In this article I reflect on the role of critical analysis and emotions in participatory approaches to empowerment and change. I argue that, in participatory research and practice, certain cognitive and analytical knowledges are prioritized as principal catalysts of empowerment and transformation at the cost of recognizing, and making full use of, the empowering potential of emotional and embodied knowledges. This argument is developed based on 2 years of fieldwork in a local youth participation project in Mejicanos, a poor and violent neighborhood in El Salvador, aiming at empowering young people by involving them in participatory action research (PAR). As part of my research, I looked critically at the young people's PAR process, asking whether and how they felt empowered by it and whether and how social change came about. Originally, the research did not focus on emotions, yet, in an inductive fashion, emotions and embodied knowledges evolved from fieldwork as crucial elements in understanding participation, empowerment and social transformation.