Dr Patricia C Gaya

B.Sc., Ph.D.(Bath)

  • BS8 1SD


Research output per year

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Personal profile

Research interests

I am an action researcher, educator, feminist, and scholar-activist interested in how we might foster individual and collective capacities to imagine, articulate, and co-create alternative futures that are more socially just and ecologically sustainable.

My key leadership role within the University of Bristol is as Director of PolicyBristol, which specialises in bringing together academic, policymaker and practitioner expertise in innovative collaborations locally, nationally, and internationally, so as to solve real world challenges and make positive contributions towards a more just and sustainable society.  For further information, see my biographical details below, or read about how you can work with us here.  

In my work as a scholar-activist, I explore how, within contexts characterised by systemic complexity, we might usefully invoke, prefigure, and experiment in the present with radical imaginaries and forms of action that seek to challenge oppression and ecological destruction, with the aim of contributing to ever greater social justice and planetary regeneration.

I am particularly interested in:

  • endeavours that are supportive of radical agency and radical democracy, and that pursue anti-hegemonic critique and the dismantling of oppressive forms of power and privilege.  
  • the organized, dis-organized, un-organized, and alter-organized conditions of civil society and social movement activism, and in how these intersect with contemporary debates on agency and social change. 
  • working with notions of ‘the future’ and ‘utopias’ not primarily as rhetorical devices, but as spaces that can be both pluralistically imagined and simultaneously inhabited in the here and now, in ways that open up sites for radical potentiality, hopeful action, and mindful encounters with the present(s).
  • cartographic approaches to understanding and getting hold of critical utopian moments and affective experiences: e.g., how hope and 'joyful agency' materialise in micropolitical encounters and dynamics between bodies that (re-)make worlds
  • participatory philosophies and practices that support heightened consciousness of our species' participation within a wild and intrinsically valuable planetary system.  I draw on the work of a diverse range of writers and practitioners who offer radical lenses for perceiving and experiencing anew the relational reality in which we co-exist.


More generally, I have inter-disciplinary affiliations, drawing on action research, environmental philosophy, anticipation studies, critical and feminist theory, critical management/organisation studies, and social movement studies.  


Radical methodologies in support of peace, justice, and ecological sustainability

I am committed to the development of radical methodologies for knowledge-creation which explicitly set out to be ongoingly anti-hegemonic, self-reflexive, pluralistic, and non-recuperative.

My roots are in action research, a democratic and participative orientation to knowledge-creation which purposefully brings together action and reflection, theory and practice, the experience of oppression with the possibility of agency.  I believe that participatory, feminist, critical, and creative approaches to inquiry can be mobilised to support individuals and communities in resisting and constructing radical alternatives to the myriad forms of imperialism, white supremacy, neoliberal capitalism, and hetero-patriarchy (hooks, 2004) that structure much of contemporary life. 

Part of my current research explores Critical Utopian Action Research as a radical methodology for prising open democratic spaces within, alongside, and beyond the academy, in which it becomes possible to think more expansively and critically about educational presents and futures, and as a means of resisting and challenging the capture of higher education by neoliberal logics


Together with Julia Paulson, I have recently been awarded an AHRC research grant to support the Colombian Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Coexistence and Non-Repetition in embedding gender justice and innovative pedagogical engagement within its work and wider social impact.  


The AHRC grant will support the development of a feminist network, enabling a space for women truth commissioners from across the world – inspirational leaders, feminists and human rights activists – to share experiences, reflect on challenges and opportunities, and contribute to theory development in support of transitional peace and social justice movements.  


The project aims to support the crucial and difficult work of Truth Commissions—especially for ensuring that they take advantage of their pedagogical potential, embodying transitional justice as an educative, radically transformative process.



Current empirical sites of work

  • academic and student activism within, beyond, and against the neoliberal university.
  • political activism concerned with transforming stuctural dynamics that fuel violence, brutality, and ecological annihilation.
  • the re-wilding movement as a form of prefigurative politics and critical utopian practice in the pursuit of planetary healing and restoration.      


Summary of research themes and interests

  • Action research, participatory, feminist, and arts-based inquiry methods
  • Anticipation, futures, and critical utopias
  • Social movements, political activism, and prefigurative practice seeking to challenge existing structures of power and privilege
  • Activist bodies and affect – the place of hope, joy, anxiety, and dread in supporting and constraining embodied agency and political action
  • Democratisation of higher education and knowledge-creation
  • Ecological sustainability and eco-philosophies for planetary healing

I welcome expressions of interest from those wishing to undertake PhD research in related areas.  

I have successfully supervised several PhD students to completion, and have been awarded the Bristol Teaching Award for Outstanding Doctoral Supervision.


Biographical details and affiliations

I was born in Argentina during the military dictatorship of the 1970s, and my early childhood unfolded against a background of socio-economic and political unrest. My family and I left Argentina for the Middle East when I was a young child, where I completed my schooling.  I moved to the UK in 1997, and in 2006, I completed my PhD at the Centre for Action Research in Professional Practice at the University of Bath.  My thesis was entitled Repose: A personal and relational foundation for responding to ecological challenges.  Thereafter, I was appointed to a lectureship at the Centre for Leadership Studies at the University of Exeter before joining the School of Economics, Finance and Management at the University of Bristol in 2008.

I am Director of PolicyBristol, which aims to enhance the influence and impact of research from across the University of Bristol on policy and practice at the local, national and international level.  PolicyBristol specialises in bringing together academic, policymaker and practitioner expertise in innovative collaborations, so as to solve real world challenges and make positive contributions towards a more just and sustainable society.  Read about how you can work with us here

From 2006-2016, I served as Associate Editor (now Affiliate Editor) of the international, peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary journal, Action Research, and co-founded the AR+ global network of action research practitioners.  I was also on the Editorial Board of the Encyclopedia of Action Research (2014), published by Sage.  I am part of the University's research group on Anticipation, and of the Graduate School of Education's research centre in Knowledge, Culture, and Society.  I served on the Scientific Committee for the 2nd International Conference on Anticipation, held in London in 2017. 

I am a co-founder and co-Director of ARCIO (Action Research and Critical Inquiry in Organisations), a research centre that works across a number of research themes in the Department of Management and beyond.  Members of ARCIO are committed to researching in participative and/or capacity-building ways in organisations and communities, to develop emancipatory forms of organising focused on issues of social justice, democracy, gender, inclusivity, political activism, and sustainability. This is explicitly framed within critiques of neoliberalism and 'business as usual'.  ARCIO draws on critical theory/inquiry, arts-based, narrative, and/or feminist methods in research and scholarship.


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Research Output

  • 8 Article (Academic Journal)
  • 3 Chapter in a book

Carpe the academy: Dismantling higher education and prefiguring critical utopias through action research

Gayá, P. & Brydon-Miller, M., Nov 2017, In : Futures. 94, p. 34-44 11 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)

Open Access
  • 6 Citations (Scopus)
    458 Downloads (Pure)

    Imagining a sustainable future: Eschatology, Bateson’s ecology of mind and arts-based practice

    Gaya, P. C. & Phillips, M. E., 1 Nov 2016, In : Organization. 23, 6, p. 803-824 22 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)

    Open Access
  • 12 Citations (Scopus)
    404 Downloads (Pure)

    The role of commodified celebrities in children's moral development: The case of David Beckham

    Wicks, P. G., Nairn, A. & Griffin, C., 27 Nov 2014, Brands: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Taylor & Francis Group, Vol. 19. p. 242-267 26 p.

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a book