13    Rigour (1)


Speaking only for myself ...


In some respects it seems to me that action research sits (sometimes a little uneasily) between two paradigms.  On the one hand we find the mostly reductionist experimental and quasi-experimental methodologies.  On the other there are the various qualitative methodologies.

On some occasions action researchers appear to be influenced by the current fashion in some of the qualitative methodologies.  Part of this is to treat the experimental and allied approaches as dominant, and to be resisted.  Resistance sometimes takes the form of arguing that qualitative researchers need not be bound by the criteria by which experimentalists judge their own work and that of their colleagues.

By and large I'm sympathetic to this.  I've seen too many action research theses and studies criticised because they didn't sufficiently resemble good experimental designs.

Some of you can no doubt provide criticisms from your own experience.  The criticisms are many ...  The design was modified on the run.  The researcher formed close relationships with informants.  The initial research question wasn't precise enough.  The variables weren't adequately defined.  There wasn't a control group.  And so on ...

I think there is reason enough to resist such criticisms as uninformed.  Some of them, when you look further into it, might even be regarded as absurd.  Let us acknowledge and respect the differences between ourselves and the experimentalists.

(This is in no sense intended as a criticism of experimentation.  Only of their habit of thinking that theirs is the only way.)

Let's also acknowledge that action research is not synonymous with "qualitative" either.  In particular, I sometimes wonder if we have been too much influenced by deconstructionism.  And I wonder if that in turn has been too much influenced by its origins in textual and artistic criticism.

It is sometimes said that in textual analysis the reader places the meaning on the text.  The text is just squiggles on a page until a reader fashions the meaning.  I don't wish to argue with that.  I think it may be an extreme view, but I'm not planning to take that up here.

Assume for the sake of discussion that it is true.

The point I wish to take up is that sometimes the relationship between text and meaning, so defined, is then said to exist between data and interpretation.  Interpretation is to data as meaning is to text.  In other words, data are equivalent to squiggles upon a page and with no inherent meaning.  We devise the interpretation.  And one person's interpretation is therefore as good as another's.

What do our data represent? People and objects and activities.  The people have bodies and opinions and feelings.  Most action research is intended to act upon that world of people and objects and activities.

I don't personally think we are free to impute whatever meaning we wish to our research situation.  At least, not if we wish the subsequent actions of ourselves and our co-researchers or informants to achieve the outcomes we desire.




Copyright Bob Dick 1998-2000.  May be copied if it is not included in any
material sold at a profit, and this and the following notice are shown

This may be cited as:   Bob Dick (1998) Rigour (1).  Occasional
pieces in action research methodology, # 13.  Available online at

Version 1.2;  last modified 20000101


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