Unsettling the anti-welfare commonsense: the potential in participatory research with people living in poverty

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Drawing on participatory research with people living in poverty, this article details the possibilities inherent in this research tradition and its particular applicability and as yet often unrealised potential for poverty and social security research. The dominant framing of ‘welfare’ and poverty foregrounds elite political and politicised accounts, which place emphasis on individual and behavioural drivers for poverty, and imply that the receipt of ‘welfare’ is necessarily and inevitably problematic. A large body of academic evidence counters this framing, illustrating the extent to which popular characterisations are out of step with lived realities. What is often missing, however, are the voices and expertise of those directly affected by poverty and welfare reform. This article argues that placing experts by experiences on poverty at the centre of research efforts is best understood as constituting a direct challenge to the marginalising and silencing of the voices and perspectives of people living in poverty. While this hints at participatory research’s great potential, it is vital also to recognise the inherent challenges with taking a participatory approach. Significantly, though, participatory research can undermine popular characterisations of poverty and welfare and provide opportunities for alternative narratives to emerge, narratives which could contribute to the building of a pro-welfare imaginary over time.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Social Policy
Early online date21 May 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 May 2019

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© Cambridge University Press 2019. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details.


  • experts by experience
  • participatory research
  • poverty
  • social security
  • welfare

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