Salmons (2019) encourages a set of steps for finding theories in research. She lays step by step instructions for research consumers to find and understand theory in the research. The first part is related to analyzing literature to find theory throughout the research design. The first step looks at finding how researchers discuss their article’s originality and relevance to their topic. In the second step, the reader needs to understand and define the theoretical framework and how it is explained. The third step is connected to the article’s literature review and how adequate it is. Does the author look at other theories, or are there things that are left out of the literature review? The fourth step seeks to understand if the article’s argument and if it is built on the theory expressed. In the firth step, the reader needs to consider what type of contribution the article has made. The sixth step goes beyond the previous contribution and looks towards the implications for future research that the material provides. Finally, the seventh step questions the clarity of the presentation of the article.

The second way that Salmos (2019) provides for readers to consider theory is by understanding the theory and its relationship is through the analysis and dissection by the reader. To accomplish this task she posits the following questions:

There are a number of ways that participatory research is theorized about, practiced, and described as its historical basis. This paper examines Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed through the set of questions laid out by Salmos (2019).

Identify the type of article? Empirical, literature review, theoretical, or methodological?

Freire (2000) is the 30- anniversary  release of the seminal book first published in English in 1970. It was initially written and published Portuguese in 1968 under the title “Pedagogia do Oprimido” before being translated to Spanish and English. The Online Computer Library Center’s (OCLC) shows that it has been translated into at least nine languages. The publication would be classified as a scholarly book. As an academic book, it has many footnotes and references that it follows. While it is based on other research and written with rigor, it does not match the article format with a set-out literature review. Freire does discuss some of his experiences in political exile and his experiences as a teacher as a basis for the pedagogy he expresses.

Identify the theory or theories described in the article?

While Freire (2000) does not explicitly discuss participatory research, this book is frequently cited as contributing to the development and growth of participatory research. He describes a traditional pedagogy as the banking model of education, where educators view students as if they are empty vessels, like a piggy bank, that needs to be filled with knowledge. He counters this way of seeing learners and describes that pedagogy should treat them as co-creators of knowledge.

Describe any of them as seminal theories, that is, theories that have influenced the development of important ideas in your field?

While participatory research does not have one founder or even one methodology that is strictly followed, Streck and Holiday (2015) divide the start of participatory research into two groups of theorists. One side are theorists such as Kurt Lewin, Carl Rogers, and Martin Buber and the start of the humanist movement. On the other set of theorists are related to the concientização (Portuguese for critical consciousness) movement, which was highly influenced by Paulo Freire.

Boden et al. (2015) described Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed as a seminal work for participatory research. In the text, Freire (2000) describes what he calls thematic investigation. He describes this as useful to help find the contextual reality of the individuals and analysis of the interactions.

“Meanwhile, the significant dimensions, which in their turn are constituted of parts in interaction, should be perceived as dimensions of total reality. In this way, critical analysis of a significant existential dimension makes possible a new, critical attitude towards the limit-situations. The perception and comprehension of reality are rectified and acquire new depth. When carried out with a methodology of conscientizagdo the investigation of the generative theme contained in the minimum thematic universe (the generative themes in interaction) thus introduces or begins to introduce women and men to a critical form of thinking about their world” (p. 104).

This methodology of thematic investigation seems to be very closely aligned to agreed-upon components of participatory research.

Look for explanations of competing theoretical perspectives?

Freire (2000) describes what he calls problem-posing education as a way of breaking the vertical patterns characteristic of banking education. He explains that through dialogue that the relationship moves away from being teacher-of-the-students, and students-of-the-teacher moves to a new concept of teacher-student and student-teacher. He describes that this offers the “people develop their power to per­ceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves; they come to see the world not as a static reality, but as a reality in process, in transformation” (p. 83).

The concept of problem-posing education is similar in its argument against this banking model of education to problem-based learning. Wood (2003) defines problem-based learning as a system that moves away from this co-learning dialog, but that students define their learning objectives. In a problem-based learning setting, students do a self-directed study before working through group work to “refine their acquired knowledge” (p. 328).

Categorize the theory or theories as macro, meso, or micro?

The banking model of education and the posited problem-posing education both connect at the micro and the meso level with implications at in a macro discussion. Kirst-Ashman and Hull (2015) describe both what social workers call the generalist intervention model and how each of the components applies to practices at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels. They describe micro as working with individuals, mezzo as working with groups, and macro as working with communities and organizations. The argument for the teachers to follow a more problem-posing educational model is directed towards implementation at a micro level but is completed in a mezzo application. In general, the argument described by Freire (2000), takes a critical and change focus. He relates that dialogics and antidialogics as opposing theories of cultural action. He calls for a type of liberation that can only happen at a macro level.

Look for the theoretical contribution made by the article?

The theoretical framework related to participatory action research is complex with many ways of approaching the broad methodology and theoretical framework for research. Freire (2000) has made a significant contribution to the theoretical framework of participatory research without having named that specifically. It seems to have been a type of groundwork for what would later come. Rodgers (1979) move towards a person-centered counseling model and Freire focus on dialogue with students. Borda (2008) describes participatory research requiring a type of scientific modesty, that there is a “struggle against academic arrogance and imperialism” (p. 360) to help bridge the gap between academics and other others involved in the participatory research process.

What are the constructs, principles, or definitions for this theory? How are these constructs related? Can you describe the theory as having causal, predictive–associative, or descriptive relationships among constructs?

Freire discusses both the banking model of education and the problem-posing education as contrary modalities to consider when teaching. He also discusses critical consciousness and liberation, along with a theory for thematic investigation. The banking model of education could be defined as the methodology used by teachers, which does not consider the student’s individuality and faculties they have. It seeks to take the knowledge that the instructor has and bestow it on students. This is contrasted with problem-posing education, which focuses on engaging in a dialogue between the teacher-student and student-teachers to share information. This dialog promotes critical consciousness, increases critical thinking, and allows for liberation. These dialogues are facilitated through thematic investigations cooperatively with instructors and learners. These constructs could have a predictive-associated relationship, but not in the form described by Freire (2000). For example, Behizadeh (2014) operationalizes critical thinking, more evaluation and learning related to both problem-posing education and project-based learning activities. Freire’s (2000) theories could be more appropriately described as descriptive relationships.

Describe the type of contribution. Is it confirmatory or emergent?

Freire’s (2000) book and enclosed theories would be described emergent than confirmatory, although that emergency was 40 years ago (original publication in 1970). It, along with many others, led the way and laid the groundwork for participatory action research. The theories expressed seem to have become the basis for the participatory research methodologies and theoretical framework.


Behizadeh, N. (2014). Enacting Problem-Posing Education through Project-Based Learning. The English Journal, 104(2), 99–104.

Bergold, J., & Thomas, S. (2012). Participatory research methods: A methodological approach in motion (Partizipative forschungsmethoden: Ein methodischer ansatz in bewegung). Historical Social Research Vol. 37, 4(37), 191-222.

Boden, R., Greenwood, D. J., Hall, B., Levin, M., Marshall, J., & Wright, S. (2015). Action research in universities and higher education worldwide. In H. Bradbury (Ed.), The SAGE Handbook of Action Research (pp. 281-290). London EC1Y 1SP: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Borda, O. F. (2008). The application of the social sciences’ contemporary issues to work on participatory action research. Human Organization; Oklahoma City, 67(4), 359-361.

Eikeland, O. (2015). Praxis - Retrieving the roots of action research. In H. Bradbury (Ed.), The SAGE Handbook of Action Research (pp. 381-390). SAGE Publications Ltd.

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed (30th-anniversary ed). New York: Continuum.

Kirst-Ashman, K. K., & Hull, Jr., G. H. (2015). Understanding Generalist Practice (Seventh Ed). Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.

Rogers, C. R. (1979). The foundations of the person-centered approach. Education, 100(2), 98-108.

Salmons, J. (2019). Find the theory in your research. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications Inc.

Streck, D. R., & Holiday, O. J. (2015). Research, Participation, and Social Transformation: Grounding Systematization of Experiences in Latin American Perspectives. In H. Bradbury (Ed.), The SAGE Handbook of Action Research (pp. 472-480). 1 Oliver’s Yard, 55 City Road London EC1Y 1SP: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Wood, D. F. (2003). Problem based learning. BMJ, 326(7384), 328-330.\

Author Note

The following essay was originally posted as a paper for TSD 8215 - Varieties of Scholarly Experience as a part of my Ph.D. Studies in Transformative Studies at the California Institute of Integral Studies.