General Overviews of Action Research Are Hard to Find

We decided to write a general overview of AR because of our experience with university students and practitioners encountering the subject for the first time. In our experience, students and novice practitioners generally lack access to a sufficiently comprehensive and balanced way to learn about the diverse origins, theories, methods, motives, and problems associated with this complex field. Although there is an extensive bibliography of works on AR, including a number of introductory works and a handbook that provide overviews of var­ious approaches (we cite these throughout), we felt that another kind of gen­eral book is also needed. Existing works are compendia, focus on a particular variety of AR to the exclusion of others, or do not link the history, philosophy, and practice of AR to a sufficiently broad set of philosophical, scientific, and political issues. The present book tries to overcome some of these limitations.

Gaining such an overview of AR is difficult, in part because of the organi­zation of AR praxis. Action researchers are found in social service agencies, nongovernmental organizations, international development agencies, plan­ning departments, and industry and are spread around the disciplines in academic institutions (for example, education, planning, communications, social services, program evaluation, sociology, anthropology, organizational behavior). Almost nowhere in academia is there a “department” of action research. Rather, networks of colleagues from diverse disciplines share an inter­est in AR. One result is that AR practitioners have very little common knowl­edge, read different journals and books, and often write in ignorance of relevant contributions of others in AR from other fields.

We do not believe that creating a university department of AR is the answer to this dilemma. Indeed, we view the departmentalization of the social sciences as one of the ways in which the social reform agenda of the fields emerging from political economy in the 19th century was eliminated. However, we do not let academic institutions off the hook, and the final part of this book (Part 4) deals with these issues.

We want the reader to understand that what follows is not an overview of a discipline in the making. It is a presentation of a diverse and often divergent set of practices centered on putting social research to use for democratic social change. To that end, we try to include representation of many different approaches to AR and offer some references to allow readers to follow their own interests. ^^at we include is limited by our own experience, our judg­ments of the different approaches we know about, and our own epistemologi­cal, methodological, and political agendas. Still, our goal is to give an honest and broad-minded presentation of the field of AR from our point of view. We are fully aware that the map is not the territory, and we know that knowledge­able AR practitioners will find gaps and idiosyncrasies in our choices.

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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