Academic journal article International Journal of Action Research

Walking the Talk? A Micro-Sociological Approach to the Co-Production of Knowledge and Power in Action Research

Academic journal article International Journal of Action Research

Walking the Talk? A Micro-Sociological Approach to the Co-Production of Knowledge and Power in Action Research

Article excerpt

This article is a contribution to the ongoing discussion in reflexive action research about how the 'co' in co-production can be understood in the nexus of epistemology and methodology. We apply a micro-sociological approach together with a Foucauldian conception of power/knowledge in the exploration of how knowledge and power relations are negotiated in a workshop which was a part of Action Research project in psychiatric setting. Few action research studies show in detail how power relations between participants affect the knowledge production and we argue that this theoretical and methodological combination has the potential to unpack the local workings of power. The analyses show how knowledge and power are intimately related and intertwined. Our orchestration of the workshop, for instance, bears consequences for the generated context and production of knowledge. It paradoxically becomes an exertion of power by which we in- or exclude certain voices in spite of our good intentions not to do so. In conclusion we assert that any involvement is a powerful act and that we as researchers have an ethical obligation to reflect on the complexity of and tensions involved in the co-production of knowledge in order to "walk the talk" and try to live up to the democratic ideals in Action Research.

Key words: micro-sociological approach, power, participation, knowledge forms, co-production

In Action Research (AR), there is a prevailing ideal of democratic knowledge production in a transformative process. Together, researchers and practitioners are able to "identify important emerging issues that would otherwise remain invisible" (Bammer, Brown, Batilawa, & Kunreuther, 2003, p. 86) and produce new knowledge in a mutual development of practice. In this collaboration, the relationships and the local "networks of power dynamics" (Reason & Bradbury, 2001) which are formed are essential to the knowledge production, and to the possible outcomes of the research and change process. "Participation" is a defining characteristic of AR, based on the central premise that research is enacted "with" people rather than "on" or "for" them (Heron & Reason, 2001). The ideal is a democratic relationship in which both sides exercise power and shared control over the research process. Within this framework, researchers are supposed to act as committed facilitators, participants, and learners rather than distanced, neutral observers, analysts, or manipulators (Arieli & Friedman, 2009, p. 265).

Time and again, in our own research, we have encountered a tension between the openness to different voices we as Action Researchers seek to establish through the co-production of knowledge, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the exclusion of voices we ourselves engender through our interactions with practice (Phillips, 2012, p. 148). In our opinion, researchers must dare to deconstruct their understandings of the nature of 'proper' research relationships and 'proper' knowledge forms if they are to tackle this tension and "walk the talk" of co-production in action research. We argue that a micro-sociological approach has the potential to unpack the momentby-moment changes in the relationships between participants in an AR project and expose how different knowledge forms, academic as well as practice based and situated, come into play. In this article, we look into the nexus of epistemology and methodology and discuss how we, the researchers, seem to invite and initiate a co-production, and how the process of coproducing knowledge affects the "whaf: that is, the knowledge co-produced in the situated context (Phillips & Kristiansen, 2012).

We present an analysis of video footage from a workshop which we and practitioners held after one year of collaboration in an AR project in two psychiatric wards. We had worked alongside the practitioners in formulating the following objective for the project: "to establish psycho-educational situations which meet the needs of the patients". …

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