The last decade has witnessed an explosion in the use of Participatory Rural Appraisal methods. Some advocates of the approach have even claimed that PRA represents a 'new scientific paradigm'. This paper examines these claims, highlighting influences from post-modern philosophy and exploring the social theory underlying the proposed paradigm. The failure of the theorists to tackle the issue of social conflict and arbitration is highlighted, as well as the political ambiguities surrounding the concept of social learning. The paper concludes that, as a toolkit, PRA has much to offer, but the claims that it represents a 'new paradigm' are flawed.