General Considerations of Educating Action Researchers

There are a few postgraduate programs in AR and, to our knowledge, no specialized undergraduate AR programs worldwide. AR lacks any kind of forum for the discussion of the pedagogical strategies and choices involved in the competent training of students in AR.

Action research can bridge the gap between universities and societies in ways that are very powerful, but only if we can make AR an integral part of higher education teaching and research. AR will not find a broader place in social and scientific life unless new cadres of professionals and researchers are well trained in universities and not just given on-the-job training after having com­pleted a conventional social science education. Accomplishing this involves the deployment of teaching AR to undergraduates, master’s, and Ph.D. students.


A predictable university response to this challenge would be to create separate courses of study, programs, or departments of action research. This is precisely what was done with women’s studies, ethnic studies, and science and technology studies and makes the typical organizational model the conven­tional academic department that is coterminous with a discipline and evalu­ated by a single professional association.

Accepting this organizational model for AR would reproduce the self- regarding professionalism and disciplinary narrowness that has caused the fail­ure of the conventional social sciences and that now isolates feminism, ethnic studies, and science and technology studies from the disciplinary bunkers that they originally sought to break up (see, for example, Messer-Davidow, 2002).

Isolating ARin its own programs and departments would literally destroy it because AR is an integrating strategy of knowledge production built on cogenerating knowledge across disciplines and in conjunction with the local problem owners to produce practical and theoretical knowledge simultane­ously. A departmental, disciplinary structure would make that impossible.

The logic of this should be clear. AR cannot operate within one specific conventional discipline because AR generates new knowledge holistically in the context of application and, as a consequence, AR must be multidisciplinary. And even trying to create a multidisciplinary department will not work, because the disciplines that are integrated in different AR projects vary accord­ing to the problem being addressed. We cannot know a priori which disciplines will be relevant.

In Tayloristic institutions like universities, this kind of spanning of fields, departments, programs, and colleges is not just unwelcome but it presents Tayloristic deans and department heads with what are, for them, impossible conundrums. Being faced with trying to match university expertise to the holistic complexity of real-world problems seems for them both impossible and undesirable. Never mind that society at large is telling them through increased demands for accountability that, like it or not, they had better find a way or they will find themselves without resources.


It is obvious that we cannot train students to be experts in all the disci­plines relevant to the AR projects they will encounter during their professional lives. What we can do, however, is encourage and enable them to bridge different disciplines willingly and agilely rather than letting them become accustomed to digging one deep mineshaft in a single field of expertise. Being comfortable in a group of people with widely different forms of expertise and takes on problems is something that can be taught and learned.

Furthermore, despite the self-serving cult of expertise (Brint, 1994), we know from experience that being highly accomplished at something in partic­ular does not require a person to be incompetent at everything else. It is possi­ble to cultivate a broad view of education and a welcoming attitude about learning how to learn new things and learning how to share expertise with colleagues with unlike backgrounds. If we truly believe what we say about cogenerative knowledge creation and the value of having multiple knowledges represented in the process, we also have to behave this way on university cam­puses. In this regard, we are asking no more than that our colleagues and AR students to behave in the same way we expect the local stakeholders in AR pro­jects to behave. We tell them to be tolerant and open to the knowledge of other stakeholders and to work together cogeneratively.

We know from long experience that our conventional academic colleagues will defend their turfs by retorting that our AR students will be poorly trained dilettantes, that they will know something about everything but nothing much about anything in particular. This is a demonstrably false argument that would be dismissed were it not currently backed up by the accumulated political power of decades of academic Taylorism. Having a broad and holistic view not only does not discourage developing deep knowledge of particular subjects; it makes it clear that deep knowledge is not only necessary in dealing with com­plex problems but can only be developed through cogenerative processes that combine many kinds of expertise in effective ways. And, of course, our con­ventional colleagues, who often have deep knowledge of something in particu­lar, rarely are able to deploy this knowledge anywhere but in professional journals read by a small cadre of similarly trained peers. Confusing parochial­ism with expertise is commonplace in academia.

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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