The Seductive Nature of Participatory Research: Reflecting on More than a Decade of Work with Marginalized Migrants in South Africa


  • Elsa Oliveira African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS), Wits University
  • Jo Vearey African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS), Wits University, and University of Edinburgh, UK



In this paper, we explore the seductive nature of a participatory approach to research with marginalized migrant populations in South Africa. We outline the opportunities offered by such an approach while at the same time emphasizing the need for caution by showing how the ambitions of participatory research can sometimes be (mis)applied as a panacea for all of the tensions inherent in knowledge-production processes, including those associated with the extractive nature of research. We do this by drawing on our experiences in the development, implementation, and utilization of arts-based research undertaken in collaboration with international and domestic migrants in South Africa as part of the MoVE (method.visual.explore) project based at the African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS), Wits University. Established in 2013, MoVE explores the idea of ‘participatory’ migration research. We reflect on how we were initially seduced by the idea of participation and show how we are working to strengthen our research praxis through continuously interrogating and reconfiguring our understanding of the opportunities—and limitations—associated with a participatory approach to research.

Author Biographies

Elsa Oliveira, African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS), Wits University

Postdoctoral researcher and co-coordinator of the MoVE project

Jo Vearey, African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS), Wits University, and University of Edinburgh, UK

Jo Vearey, Associate Professor and Director of the African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS), Wits University, The Netherlands, and Honorary Researcher, the School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom


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How to Cite

Oliveira, E., & Vearey, J. (2020). The Seductive Nature of Participatory Research: Reflecting on More than a Decade of Work with Marginalized Migrants in South Africa. Migration Letters, 17(2), 219–228.