Insertion of Action-Research in the Context of Continued University Education

By Thiollent, Michel | International Journal of Action Research, April 30, 2005 | Go to article overview

Insertion of Action-Research in the Context of Continued University Education


Thiollent, Michel, International Journal of Action Research


This text discusses the use of participatory methodologies and, especially, action-research, in the context of continued university education at Brazilian universities. Guided by these methodologies, the continued education projects present investigative and formative aspects, and may take on participatory, critical, reflexive and emancipatory dimensions. This orientation is considered in the current framework of crises and changes in society and universities.

Key words: Action research, continued university education, participation

1. Introduction

After several decades of discussion on action-research and experiences in Brazil, it is observed that the trajectory of this trend in research follows routes that are sometimes contradictory, due to ideological or institutional obstacles, and new opportunities to apply it. It is also observed that the action-research that yesterday was known mainly by professionals in the field of education, social service, rural extension, is now widely disseminated in areas of social medicine, local and sustainable development, cooperatives and participatory management. Standing outside the official policies for scientific and technological policies, the supporting activities in social and solidary projects, both in the context of NGOs and in that of continued university education, have opened up new possibilities for the development of the participatory methodology in general, and the action-research methodology in particular. In this study we will present a few principles that guide the use of these methodologies in the specific context of continued university education.

In order to discuss the theoretical-methodological fundamentals of the practice of continued university education, this text presents aspects of a participatory proposal, according to which knowledge is not produced for immediate dissemination, as in the conventional research/continued education sequence. Both the research projects and those of continued education are seen as a social construction of knowledge, with the participation of differentiated actors. Aimed at fulfilling concrete objectives, such projects may be structured as action-research projects. Along this line, the methodology and work tools used have participatory, critical and reflexive dimensions, contributing to strengthen the emancipatory purpose of the university projects.

We are entering a new historical period, with predictable and unpredictable changes, open to a new hope for cultural life at the universities. Instead of being despised, as occurred in the last few years, public universities may come out of this stronger, and provide new contributions to teaching, research and continued education, mobilizing social objectives. In this new context, it is believed that the continued education projects will be increasingly important.

Considering this challenge, in the form of brief notes, we will discuss the following aspects:

- The production of knowledge and continued education as a social construction.

- The role of participatory methodology and action-research.

- The critical and reflexive dimensions.

- The design of an emancipatory purpose for continued education.

2. Social Construction

The current concept of production and dissemination of knowledge, which established a unilateral sequence between research and continued education, may be substituted very advantageously by a model of social construction of knowledge.

In the form of research, the "production of knowledge" is a construction that responds to different demands, and occurs with interaction between different agents, specialists, laboratories, academies, businesses, states, etc. Depending on the areas (hard sciences or social and human, basic or applied sciences) and on the interests that are at stake, the social arrangements to construct knowledge vary considerably, in terms of power, resources and commitments. …

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