The Emancipatory Research

The Emancipatory Research is a participatory tool for promotion and empowerment for marginalized groups or people at risk of marginalization. This type of approach finds its roots in the analysis of power relationships incorporated in research activities. These types of analysis challenge the traditional relationship between researcher and object of research with the ultimate goal of making the most of the analytical skills of marginalized subjects.

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Emancipatory Research methodology

Emancipatory research (ER) is a type of action research aimed at investigating the dynamics of social inclusion and exclusion from the perspective of people who experience specific vulnerabilities. This methodology was developed from several converging strands of work that emerged from an overall dissatisfaction with the power structures embodied in ‘traditional’ research processes. It is grounded in the dissemination of participatory research techniques and methods, as well as the reflections and practices that stem from the work of Paulo Freire and Augusto Boal.


The involvement of marginalized groups in research processes

The main aim of ER is to promote empowerment among marginalised groups in society. Through ER methodology, which involves training and awareness-raising, the research object becomes the subject of the research process. This approach enables marginalised groups to acquire specific knowledge on active participation and research implementation, and so they develop awareness regarding their own social and economic conditions.

Through critical discussion and analysis of the research  questions, marginalised persons (a) become aware of their rights and of the structural causes of their oppression, (b) elaborate practical solutions to improve their living conditions and (c) become able to control the processes of knowledge production that relate to them. Moreover, this strategy sensitises and empowers communities and institutions, which in turn encourages social transformation and inclusive policies

Action-research on disability

The Inclusive Development Unit carried out several Emancipatory Researches in development cooperation projects that tackles the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the social and economic context around them. The studies were carried out in Tanzania, Mozambique, West Bank and Gaza.


The CarINg project contributed to strengthening participative practices in the guardianship systems of the two intervention areas through a variety of initiatives with professionals and care leavers. In particular, a group of boys and girls coming out of the guardianship system was involved in an emancipatory research: a crucial activity for the project that made it possible to consolidate and concretise the minors’ right to participation. Emancipatory research places people belonging to marginalised groups, in the case of the CarINg project the care leavers, at the centre of the knowledge production process, providing them with the essential skills and tools to collect and analyse data. In this context, the research has a twofold value: on the one hand, it generates new knowledge on the participation of care leavers in protection systems; on the other hand, the involvement of care leavers in an empowerment process results in the strengthening of control over the processes directly involving them, promoting social change and inclusive policies.

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Since October 2020, a small group of REI, Reddito di Inclusione (Inclusion Income) beneficiaries has been involved by the Inclusion Development Unit in an Emancipatory Research pathway. The research group is composed of women, users of the Social Services of the Municipality of Prato. This pathway has a threefold objective: firstly, it will allow the users to share their experience with respect to the Social Board Model. Moreover, the Emancipatory Research will make the users of the pathway real facilitators who in the future will be able to work closely and in synergy with the social services exploiting all the potentialities of the peer to peer approach. Finally, this particular participatory methodology focused on the principles of self-determination will make the users increasingly aware of the dynamics of their own marginalisation in order to stimulate their empowerment.

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The training on Emancipatory Research had the objective of bringing 60 young Mozambicans from the cities of Maputo, Beira and Pemba closer to the theoretical and scientific framework of disability and acquire the knowledge to build the necessary tools for research in a optics of co-creation. The training therefore was divided into a theoretical part, with a focus on the Capability approach, the evolution of disability models, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; and a practical part that has allowed to co-create research tools and learn their use. For example, young people have developed and tested structured questionnaires for entrepreneurs, semi-structured interviews with training center staff and focus group facilitation in the context of simulations and pilot-tests.

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The Emancipatory Research focused on the analysis of the structural, cultural and social dynamics that limit the active participation of people with disabilities and in particular the access to school for young people with disabilities. This ER has been structured and implemented through the collaboration between expert researchers and a group of local people that was composed by four local researchers without disabilities and six persons with disabilities. The research was articulated around several steps: training, piloting, identification of co-researchers, elaboration of research protocol, tools and sample size, data collection (both quantitative and qualitative), data analysis and reporting.

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West Bank and Gaza

The Inclusive Development Unit carried out 6 Emancipatory Researchers for 2 separate projects.

For the project PARTICIP-ACTION, the Inclusive Development Unit carried out 2 ERs in the West Bank. The first involved a group of 11 Disabled Persons Organizations: participants to the process collected quantitative information from about 100 schools in 7 Governatorates with the aim of evaluating their degree of accessibility.
The second focused on women and involved several different groups. Two groups were composed of  women with disabilities and another was composed of mothers of people with disabilities. The women involved took part in the identification of well-being dimensions that play a major role in their lives, as well as of the hindering factors preventing them to equally participate in society. The identification of causal relationships among barriers represented the starting point to identify the research questions.

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For the project Nothing About Us Without Us with, The Inclusive Development Unit carried out 4 Emancipatory Researches with a double objective. Firstly, to deepen the knowledge on the inclusion of persons with disabilities with a focus on access to education, vocational training and employment through the identification of barriers and facilitators to the autonomy of PwDs as well as mechanisms that perpetuate forms of discrimination and isolation. The research has produced interesting results and policy recommendations that will feed into the construction of an Operational Strategic Plan for the Movement of People with Disabilities, the construction of which is one of the subsequent activities of the project.

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