Participatory Action Research for Emotionally Meaningful Stories

  • Arthi Kanchana Manohar

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


In this thesis, I developed an empirically and theoretically grounded understanding of participatory action research (PAR). My aim was to develop and explore PAR methods within three culturally different fishing communities located in India, Portugal and the UK in order to generate emotionally meaningful stories. The work was conducted as part of the practice-led TOTeM research project and aspires to be associated with such works that have been able to make a methodological contribution by introducing theoretical insights, innovative methods and analytical concepts. In this study, the key finding is revealing the importance of the preliminary activities that helped design the innovative methods. I assess how my PAR methods, such as story interviews, digital storytelling workshops and story kits, helped me to gather participants’ personal experiences within the three chosen communities.

Photographs and ‘objects’ provided a medium through which to identify stories that were emotionally meaningful to the participants. These stories gathered from the three chosen communities were analysed through a story narrative analysis method. Each method evoked strong, emotionally meaningful responses from the participants with regard to human relationships and demonstrated the vital role of objects in identifying stories that illustrate the participants’ intimate relationships. The collective findings from the three communities established that the methods utilised provided a new way of synthesising storytelling with digital technologies.

The findings reinforce the role played by the participants as co-creators in collaboratively designing the methods, enabling me to craft a better way to gather stories. Upon critical reflection of the methods, supporting evidence was found that storytelling serves as an invaluable technique in providing participants with opportunities to explore their cultural identity through uniquely self-reflecting narratives and shared moments. I present the three stages of the participatory methods as my story culture framework and the findings and challenges as my original contribution to knowledge. I propose that this transferable framework will support designers as they engage with various settings to elicit information from user and stakeholder participants, develop their own experiential and critical perspectives and utilise their intuitive and expressive expertise to establish, manage and sustain productive human-centred design relationships.
Date of Award2017
Original languageEnglish
SponsorsEngineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
SupervisorMel Woods (Supervisor), Graham Pullin (Supervisor), Nigel Johnson (Supervisor) & Jon Rogers (Supervisor)


  • Participatory research
  • Digital storytelling
  • Cultural probes

Cite this