intersectionality of their daily challenges hampered participation. Consequently, mothers considered the project ‘inactionable’. Yet, many women quickly started expressing important individual and collective wellbeing transformations. To understand these ‘unlikely’ transformations, a feminist relational account, in particular, that of relational wellbeing, proves essential. We reflect on the consequences of these findings for the dominant PAR methodology and operationalization, and propose to sensitize future PAR with marginalized women by employing relational wellbeing as an overarching ontological awareness.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)80-104
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Global Ethics
Issue number1
Early online date2023
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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