This article is a critically reflexive account of how collaborative processes and democratic relations were negotiated in a doctoral research project which combined elements of institutional ethnography, self-study, and, significantly for this article, critical participatory action research. The critical participatory action research dimension of the project involved a group of academics working in the same university faculty, critically and collaboratively examining their own pedagogical practice and the conditions which constrain and enable critical pedagogical praxis in their setting. The article explores what possibilities for democratic participation were created and limited by the circumstances and conditions that constituted this critical participatory action research. I consider the kind of democratic participation that was possible, what enabled this kind of democratic participation, and challenges that emerged in attempts to realise democratic goals. The discussion highlights some of the complexities of fostering democratic participation in critical participatory action research within doctoral research.