Action Research

This week the theme of my course is action research. It is quite interesting to think about what kind of role action plays in postmodern inquiries. What is exactly meant by ‘Action Research?

In Reason & Bradbury’s (2001, p.2) article, the authors give this definition:

Action research is a practice for systematic development for knowing and knowledge based in different relationships

The emergence of action research can be seen as the complement of the ‘linguistic turn’ (Reason & Torbert 2001, p. 2). The linguistic turn refers to the postmodern view on language with which human beings construct realities (to learn more about a postmodern perspective on language and realities, please see my previous post). Why would action research be regarded as a complement to the linguistic turn? Because action research is still based on the assumption that realities are socially constructed through language, but it goes beyond the questions of how to construct and deconstruct what has been taken for granted, and furthermore addresses  how we can act in our daily life, a socially constructed world. The primary aim of action research is to produce practical knowledge for people in their daily life. The broader goal of action research is to enhance the well-being of individuals and communities and seek for more sustainable relationships with the wider environment.

From the perspective of action research, knowing and knowledge are grounded in a participatory worldview and are developed through actions. The way in which action research conceives knowing and knowledge is different from conventional academic research. The notion of knowledge in action research is a continuous evolving knowing process arising in peoples’ dialogues and in the daily life. Besides, it assumes that human beings as agents act in the world according to their own sensemaking individually or mutually and collectively with/within communities. In this sense, action research (Reason & Bardbury 2001, p.2) is not doing research on persons, but with, for and by persons and communities, and engaging them in the process of the research, which is referred to as the participatory worldview. In Reason and Torbert’s article (2001, p.6), they point out differences between action research and empirical positivism. They (Reason & Torbert 2001, p. 6) argue that empirical positivism emphasizes ‘universalizable, valid certainty in reflection about particular pre-designated questions, whereas action research focuses on ‘timely, voluntary, mutual, validity-testing, transformative action at all moments of living.’

Reason and Torbert (2001) suggest three strategies for action research: first-person research/practice, second-person research/practice, and third-person research/practice. First-person research/practice emphasizes the individual relation to the inquiries, in another words, how you as an inquirer connect your own daily life or experiences to your inquiries. Second-person research/practice addresses interpersonal relations, engaging face-to-face group in collaborative inquiry. Here means that it does no just focus on your own relation to the inquiries, but it involves other people into the inquiries and invites them as co-inquirers as well as co-subjects. Third- person research/practice aims to create a broader community that is able to include people who are in the wider interpersonal network, which means that it involves people outside the group into the inquiries to create a wider community. The articles of Reason (2002), Mead (2002) and Parent and Béliveau (2007) introduce different forms of action research, co-operative inquiry and learning history.

I know you might still feel confused with how action research works in the reality. The three articles that I mentioned above do give examples of different methods, and these really help me understand how to use action research or for what topics you can use. I’ll talk more about them in the later post to give you more clear image of action research. So keep following my blog 😉

Here is a short video introducing action research that may help!!

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6 Responses to Action Research

  1. how do co-inquiry, collaborative inquiry & learning histories relate to action research? what makes action research “research” – could it (& these other ‘methods’) be just as easliy discoursed as “intervention?”

    • Robin says:

      As I’ve mention in my blog, the underlying assumption of action research is that realities are socially constructed through language, and knowing and knowledge are grounded in a participatory worldview and are developed through actions.

      True, action research indeed can be done from a post-positivist perspective, and easily be discoursed as intervention.

      However, action research from PomoRC perspective, it is not doing research on persons, but with, for and by persons and communities, and engaging them in the process of the research, which is referred to as the participatory worldview (Reason & Bardbury 2001, p.2). Intervention is ’power over’ others, yet methods related to action research is ‘power to’ others. And this is the distinction. You can find more information in my post here .

  2. so how is action research connected to PomoRC? I think a lot of action research is done from a post-positivist perspective – is that right?

  3. Carolyn says:

    Hi Robin,

    I really like these blogs about Action Research. I think it is a perfect way to let everyone participate in a research. Even for me, a simple civil servant, this is a way to get more involved in a research (instead of that only managers are involved). I think every consultant or researcher should use this method! Well, at least I am going to tell my manager about this form of research…


  4. Lily says:

    Hi Robin,

    I really like the idea of action research to involve different people or stakeholders. But I’m wondering what is the difference between doing conventional interviews or focus groups and action research? Aren’t they both letting people participate in the research?


    • Robin says:

      Hi Lily,

      Yes, in terms of forms, action research and conventional interviews/focus groups are similar. However in terms of the power of research and the role of participants in the inquiry, they are different. For conventional interviews/focus groups, researchers decide all the research topics and questions. Participants can only have their voice on those questions. Researchers have power over participants. Whereas postmodern action research, researchers try not to represent the object so that they don’t have power over the object. And the meaning of participatory does not only let people participate, but also let them talk, think in their own local rationalities. Participants are both co-subject and co-inquirers. The inquiry evolves through the process and is developed collectively by participants and researchers.

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