In different fields of study, scholars interested in making a positive difference in the lives of their research communities insist on engaging policy makers and activists in their work. Paulo Freire, one of the most widely known public intellectuals, asserts that praxis enables critical thought, awareness and collaborative action for emancipation for oppressed groups. Within this framework, our contribution aims to provoke thinking on the need for accountability to research subjects in development research through an emphasis on producing policy-focused and change-driven, as opposed to purely theoretically oriented, knowledge. The overarching argument is that research should, in fact, be conscious and proactive about its contribution to positive social change. Drawing on primary data gathered through field research in Ghana between 2010 and 2016, the paper highlights respondent fatigue/distrust, cross-cultural translation, and the peculiarities of the diasporic researcher as some of the methodological challenges faced in the attempt to align one’s research towards the pursuit of positive social change. Some modest suggestions are provided regarding how to enhance the impact of research for social transformation.


Social Research, Empowerment, Praxis-Oriented Research, Social Change, Communities, People’s Lives

Author Bio(s)

Dr. Nathan Andrews is an assistant professor in the Department of Global and International Studies at the University of Northern British Columbia, where he recently received a University Excellence Award in Research (May 2019). His current research focuses on the political economy of natural resource extraction with works published in journals such as World Development, Resources Policy, Energy Research & Social Science, Third World Quarterly, Business & Society Review, and Africa Today. His recent monograph is Gold Mining and the Discourses of Corporate Social Responsibility in Ghana (Palgrave, 2019). He has also worked on other international development topics some of which culminated in the publication of the co-edited volume, Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Retrospect: Africa’s Development Beyond 2015 (Springer, 2015). Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: nathan.andrews@unbc.ca.

Dr. Sylvia Bawa is a global sociologist who researches and teaches in areas of globalization, human rights, postcolonial African feminisms, development studies, social change, women’s rights and empowerment discourses in Sub-Saharan Africa at York University. Some of her publications have appeared in Third World Quarterly, Canadian Journal of Development Studies, and International Journal of Public Administration. Correspondence regarding this article can also be addressed directly to: bawa@yorku.ca.


The corresponding author is grateful for the financial support provided by the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (Canada) to complete part of the research from which the idea behind this contribution evolved.

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