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Abstract

This Article introduces a method of research that we term “legal participatory action research” or “legal PAR” as a way for legal scholars and activists to put various strands of critical legal theory into practice. Specifically, through the lens of legal PAR, this Article contributes to a rapidly developing legal literature on the “fringe economy” that comprises “alternative lending services” and products, including but not limited to pawnshops, check cashers, payday lenders, direct deposit loans, (tax) refund anticipation loans, and car title loans. As importantly, this article also contributes to the related fields of critical race theory, feminist legal theory, and critical race feminism by advocating legal PAR as a form of critical race/feminist praxis, which we employ, specifically, to address the ways in which race and gender remain inextricably linked to poverty and ever-widening economic inequalities and disparities. To demonstrate how legal PAR works in practice, we describe in this Article a local, community-based research project on predatory lending practices that we undertook from fall 2012 through summer 2013 in partnership with Public Allies Cincinnati, an AmeriCorps program whose goal is to identify, develop, and train a new “generation” of diverse community leaders and organizers. Further, we explain in this Article how and why our ongoing community-based research is grounded in theoretical commitments and values represented by critical race/feminism and the established, interdisciplinary field of participatory action research. Finally, we examine and reflect upon the challenges and benefits involved in doing legal PAR—both in practical and theoretical terms—in the context of our specific project, in the hopes that interested legal researchers, scholars, teachers, students, and activists will be inspired to develop legal PAR research projects of their own.