Joanna Wheeler


Researcher Profile

I’m a Research Fellow in the Participation, Power and Social Change Team at the Institute of Development Studies. I’ve been working for over 15 years on citizenship, power and accountability, and violence, with a strong emphasis on participatory methodologies and communication.  From 2003 to 2011, I helped lead the DFID-funded Development Research Centre on Citizenship, Participation and Accountability, which brought together researchers and policy-makers from 12 countries to ask how citizens make a difference.  As part of this network, I conducted research on how violence changes the prospects for citizenship in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, working with other researchers in Jamaica, Mexico, and Nigeria asking similar questions.  I have worked in Latin America, Africa and Asia, but with a strong focus in Brazil and on urban contexts.

Currently, my main research interests include agency and citizenship in contexts of violence and the ways that unruly politics are used in these settings; accountability, power and the prospects for democracy especially in settings of violence; the relationship between participation, ICTs and democracy; participatory action research methodologies especially visual methods such as digital storytelling and participatory video; and global collaborative knowledge networks.

The Institute of Development Studies (IDS) is a leading global charity for international development researchteaching and communications. The Institute is home to approximately 100 researchers, 40 knowledge services staff, 65 support staff and about 200 students at any one time. But the IDS community extends far beyond, encompassing an extensive network of partners, former staff and students across the development community worldwide. In all of our work, IDS aims to challenge convention and to generate fresh ideas that foster new approaches to development policy and practice. Such problem-focused thinking requires a commitment to multidisciplinarity, not just within social sciences, but across research, teaching and communications.

The Participation, Power and Social Change (PPSC) team at IDS works in partnership with diverse collaborators from around the world to generate ideas and action for social change. Citizens and their organisations, policymakers, development workers and researchers are increasingly appreciating that standard recipes for managing the complexity of our inter-connected world have not worked.

Through research, innovation and learning in rights-based and participatory approaches, we work with people to identify and implement alternative approaches to social change that respond to local situations and bridge operational practice with research and policy change. Our work intends to help tackle the power inequalities that create crises and sustain poverty and injustices through the suppression of alternative or marginalised voices.

Current Research

  • A collaborative project with Laurence Piper on xenophobic violence in Cape Town, and the relationship between citizens, informal institutions, and power at the local level and the implications of how violence is used for democracy (part of a wider ESRC-funded project in Colombia, Cote d’Ivoire, India and South Africa)
  • Using participatory visual methods (a combination of digital storytelling, participatory video and social media) for citizen engagement in Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to understand how citizen participation has evolved over the last 10 years at the local level (funded by Swiss Development Corporation’s decentralization and local governance network)
  • Using participatory visual methods as part of monitoring and evaluation of a 5-yr project in Mozambique to strengthen citizen participation at the municipal level with Alex Shankland and Rosie McGee at IDS (DFID-funded programme, working with Austral-COWI and DAI in Mozambique)
  • Leading a comparative systemic action research project with VSO (Voluntary Service Oversees) to understand the effects of volunteering on poverty (in Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Phillipines, Nepal and China)
  • Working with Oxfam on power and political economy analysis in ‘transition contexts’ (or countries with repressive states).
  • A multi-disciplinary mixed methods collaborative project under development with colleagues at the University of Sussex and University of Western Cape on local-level reconciliation and peace building

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