Action Research, the Disciplines, and Coverage

As noted earlier, AR is not a discipline. It involves practitioners from anthro­pology, development studies, education, engineering, gender studies, human services, psychology, human services, social work, sociology, planning, civil engineering, and many other fields, including many forms of nonacademic practice. Consequently, students will not find AR presented in introductory disciplinary courses in most departments. Academic disciplines use introduc­tory courses to recruit neophyte disciplinarians and to enhance enrollments to satisfy the demands of university administrations in return for which the departments get additional resources. These courses generally do not aim to attract scholars and practitioners who share particular views about democracy, participation, and the creation of useful knowledge. This is the case despite the fantasies of U.S. neoconservatives who imagine the social sciences and humanities in U.S. universities to be hotbeds for the promotion of left-wing ideologies.

In a higher education environment, AR is not an easy way to work, because disciplinary enrollments and boundaries are the tools used in acade­mic competition and administrative command and control. Yet, we encounter increasing numbers of students from diverse fields who come to us to learn about AR. Some come in reaction to their unsatisfying experiences of the abstractions and social passivity of their home fields, others because of their rejection of the instrumentalism of many so-called applied fields, and still others because of their experiences with other approaches that are critical of “canonical” disciplinary systems (for example, feminism, neo-Marxism, criti­cal theory). The teaching challenge with such heterogeneous groups is how to present an introduction to people who are searching for something, to provide them with enough background to permit them to continue learning about AR independently, and, at the same time, to build as directly as possible on the experiences that moved them to explore AR in the first place.

After thinking through this problem and teaching AR courses over the past 20 years, we decided that the best approach is for us to develop a consistent historical, philosophical, and ethical argument for AR, provide some cases of AR practice, and then introduce a variety of AR approaches. To fulfill the con­ditions of this design, we develop a philosophical argument for AR as scientific activity and a view of the links of AR to many different kinds of reform move­ments in the sciences, engineering, and social sciences. We couple this with a political economic argument that accounts for the suppression of praxis- oriented social research in academia. Because we intend to bridge theory and praxis, we also develop discussions of methodologies and tools useful in AR. Then, to evoke some of the diverse visions among AR practitioners, we provide a general overview of some of the main AR positions (including our own), knowing well that many of these positions ignore one another in practice.

This general overview will most likely be criticized by other AR practi­tioners because it is not truly comprehensive and because we express our own views about each approach we review. AR has many proponents, and several different groups would like to claim they know the “right” way to do AR, whereas others reject the name entirely, preferring (often for sensible reasons) another term (such as participatory research, human inquiry, or action science). Occasionally, some practitioners are ignorant or intolerant of each other’s work. Although we are well aware that our review is not likely to win us friends in all groups, we persist in presenting our own view of the field as our intellectual and political right and invite others to present alternative views and critiques of ours. The first edition of the book did provoke some reactions, but, as yet, no comprehensive alternative view of the field of AR has been proposed.

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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