Knowledge emerges and is evaluated through acting or as a consequence of actions. The discovery process is not purely mental, receding into the intellectual sphere at a distance from human actions. With Dewey, we argue for understanding inquiry as a process linking reflection and action in a unified process for the creation of new knowledge. This means that the logic of the inquiry process itself is the real basis that underlies human knowledge (Burke, 1994).
By linking inquiry to actions in a given context, AR understands human inquirers to be acting subjects in a holistic situation. Inquiry is not fragmented and separated; it is treated as a coherent social field. Dewey ( 1976) identified this as an organism-environment system that configures the holistic situation. In this view, the inquirer is also always a subject in the processes of acquiring new knowledge. AR rules out conventional positions that imagine the inquirer taking on a pseudo-neutral/pseudo-objective stance to the question under study.
AR processes do not make claims for context-free knowledge. The conventional concept of generalizability equates the general with what is universally true, context notwithstanding. Because AR is built on the notion that all meaningful inquiry is context bound, it offers a very different concept of general knowledge, one that we believe is more powerful and certainly much more useful.
We argue that AR-developed knowledge can be valuable in contexts other than those in which it is developed, but we reject the notion that the transferability of knowledge from one location to another is achieved by abstract generalizations about that knowledge. Transferring knowledge from one context to another relies on understanding the contextual factors in the situation in which the inquiry took place, judging the new context where the knowledge is supposed to be applied, and making a critical assessment of whether the two contexts have sufficient processes and structures in common to make it worthwhile to link them. We return to this issue later.
In AR, insiders and outsiders join in a mutual learning process. The enabling mechanism for this is communication. New understandings are created through discourses between people engaged in the inquiry process. For this to occur, a mutually understandable discourse is required, and this is achieved through living together over time, sharing experiences, and taking actions together. This discourse that enables communication is much like what Wittgenstein ( 1953) describes as “practice.” Language creates meaning because it identifies actions that are meaningful for the actors. New knowledge, which we have identified as emerging from an action-reflection process, accordingly shapes a language that is relevant to describing actions and the learning arising from them. The AR process thus creates a language shared between insiders and outsiders that identifies the meaning constructed through the inquiry process.
This argument leads us not only to an understanding of the way communication processes create meanings supportive of action but also to an understanding of the reverse process. In some situations, outcomes or experiences arising from actions initiate collective reflection processes that subsequently create new meanings.
Source: Greenwood Davydd J., Levin Morten (2006), Introduction to Action Research: Social Research for Social Change, SAGE Publications, Inc; 2nd edition.