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Durham University

Centre for Social Justice and Community Action

About the Centre

'Collaborating in research for social justice'


The Centre for Social Justice and Community Action is a research centre based at Durham University, made up of academic researchers from a number of departments and disciplines and people from community, voluntary and other organisations. The Centre promotes and develops research, teaching, public/community engagement and staff development (both within and outside the university) around the broad theme of social justice in local and international settings, with a specific focus on participatory action research.

The Centre strives for excellence in both the quality of its research and the breadth and depth of its community-university engagement. We have two key aims:

  1. To support and conduct research on issues related to social justice, which challenges and seeks to alleviate inequalities in wealth, status, power and participation.
  2. Through this jointly-owned research, to co-produce knowledge through partnerships between researchers, community activists, grass-roots community organisations, and other voluntary and public sector organisations.

In support of our aims, our goals are to provide:

  • An international centre of excellence for theoretically informed participatory and community-based research. We do not see 'thinking' or 'theory' as separate from 'practice', or universities as the only places where thinking and theory happen.
  • A locus for good practice in this type of research and associated initiatives in teaching, training, engagement and staff development.

Participatory action research

Our particular specialism (in which members have an international reputation) is participatory action research, although we also practice other forms of collaborative research. Participatory action research is a collaborative effort in which people whose lives might be affected by research are partners in designing, undertaking and disseminating research to influence socially just change.


The work of the Centre is based on a framework of values that emphasises:

  • The importance of participatory processes in community-university research partnerships, based on principles of cooperation, mutual respect, a valuing of expertise by experience and a striving towards equality of ownership and control;
  • The importance of seeking research outcomes that lead to tangible benefits for research participants, particularly improving quality of life, redressing social injustice and inequalities in access to resources and power, and transforming ways of seeing, thinking and acting through fostering learning and increasing and consolidating knowledge, skills, confidence and power.


The Centre has two Co-directors, Professor Sarah Banks and Dr Andrew Russell, two deputy directors, Dr Sui-Ting Kong and Dr Andrew Orton, a steering group of academic and community advisors, an international advisory board, and a broader network of over 500 researchers and community organisations.


Members of the Centre are involved in research on issues with social justice at their heart, including youth welfare, criminal justice, fear of crime, health and wellbeing, household debt, migration and asylum, community development and civil engagement, social work and care, climate change, environmental justice, globalisation, gender, violence, children’s participation and rights.

This research has been/is being conducted at sites including the UK, Mozambique, Nepal, Canada, Brazil, Finland, Tanzania, Kenya, India, Bangladesh and China.


The Centre's activities include:

  • Research projects in partnership with community organisations
  • Short training courses on participatory action research and related topics
  • Seminars and conferences
  • University-based teaching modules and programmes on participatory action research, community development and community action
  • Support of student projects and activities
  • Relevant publications, reports and other outputs