Academic journal article International Journal of Action Research

With What Kind of Science Should Action Research Be Contrasted?

Academic journal article International Journal of Action Research

With What Kind of Science Should Action Research Be Contrasted?

Article excerpt

Action research is often criticized for not being properly based in objective facts or for not formulating testable theories, in short, for not being properly scientific. But with what kind of science should it be contrasted? Hanson (1958) distinguishes between finished, (classical) sciences and research sciences. Unlike a finished science that can be conducted by us as individuals within an already well formulated disciplinary discourse, a research science cannot. If it is to inquire into possibilities not yet actualized, it must be conducted in a much more situated, conversational manner. Thus as researchers, instead of functioning as detached observers, seeking to discover the invisible or 'hidden' causes of an observed event, we must operate in an ongoing realtime situation in a much more dialogical manner. For such dialogically-structured activity can, within the dynamics of its unfolding, give rise to transitory understandings, and action guiding anticipations of a 'situated' kind, thus enabling all those involved in such activity to 'go on' with each other in unconfused ways. It is this participation in a shared grammar of felt, moment by moment changing expectations that are - in the interests of a decontextualized objectivity - precluded (or 'lost') within the disciplinary discourses of a finished science. Thus, guided by Wittgenstein's (1953) writings in his later philosophy, I want to show in this article that, not only is it more accurate to compare action research with research sciences than with classical sciences, but that action research can find its intellectual legitimacy in the same sphere of human conduct as all of our sciences - in people being responsibly accountable for their own actions to the others around them in terms of their immediate relations to their shared surroundings.

Key words: Wittgenstein, the background, ways of seeing, action guiding anticipations

This special issue of the IJAR is aimed at improving the understanding of action research (AR) within the academic social science community. Again and again we find that mainstream social scientists have little knowledge of, and almost no experience with, action research. However, in discussions on AR, they still feel free to make judgements as to its inadequacies and to make authoritative pronouncements on what they suppose the 'proper' nature of research should be. This results not only in many misunderstandings and/or silences between mainstream social scientists and action researchers, but (often) leaves action researchers also feeling treated as intellectually inferior to those engaged in 'proper' research, and uneasy in being observed by them. Indeed, it is easy for practitioners to feel that, although there is a crying need for their skills, their more 'pure' colleagues on the side-lines will surely, with their 20/20 hindsight in their 'after-the-fact' analyses, always find fault in what they 'did for the best' in the circumstances in which they worked. This unhappy state of affairs is has gone on for far too long.

But more than the political tensions and uncomfortable emotions involved, there are two other consequences of even greater importance: (1) One is that the classical paradigm of scientific research, based in a CartesianNewtonian vision of the world in which we live, is still prevalent in much research in the social and behavioural sciences. And this has, due to its 'theorydriven' nature, diverted our attention away from the nature of our practices. Thus the whole realm of practice has remained relatively unexamined and thus intellectually impoverished - in treating practice as merely the realm in which theories are 'applied', the realm of practice has been left to 'take care of itself, so to speak. Only recently have efforts been made in the academy to remedy this fact (e.g., Schatzki 2002; Schatzki et al. 2001). Indeed, most crucially, we are now beginning to see that our practices are a part of 'the background' (see the next section below) that makes our theoretical, representational forms of talk possible. …

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