Dilemmas of Action Research - an Introduction

By Pålshaugen, Øyvind | International Journal of Action Research, August 31, 2006 | Go to article overview

Dilemmas of Action Research - an Introduction


Pålshaugen, Øyvind, International Journal of Action Research


Today, the concept of action research covers a wide range/variety of approaches. Common for most of them is that the task of making new knowledge becoming useful in order to create new, better practices, is considered of equal importance as the creating of new knowledge as such. The theories and methods by which this task is performed vary a lot, but common to all of them is some kind of collaboration with actors in the field of study. Within the communities of social science the strategy of 'collaborating with the field' or 'object of study' has been subject to some methodological controversies. However, with the development of both the broad spectre of so-called qualitative methodology within the social sciences on the one hand and the philosophy/theory of science on the other hand, these kinds of controversies have culminated. Today we witness a growing interest in action research within academic institutions, particularly within those whose subject of study is organizations, institutions, professions, particular social groups, social movements etc. (Reason/Bradbury 2001).

Issues like organisational renewal, organisational change and development, continuous improvements, total quality etc. have been among the main research issues from the very beginning of action research until today, together with community development and regional development (Cooke/Cox 2005). In accordance with the variety of approaches, also the outcome of the research projects varies a lot, regarding both the theoretical and practical outcome. There is, however, a significant convergence in the research findings, namely that they underline the importance of participation from the organisation members in enterprise development, organisation development or community development, as a condition for successful results. These findings coincide with - and supplement - the findings from cross-national surveys that explore the relationship between representative and direct participation in enterprise development (Frölich/Pekruhl 1996; Markey/Monat 1997; Heller et al. 1998).

Even though today action research exists in a broad spectre of approaches, coexists in productive relations with other forms/approaches of social science, and is expanding into new fields of research, the institutional conditions of action research within the academic institutions around the globe are not really good and solidly anchored. Main evidence for this is to be found in the fact that action research is still not very high on the agenda of the national research policy in most countries, and action research still has a rather modest place and status in the curricula of universities/university colleges (Greenwood/Levin 2005). Thus, compared to the number of action research projects carried out today in an increasing number of academic milieus and research institutes the impact of action research at the national level still remains limited in most countries.

Dilemma: The single action research project and the common project of action research

Against this background the importance of action research conferences, action research journals and action research networks - both virtual and real - are acknowledged. These are necessary not only as a means of communication within the action research community. They are also necessary as a means of making action research become more strongly institutionalised within higher education, universities and research institutes. In short, the forums that today make up what we might call the (international) action research discourse also have to work as forums of action research policymaking. Indeed, the very existence of a number of journals particularly devoted to publishing articles on action research, like Educational Action Research, Systemic Practice and Action Research, Action Research and this journal, International Journal of Action Research, is - explicitly or implicitly - part of an effort to promote action research within the overall scientific community. …

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