Science Is Humans in Action

There is much to learn from this story, but we want to stress the social and cul­tural dimensions of scientific activity that are revealed by this way of present­ing the scientific method. Not only do the scientists go out and get grants, often writing collaboratively to do so, but the laboratories in which they work are social systems involving teamwork and divisions of labor (see Adams, 2004; Latour, 1987; Latour & Woolgar, 1979; Zabusky, 1995). Their activities are often characterized by cogenerative problem solving because they work in groups and use both present records that they create themselves as well as writ­ten records of data from others. Brainstorming is a common activity in these settings, and data collection is often also a product of teamwork. Question for­mulation often takes place in groups, with people interrogating one another. Good science is an eminently social activity, as the field of science and tech­nology studies has clearly shown.

Science is also quite often an interventionist activity. Most experiments are some form of intervention designed to discover principles and causes by man­aging or disturbing them in some way and predicting how they will change as a result of the intervention.

And science is a highly iterative and dynamic activity involving repeated action-reflection-action cycles. The amount of time spent cross-referencing resulting data with expectations, checking and rechecking for fit, and acting on the data to assess the effects of particular actions in relation to expecta­tions about how the data will behave is a dominant characteristic of science. Thought and action cycle around each other repeatedly, as they necessarily do in any kind of AR.

AR is very similar in its use of thought-action cycles and the testing of understandings collaboratively generated through actions that then become part of the next cycle of thought and planning. By contrast, conventional social science, which is purposely separated from the world of action, is not like this.

This matters, not as an expose, but as a call to reconsider the history and development of social research. Our experience of collaborative cycles of thought and action in AR corresponds well to the chemist’s presentation of his experiences as a scientist. We encourage you to pause and wonder why con­ventional social science is hegemonic in our societies, has claimed the mantle of science, and yet does nor resemble what scientists do.

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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