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The Relational Gaze on a Changing Society

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Edited By Paolo Terenzi and Elisabetta Carrà

Relational sociology is coming increasingly to the fore on the international academic stage. As it invariably happens in such circumstances, when a new paradigm attracts a growing number of scholars, researchers and practitioners, it is almost inevitably interpreted and identified in many different ways. This book aims to highlight the specific nature of relational sociology, disseminates knowledge about the relational approach which has been developed in Italy and in Europe starting from the work of Pierpaolo Donati, and confronts this approach with issues which are currently much debated in social theory, social research and social work. The authors try to consolidate the directions taken in the research field in order to distinguish relational sociology from other approaches which are not relational, or are only so to a certain degree.

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The Participatory Research Approach. Suggestions by the Relational Social Work Method

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1 Introduction

Some authors have highlighted a close connection between Participatory Research (PR) and social work1. PR has some similarities with social work both because, in most cases, it is aimed at social change2, and because the researcher is interacting with people in difficulty, as well as the social worker3. In this chapter, a reflection on the connections between PR and the social work approach known as Relational Social Work (RSW)4 is presented.

Within the Catholic University of Milan, researchers are experimenting with PR methods in different fields (poverty and social exclusion, older people living with dementia, child protection and foster care). In those studies, the participatory approach was used, drawing upon the RSW approach and connections between the two areas were observed and studied.

In this chapter, a brief description of the elements characterizing PR will be made. Then some elements that distinguish the RSW from the social work in general will be identified and later the chapter will present the principles that PR and RSW have in common. In the second part, a description of the main phases of PR will be done focusing on the methodological aspects of RSW. It will be highlighted how the RSW can provide PR with a clear theoretical framework, and the methodological recommendation from RSW can also offer useful guidelines for the PR context.

Theoretical reflections are supported by examples from the field notes of two researchers, who conducted participatory studies...

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