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This article traces a history of agricultural participatory research, largely from the author’s personal experience. Participatory research in the 1970s was mostly led by disciplinary scientists, and characterised by innovative activities and open academic debate, with some recognition that policy and development practice was a political process. The 1980s saw a shift to learning from past experience, and a participatory mainstream developed, seeking methods for scaling up. Meanwhile, others sought to understand and influence policy and institutional change in their political and cultural contexts, and to keep open the academic debates. The author considers the 1990s as ‘lost years’, during which mainstream participatory practitioners became inward-looking development generalists, not so interested in learning from others outside their paradigm. The late 2000s provide a chance to re-recognise the political and cultural embeddedness of science and technology; re-introduce strong, widely based disciplines; and learn from past activities that resulted in positive development outcomes (planned or unplanned).

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