Participatory Devices and Power Asymmetries: Explaining and Questioning Positionings

Participatory Researchers and Actors: Dangerous Liaisons or Productive Collaborations?
By Cécile Barnaud, Patrick d’Aquino, William’s Daré, Raphaël Mathevet

Many papers in the recent literature on participatory approaches emphasize the need to take better account of the complexity of the social contexts in which they are conducted, and to pay greater attention to power asymmetries among stakeholders. However, very few authors address the “how” question, that is, how to take into account power asymmetries when designing and implementing a participatory process. This question is frequently overlooked because it is not so much a matter of method as a matter of positioning. The positionings adopted by the designers of participatory processes are indeed driven by norms, values, or ideologies that are rarely made explicit. Do they claim a neutral positioning regarding power asymmetries, at the risk of being accused of being naively manipulated by the most powerful stakeholders? Or do they adopt a non-neutral positioning and decide to empower some particular stakeholders, at the risk of putting their legitimacy into question? In this paper, we present a tool that we have recently developed, a kind of test aimed at making explicit the positionings adopted by designers of participatory approaches regarding power asymmetries. Fifty researchers and practitioners of participation took the test. The analysis of the results allowed us to identify five main types of positionings among designers, thus five main ways of dealing with power asymmetries corresponding to different ways of conceiving the legitimacy of their intervention.


  • participation
  • power relations
  • neutrality
  • reflexivity
  • posture
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