Action Research and Organizational Development

By J. Barton Cunningham | Go to book overview

4
The Emerging Action Sciences

The affirmation of knowledge through a traditional or a positive science has provided fundamental changes to our society. Since the sixteenth century, scientific research findings have refuted theological dogmatism and conventional wisdom. Church doctrine has yielded and has been readjusted so that it did not clash glaringly with scientific evidence. Conventional wisdoms on many subjects--such as eating habits, sex, child rearing and education, have been constantly challenged with scientific facts. The prestige of positive science has grown in these triumphs. The procedures were used largely to test social dogmas, and were not developed to make discoveries or solve problems.

In recent years, there has been a growing concern regarding the long standing debate on the adequacy of positive science research methods in field settings. 1 There appears to be a growing recognition of the difficulties of applying the positivistic research paradigm for carrying out research and change in real-life settings. That is, there may be an inherent incompatibility between action and research. Maximizing one may minimize the other.

It would seem that the positive science paradigm is, for all scientific purposes, unchallengeable for providing generalizable scientific evidence. Until a new paradigm is articulated and accepted as useful for tasks of discovery or invention, we may continue to recognize the more accepted scientific paradigm. Sometimes, more important discoveries have occurred when positive science failed, or because there were efforts to challenge the conventional research ideals. This chapter describes some discoveries which occurred in both the physical and social sciences that illustrate, at least partially, some action scientific practices.

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