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This article outlines the debate around the emancipatory claims of community-based research (CBR) and identifies discursive frictions as a pivotal point upon which much of CBR practice revolves. Using a Foucauldian theoretical lens, we suggest that CBR is neither inherently emancipatory nor repressive, but that research outcomes are more often a product of power asymmetries in CBR relationships. To illustrate how power asymmetries in research relationships produce discursive frictions, several studies from our work and the literature are presented. The article provides examples of CBR relationships between the researcher and community members and relationships within the community to illustrate how power asymmetries and discursive frictions in these relationships dynamically influence research outcomes and thus alert researchers to the need to address power asymmetries not just before initiating CBR projects, but during CBR projects as well. We interrogate how power asymmetries and discursive frictions operate and are constructed in CBR in an attempt to highlight how research might be conducted more effectively and ethically. Finally, we indicate that some of the tensions and challenges associated with CBR might be ameliorated by the use of participatory facilitation methodologies, such as photo-voice and story circle discussion groups, that draw attention to power asymmetries and purposefully use more creative participatory tools to restructure power relationships and ultimately address the inequities that exist in the research process. Because CBR is continually caught up in power dynamics, we hope that highlighting some examples might offer an opportunity for increased dialogue and critical reflection on its claims of empowerment and emancipation.
Keywords: discursive friction, Foucault, participatory methodologies, power asymmetries, research relationships, emancipatory research
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