Action Research, Applied Research, and Qualitative Versus Quantitative Research

Action research refers to the conjunction of three elements: action, research, and participation. Unless all three elements are present, the process may be useful but it is not AR. Put another way, AR is a research strategy that gener­ates knowledge claims for the express purpose of taking action to promote social analysis and democratic social change. The social change we refer to is not just any kind of change. AR aims to increase the ability of the involved community or organization members to control their own destinies more effectively and to keep improving their capacity to do so within a more sustain­able and just environment.

AR is not applied research, and AR explicitly rejects the separation between thought and action that underlies the pure/applied distinction that has characterized social research for a number of generations. This theoreti- cal/applied pseudo-split, in our view, has been a key mechanism by which the social sciences have become deformed. It creates a useless dance between dis­engaged theorists and engaged actors, a dance that liberates both sides from the need to generate valid understandings of the social world and its change processes and to hold themselves accountable to both meaningful social consequences and solid methodological and theoretical groundings.

We believe that valid social knowledge can only be derived from practical reasoning engaged in through action. As action researchers, we believe that action is the only sensible way to generate and test new knowledge. The wide­spread belief that being a “true” social scientist means not being engaged in social action is, to us, so peculiar and counterintuitive that we devote a consid­erable amount of space to explaining this phenomenon in Part 2 of this book.

We reject a widespread tendency for people to believe that AR must be qualitative research rather than quantitative research. This unjustifiable assumption probably arises from the belief that action-oriented work cannot be scientific (precisely because it involves action) and the additional assump­tion (erroneous in our view) that quantitative research must be more scientific than qualitative research. Because we see no merit in these assumptions and because we use both quantitative and qualitative methods ourselves, we reject the notion that AR is qualitative research only and argue that action researchers are obligated to be competent in al major forms of social research.

Action researchers can accept no a priori limits on the kinds of social research techniques they use. Surveys, statistical analyses, interviews, focus groups, ethnographies, and life histories are al acceptable, if the reason for deploying them has been agreed upon by the AR coUaborators and if they are used in a way that does not oppress the participants. Knowing exactly how much heavy metal is in the groundwater somewhere may be as much a part of an AR project as knowing how people make sense of the future. Formal quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods al are appropriate to differing situations.

Source: Greenwood Davydd J., Levin Morten (2006), Introduction to Action Research: Social Research for Social Change, SAGE Publications, Inc; 2nd edition.

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