Research as Social Change: Permaculture as Design Methodology for Participatory Action Research

Permaculture's inherently experimental, learning-based approach has a natural affinity with applied, participatory and engaged modes of research. Drawing on experiences of collaboratively designed and delivered research projects in permaculture, Transition and related fields, this paper will describe how systematic use of permaculture as a methodology for research design can reveal and help deliver on multiple yields. Going beyond a narrow focus on data acquisition and understanding the research process itself as project in social change is deeply subversive of established norms and practices in mainstream academic cultures. It suggests pathways to reclaim research as an inclusive, democratic practice in service of social needs, part of wider processes of collective learning towards happier, fairer and more sustainable societies.


Tom Henfrey completed a PhD in Environmental Anthropology at Kent University in 2002, based on collaborations with indigenous Amazonian forest users linking their local knowledge with documented scientific understandings of the local ecology. He is currently based at the Schumacher Institute for Sustainable Systems in Bristol, UK and is a Research Fellow in the Climate Change Research Group at Lisbon University.

He co-founded and is a coordinator of the Transition Research Network, volunteers on the Permaculture Association's Research Advisory Board, and is Knowledge and Learning Coordinator for the ECOLISE EU-wide network of community-led sustainability initiatives.

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