Action Research and Organizational Development

By J. Barton Cunningham | Go to book overview

Foreword

Over a year ago Dr. Cunningham asked if I would write a foreword to this book, which was then inchoate and untitled. I suggested that I was probably the wrong person for this since I was, and more or less continue to be, one of those old fashioned, positively and behaviorally inclined scientists whose orientation and methods have received such a drubbing lately at the hands of a "new" breed of epistemologists and ontologists. Despite this caveat, Bart, who had been my student and a rare fellow Canadian in our school about twenty years ago, sent me a copy of his manuscript and repeated his request.

The difficulties I've had over the years understanding those with a "qualitative," intuitive orientation to research on the complexities with which humans embroil themselves in organizations is simply this: I can't tell the difference between what they say they do and what "normal" scientists say they do. Some time ago, in a research methods seminar, doctoral students reviewed a number of descriptions of studies purporting to represent a participative, involved and committed approach. Each of these was by a different author, with different objectives, different skills, and experiences and dealing with different problems, communities, and organizations. It soon became clear that the fundamental "methods" were the same as those described by "conventional," social scientists: the participative authors reported making observations on the basis of their own preconceptions (which "normal" scientists call theories or working hypotheses), adjusting the observational techniques to the peculiar circumstances of those things or people being studied, and then trying to make sense of what had been observed by elaborating, modifying or drastically revising their preconceptions. What's so different about that?

Nothing, so far as the basic observational or empirical approach is concerned. As I see it, the differences are not so much methodological as contextual: The people doing the research are different, they have different preconceptions or theories, different objectives, skills and habits, and they

-ix-

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