2    What is "action research"?


Speaking only for myself ...

What is "action research"?

I hasten to add that, by and large, definitions don't matter much to me.  I think that there are more important issues to discuss.  How to change the world, for example.  In any event it makes more sense to me to talk to people using their own definitions rather than insist on using my own.

I don't experience a world subdivided into boxes labelled "psychology" or "economics" or "engineering".  So I don't see why research has to be labelled as "experimental" or "ethnographic" or "action research" as if those were real categories.

But sometimes it helps to define what I mean by a given label.

Some time ago, Ron Passfield, Paul Wildman and I were writing the introduction for a new publication.  We set out to devise a minimal definition of action research.  After some discussion we agreed on two criteria:

  • true to label, pursuing action and research
  • a cyclic process, alternating action with critical reflection.

We acknowledged that it was also usually qualitative and participative.

As some of you will know, Pam Swepson recently submitted a draft paper to Action research international.  In it, she argued that there were advantages in treating participation as a matter of choice.  Some of the responses expressed strong disagreement.  For many people, participation (and preferably emancipation) is clearly not a matter of choice.

If it isn't participative, in some views, it isn't action research.  I think it's important to note that Pam wasn't arguing against participation or emancipation.

The responses lead me to ponder.  Has ideology replaced pragmatism as the main driver for current approaches to action research?

It isn't my intention to argue that action research is this or that or something else.  The issue I'm trying to raise in this and the previous occasional piece is quite different.  It is something like: "How do you choose the best research approach, whatever it's called, for a given research situation?".

Or, to put it differently ...  In research design how can I see beyond definition or ideology to issues which to me appear more substantial?


The issues in this and the previous occasional piece are also addressed in the paper



Copyright Bob Dick 1997-2000.  May be copied if it is not included
in any material sold at a profit, and if this notice is shown

This may be cited as:   Bob Dick (1997)  What is "action research"?
Occasional pieces in action research methodology, # 2.  Available
online at http://www.scu.edu.au/schools/gcm/ar/arm/op002.html

Version 1.2;  Last modified 20000101


These "occasional pieces" form part of a substantial action research site at
Southern Cross University.  To access the "front page" of the site, click