'Gouldner's child?' Some reflections on sociology and participatory action research.
As a young State Government research sociologist in the 1970s and early 1980s, I returned for postgraduate studies to reflect on the epistemological battles in which I and other researchers like me were then caught up. Many of us were working outside the academy, using research to inform the many transformations of health, community and human service institutions taking place in the rigidified social order of a post-war welfare state. Back in the academy I found a sociology that had come alive to 'the great paradigm wars' between positivism and reflexive interpretivism (Blaikie, 1993; Burrell and Morgan, 1979; Cicourel, 1964; Ford, 1971; Giddens, 1976; Kuhn, 1973; Reinharz, 1979). (2) It was a boom time for sociology engaging outside universities. In 1976, the annual sociology conference counted its attendance in four figures and an unprecedented (and since unsurpassed) number of non-academics attended. The context for our work was the culmination of a long economic boom, and a period of intense change. Expanded government funding of new services was taking place in response to changing 'community needs'. Women, for example, had emerged from the post-war home, seeking educations and jobs. People instutitutionalized for their differences were demanding to live in ways others took for granted. Manufacturing industry was moving off-shore and the economy 'structurally readjusting'. And new waves of non-English-speaking settlement communities--from Turkey, Egypt, South America and Asia--were facing difficult futures and uncertain employment.
New forms of research were becoming popular that could work in and with these conditions of change, diversity and complexity. These were being applied, first, to attain richer, more meaningful understandings of localized 'lived realities' and critical analyses (including actors' discomfort with them), and, second, to assisting those actors draw new theory-informed conclusions, and try out new practices generated from those conclusions as part of the research.
In Table 1 I briefly revisit the comparative logic of the 'two paradigms' (Kuhn, 1973) as a way of identifying some of the significant epistemological roots of participatory action research (3)--a key contribution of sociology to those debates.
It was difficult and often politically contested work, but seemed inevitably so if one took up the challenge of sociological research in a constantly dialectical world of Mills' 'private troubles' and 'public issues' (1970). Indeed, the very dualities to which the 'new paradigm' had initially responded (van Krieken, 2002: 267-8) began to dissolve. Distinctions such as individual-organization, theory-practice, self-other and researcher-researched, continued to be radically re-understood as we action research practitioner-theorists came to realize our apparent simultaneous separateness and connectedness within a 'living system' or 'whole field'. In some ways it was a peculiarly postmodern epistemology, although one which refused a nihilist relativism in its forms of active engagement.
When I wrote about the basics of what we were doing (1984, 1991), I saw us as working in the mainstream of new paradigm social research. Like much of my cohort, I seemed pretty much a child of Gouldner's thinking about the inevitable implication of the observer in the construction of the observed, and the consequences for a reflexive sociology (1971, 1979).
And, so it seemed, increasingly, was the rest of the world, where something like a popular sociological imagination was giving substance to the old argument that this was indeed a 'science' that could be exercised by others in their daily practice 'on the run' (Wadsworth, 1984, 1991, 2001). Indeed there has been an explosion of popular social practice-theorizing in areas as diverse as architecture, business and management, land care, ecology, geography/environment, media and communications, indigenous and cross-cultural work, public health, politics, anthropology, world development, religion, in child care centres, marriages or psychiatric wards, the local chemist's shop and women's magazines. It may arguably be in part a lasting legacy of the era of popular sociology.
Yet, at exactly the point where the 'new paradigm' seemed moderately victorious, the long post-war boom gave way to recession. Throughout the 1980s, Government 'razor gangs' terminated the glorious experiments with funding the 'meeting of human needs' (e.g. through a Guaranteed Minimum Income, child care for all who needed it, universal health services and an end to poverty). Critical social research faced an era of cutbacks and competitive commercialization as the economic 'rationalist' agenda took shape. 'Giving voice' to problematic, 'dangerous' or undiscussable matters became increasingly circumscribed when confronted with either the apparently unanswerable logic of deficit budgets, or the sheer threat of loss of credibility or a job. As Gouldner's (1971) crisis of western sociology arrived, sociology in general began to contract dramatically in size (notably in contrast to ascendant psychology), (4) besieged in the academy where it was often no longer even allowed to call itself sociology any more. As sociology's traditional object, 'society', was deemed officially to no longer exist, (5) whether by a British government leader or some postmodern theorists, sociology began to splinter into its own diverse but separate fragments of 'business as usual' survey empiricism, mild-mannered interpretivism, neo-Marxist structuralism, post-structuralism, feminism, cultural studies, radical subjectivism, critical realism and postmodernism. Elsewhere, an uneasy truce to the paradigm wars was being reached in the 'new rules of social research', which compelled research to be 'balanced' by being both 'quantitative and qualitative'--regardless of the questions or purposes. Even a struggling new paradigm, which was attempting to research wider realms of human experience, and do so within movements for change, was summarily dismissed as postmodern sociology (Bauman, 1989).
The academy's unease with action research
Much academic interrogation followed the paradigm wars as the tension continued to be explored between differing notions of knowledge-constituting relations, of 'the political' itself, of the relationship between knowledge and practice, and of how researching change in practice could (or could not) be separated from cultural critique and discursive analysis with respect to local and global social formations. (6)
On the one hand, in academic sociology there had always been a tradition of going beyond being merely interested or fascinated in 'the way things are' in the world, to problematizing them and wanting to use research to work out 'the ways things could alternatively be'--particularly in feminism, or in work intensely engaged with or by external communities. (7) Most recently, the British Sociology Association's conference's theme 'Sociological Challenges: Conflict, Anxiety and Discontent' re-invoked the idea of the sociological imagination being 'animated by issues of social division, economic hardship, cultural disadvantage and political oppression' (quoted in <http//www.bsa.edu.uk> BSA website, accessed 11 September 2003). Clifford Geertz (2001), reviewing the urban planner Bent Flyvberg's Making Social Science Matter: Why Social Inquiry Fails and How it Can Succeed Again (2001), noted Flyvberg's argument that key social theorists were seeing the social world as better understood as intersubjectively constructed, contingent and dialogical, rather than as objectively given, fixed and contained. Gidden's 'double hermeneutic' (self-reflexive interpretation), Bourdieu's critique of structuralism as detached, schematic and neglectful of context, and the power-knowledge critique of value neutrality advanced by Foucault, all reflected these new paradigm assumptions. Eco-feminists have drawn the same conclusions.
However, while prominent sociological commentators such as Tony Giddens believe positivism to be a spent force, (8) in Australia Hugh Stretton long continued to insist that positivism survived and that there were 'plenty of readers of Gouldner ... who have still done very little to carry the message into their actual teaching and working practice'. (9) Indeed, positivist assumptions arguably remain widespread--and even newly resuscitated with the popularity of the 'evidence-based' movement sweeping through medicine and most other areas of publicly-funded intervention.
Certainly academic researchers continue to be under pressure to invite subjects to participate in academic research (where the academic is expected to theorize and author publications), rather than wait to be invited to assist 'knowing subjects' to carry out their own research, possibly theorized and authored by them. Academic research funds and ethics systems do not work in favour of action research--despite the irony of the approach being desired by many in the non-academic, community or industry settings that are courted by academe. Formal journal research articles routinely end with expressions of hope that the research will make a contribution, but stop short of following the conclusions and implications into 'experimental' real-life practice.
As well, many sociologists and postmodernists concluded that academic theorizing about the social, and critiquing 'how things are', was a form of political practice per se, without necessarily engaging actively in research that works with the knowledge and change processes towards 'how things might alternatively be'.
Action researchers, however, work from a theory of political change that involves consciously theorizing within a community of practice or a 'field of constitutive relations' where the relevant participants are together 'researching', 'theorizing' and 'acting' (consciously intervening) in that social field or discourse of substantive practice.
But an unexpected thing was happening alongside the atrophying of talk of a 'new paradigm' in academic sociology. Mostly outside the academy, action research--in myriad locations and variants, (10) including participatory and collaborative inquiry, action learning, action science, social ecology or socio systems-thinking (11)--began unexpectedly to 'take off'. And with a surprising degree of popularity.
The rise and rise of action research
As conceived by Gouldner, reflexive sociology had identified not so much with Marx's dualistic eleventh thesis (1977) that sociologists 'have so far only theorized about the world, the point is to change it'--but rather: 'if sociologists want to understand how the world changes, they must theorize in, with and through its actual and always-changing practice (and practitioners)'.
This was the conclusion also of Kurt Lewin (1946), credited with coining the term 'action research', when he said the best way to understand an organization was to change it, and that there was nothing so practical as a good theory (Greenwood and Levin, 1998: 19). This was less a matter of engaging in the field until one understands it (and possibly risking 'going native' or uncritically reproducing the same knowledge relations as before). Instead, it was more like engaging actively and inevitably politically in the field of knowledge-practice relations until they are understood through the test of that engagement. This encompassed the inquiry process itself (and the inquirers), as the line blurs between everyday 'knowing subjects' who think about their own and others' social practice, and 'researchers' who do so too.
In the middle of the great paradigm wars era, in London in 1972, I myself had first encountered the term 'participatory action research' (PAR) being used by some inner city urban social researchers. I had returned to Australia to use this approach more explicitly in outer suburban community research of my own, and then with nurses across Victoria for the nursing union. Later I worked with a large group of consumers and staff in a long sequence of collaborative inquiries into establishing consumer evaluation in acute psychiatric hospital practice. Eventually I and others like me found we needed to look elsewhere than sociology to develop our approach, and found a new, vibrant and growing international participatory action research 'community-of-practice' (Wenger, 1998). Some of the early key players in this were the Cornell University PAR Network, the international PAR community focused in the decolonizing 'south', and the World Congresses sponsored by the ALARPM Association (Action Learning, Action Research and Process Management Association).
Ironically we were finding that business was experiencing its own forms of complexity, change, conflict and uncertainty. To respond more effectively to demands as diverse as those of unions and women workers, diversification and developing overseas markets, many were embracing variants of action research (such as soft systems or quality improvement).
Old paradigm statistical population surveys and private consultants' expert reports remained the dominant methodology of choice for central managerial governments and business. However, as the new economy looked (albeit gingerly) to non-positivist forms of social research to work more responsively and in 'bottom up' ways, a growing and contradictory space opened up for continual cycles of self-research and localized forms of inquiry and change. This was potentially dangerous terrain for managers and professionals in terms of retaining control, yet paradoxically made it easier to argue for more critical forms of participatory action research, as the involvement of multiple stakeholders became a compelling requirement.
Barry MacDonald (1976) a British action research theorist in education, critically characterized these contrasting forms and uses of action research as autocratic or bureaucratic (both instrumental), and democratic (or emancipatory). Yet in practice these were often complex, and have manifested increasingly as hybrids. For example, bureaucratic forms of action research such as the quality movement, could also be experienced as opening up valuable space for speaking out by hitherto suppressed voices such as service-users or 'consumers'. On the other hand, some theoretically 'emancipatory' action research could be experienced as manipulative and presumptuous by an 'oppressed' community that did not want to 'be emancipated' in ways brought from outside by often well-meaning sponsored and even academic researchers. Instrumental autocratic action research, such as that used to implement new work practices or policy, also always ran the 'risk' for command and control structures of opening a dialogue in which participants would become both informed about the issues at hand, and able to join together for further organized activity. Even the humble, usually well-controlled, one-off focus group could morph into an ongoing more active group of participants. And, more contradictory still, it could even be in the interests of the commissioning agency that this should happen, whether to be able to tap opinions later, or to ensure a 'community group' voice in multi-stakeholder meetings.
Thus reflexivity about the politics of knowledge-production relations continued--often from harsh necessity--to be foregrounded in participatory action research. Nevertheless, stakeholder-inclusive forms of collaborative inquiry or participatory action research were becoming commonplace in school classrooms, adult, community and higher education, human resources and organizational development, in nursing, hospitals and health services, community services, social entrepreneurialism, youth work, family therapy, immigration and settlement work, architecture and design, in business and industrial product-development, quality assurance (such as total systems intervention and continuous improvement), developmental evaluation, adverse incident strategies, conflict-resolution and mediation processes, restorative justice, farmer-led change to agricultural practices, information technology, and environmental, indigenous, feminist and consumer activism, and international development (Wadsworth, 1997, 2002: 6). In 1997, in Cartagena, Colombia, Orlando Fals Borda and his co-organizers had seen this emerging trend in their choice of theme--'Convergencia' (Convergences)--for the joint World Congresses of action learning, participatory and action research and process management, attended by 1300 people.
In Australia there were half a dozen prominent centres, groups and associated figures practising participatory and action-oriented forms of research (and publishing) from the early period of the 1970s and 1980s. (12) These worked to sustain action research as a form of social science that contested being circumscribed or trivialized by policy or managerial desires to impose controls on the outcomes of inquiry processes, or inappropriate boundaries on relevant stakeholders for inclusion, and remained conscious of the tendency to privilege the academic voice.
Over later decades these 'pioneer' groups and individuals were joined by thousands of practitioners, and from the late 1980s and early 1990s there has been a proliferation of activity: State-based and national networks and organizations, national and international conferences and activities, workplace and community-based projects, reports, articles, books, journals, centres, institutes, formal and informal education courses and higher degrees, and job descriptions calling for action research.
From a time when individual practitioners may have felt isolated and a bit 'up against it' in settings where conventional positivist assumptions about social research continued to prevail, there was now a sense of 'being everywhere' and in demand (Wadsworth, 2002: 4).
The legacy returns to mainstream social research
Thus the 'new paradigm' appears to be emerging from a time 'underground' or on 'the borderlands' for those who needed to nurture its 'standpoint outside ruling relations' (Smith, 1990: 156-8). Sociology's relationship to action research may now perhaps be seen as somewhat analogous to that of organized religion's relationship to spirituality. Adherents of the fast-growing 'new spirituality' (Bouma, 2003) had, similar to those of the equally burgeoning action research, decamped to their own community of practice--with some remaining in (or now returning to seek) dialogue with the greyhaired but experienced and still-valued parent. Having gained in strength and clarity, the new paradigm's contribution may be seen in both extending the 'qualitative turn', and in a hybridizing of mainstream social research, via its adoption of some quintessential characteristics of participatory action research. For example:
The explicit inclusion of 'stakeholders' on research advisory committees, some of which are 'morphing' into inquiry groups where their views are becoming seen as 'data', and members are invited to themselves reflect, analyse, develop deeper theory, and guide and observe further action; The cautious admission of the researcher's own personhood and experience as part of the research 'conversation' (including the now-widespread 'first chapter' describing the writers' journey into the topic); More complex and open-ended research designs, that unfold and 'spawn' added elements in response to the earlier phases (including what were, hitherto, 'pilot' studies, which have grown to become an early iteration of a more sequential or emergent inquiry); and, at the other 'end' of a traditional linear process: more 'post-research' follow-ups or 'implementation reviews' to monitor or 'test' in practice the thinking generated from the previous cycle of inquiry); The use of multiple methods, less for triangulation on a 'one real truth' and more to pick up explicitly differing kinds of views, including ways to overcome silencing power differentials (e.g. increased use of peer interviewing, journal-writing, appreciative inquiry or auto-ethnography); Increased use of naturalistic and conversational 'both-ways' dialogue and other conversational methods, and iterative 'crossover' designs to accommodate these (for example, the ubiquitous and hitherto anonymous one-off focus group, beginning to hybridize into locally meeting groupings of people who may know each other and continue to meet; or traditional one-off consultative efforts being supplemented by sometimes numerous episodes of briefing, input and feedback, and involving revised and re-revised analyses and conclusions (such as deliberative polling, most significant change technique, memory work, some forms of public consultation and open space technology); and The hybridizing of traditional techniques to enable representation of different stakeholders or points of view (such as the use of community-of-interest consultants to act as dialogue facilitators, or representatives volunteering or being 'voted' onto or 'tendering' for places in 'focus groups'). (13)
Signs of explicit mention of action research practice are more recent in mainstream sociology. In an issue of the Sociological Review, O'Neill and colleagues explored an innovative action research method, identifying it as a 'renewed methodology' and hybrid of ethnographic participatory action research. Including re-representation through live/art-performance, which they called 'ethno-mimesis' (O'Neill et al., 2002).
William Foote Whyte (1991) made the shift to participatory action research, in his case through collaboration with Cornell University's workplace relations study centre and key figures in the Cornell PAR Network such as Ann Martin and David Greenwood. Egon Guba and Yvonna Lincoln (1989) were sociologists who became major proponents of the influential naturalistic inquiry and constructivist or fourth-generation approach to the fields of evaluation and education.
There are other early signs of engagement. I have now experienced being asked to deliver my first guest lectures on action research to a mainstream sociology course. And there was--a first to my knowledge--a major two-day PAR section at a world congress of sociology (in Brisbane, 2002).
A family reunion for Gouldner's offspring?
There may be value in sociology and participatory action research reengaging more explicitly.
Many students are seeking graduate studies for the purposes of reflecting more deeply on their practice in community or workplace contexts (Argyris, 1993)--hence the increase in popularity of professional placement or project-based higher education studies. Sociology may gain from working more closely in relation to these richly nuanced settings with actors who are both generating and 'testing' grounded theory in 'live' practice. Academic sociologists may find this more satisfying than current more instrumental efforts to industrially commercialize the academy. These latter appear to abandon many of the conditions for highly original and creative thinking by taking a managerial focus on short-term funds acquisition per se and other goal-displacing performativity and commodity production 'achievements'.
As well, just as the paradigm wars fuelled participatory action research with some deep and critical thinking, action research may again benefit from exposure to sociological theorizing. In particular, there may be mutual benefit in comparing sociology's lengthy engagement with theorizing the social structural with the individual agentic, with participatory action researchers' traditional attention to the complex, systemic hermeneutics of the social, organizational and institutional writ small as the personal and individual.
Sociology's traditional separation from psychology was long well-justified. Generations of modernist attempts to relate the psychological and the social (perhaps theorizing 'within the sound of a return to order') were driven to see repression as functional within a consensus model of a unitary society. Bob Connell's still-relevant--perhaps even premonitory--account of Dr Freud and the course of history noted that:
Freud, above all other psychologists, saw the individual as a differentiated unit, internally divided, racked by ambivalence, packed to the ears with contradiction and strife. He utterly failed to see society in the same light ... (1977: 128)
Yet there are forms of post-Freudian psychology that are doing exactly this in the hands of critical constructivist action researchers. There is a puzzle here. Robert van Krieken notes the eclipse of insights by Durkheim and Weber regarding the 'real forces' of the non-conscious, the psychological, the personality, 'habit' or 'habitus' (2002: 268)--yet describes 'few writers' as having written them back in after Parsons had written them out. How did C. Wright Mills' classic formulation come to be remembered as from private troubles to public issues when his actual words were about the intersections between biography and history within society, the relations between the two, and the imaginative capacity to move back and forth between private cherished/threatened values and their transcendent manifestation in organizations and institutions (1970: ch. 1)? Even the invention of a sociology of the body and a sociology of the emotions has seemed to stay resolutely objectified and strangely disembodied.
Action research works with a discourse in which they are systemically joined, experienced and contextualized--in critical theory (joining Marx with Freud) and contemporary group analytic theory associated with the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations and the early group relations thinkers (Wilfred Bion, David Bohm, John Heron, Isabel Menzies, John Rowan and Peter Reason), and now by their participatory action research successors. Key thinkers consider the intrasubjective and intersubjective construction of 'objectivity' in some wider socio-eco-system, as co-arising in a 'participatory' creation (Reason, n.d.; Bateson in Brockman, 1977: 245). There are also feminist, Jungian and community psychologists drawing on a critical constructivist epistemology (e.g. Frigga Haug's memory work [Crawford et al., 1992], eco-feminists such as Ariel Salleh, and the work of Valerie Walkerdine in Australia), explicitly working to bridge these gaps in feminist action research. (14)
Most recently, at the 2003 world congress, and fittingly in the 'new South Africa', this whole-systems relationality was repeatedly reflected in understandings about a divided, contradictory/paradoxical and wholism-seeking, interconnected, ambivalent, complex self; within an equally divided, contradictory/paradoxical, and wholism-seeking, interconnected, ambivalent, complex world of the social--group, organization, institution or community--both stable and unstable, in dynamic equilibrium.
Alvin Goulder could just as easily have been writing in 2005 when he wrote famously: 'It is no exaggeration to say that we theorize today within the sound of guns' (1970: vii). The practice of participatory and action oriented forms of research, with their intellectual debt to sociology's and critical sociology's contribution to the 'paradigm wars', offers a way of responding to this. A reflexive sociology remains:
... distinguished by its refusal to segregate the intimate or personal from the public and collective, or the everyday life from the occasional 'political' act.... [It] is not a bundle of technical skills; it is a conception of how to live ... [while we] live with the 'loose ends' ... (Gouldner, 1971: 504, 510)
An initial version of this article was presented at the Research Committee on Logic and Methodology (RC-33) session on Participatory Action Research, ISA 15th World Congress of Sociology, Brisbane, Australia, July 2002, prepared with the support of an Adjunct Professorial position at the Institute for Social Research, Swinburne University of Technology,
I acknowledge with thanks the support of a Public Health Residency at the Australian National University, which assisted me to substantially rewrite and bring the work to completion. I particularly acknowledge support and feedback from Gabrielle Bammer, Wendy Gregory and Dorothy Broom. Finally I thank Bob Connell for his ever-thoughtful feedback and encouragement.
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Institute for Social Research, Swinburne University of Technology and National
Centre for Epidemiology & Population Health, Australian National University (1)
(1) Initial research for this article was carried out at the Institute for Social Research, Swinburne University of Technology; substantial completion of the research took place at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Australian National University.
(2) The critique of positivism or variants of it (such as realist, naturalistic, objectivist, absolutist or determinist structuralist methodologies, as well as derivative theories such as structural functionalism) was the subject of extensive thinking and writing during the 1960s and 1970s. An enormous literature developed among US and UK writers such as Natanson, Schutz, Cicourel, Douglas, Filstead, Andreski, Becker, Phillips, Giddens, Gouldner, Rex, Outhwaite, Rose and Rose, Mulkay and Reinharz. In Australia there was a small but influential literature reflecting the American and British critiques (for example in the work of Suchting, Pelz, the Blaikie and 'Bubble-gum' debate in the ANZJS 1977-8; Sharp, Bell, Bell and Encel, Hunt, and Jennett and Cordero).
(3) Academic terms are 'critical interpretivism' or later, 'constructivism/constructionism'. Note some writers (e.g. Crotty, 1998), reversed the meaning of the latter two, identifying 'constructivism' as more subjectivist, verging-on-idealist, when previously it had been the more common term used to unite critical post-structural and post-analytic understandings.
(4) In a political economy of privatized individualism and embodied emotional response, psychology ignited a popular desire for self-understanding (as well as the business urge to efficiently manage), just as two decades earlier sociology had ignited a popular desire to understand the social structures that held back collective efforts to counter the dominant culture (as well as the government urge to efficiently manage). By Christmas 2001, a telling sign in a Melbourne branch of the multinational bookstore Borders, were the 27 bookcases devoted to psychology and one to sociology.
(5) Although economic rationalism was named by a sociologist who had long got his hands dirty in the world of government practice, and had now got up close and personal to the administrators whose myriad micro practices sustained it (Pusey, 1991).
(6) I acknowledge here an anonymous reviewer's articulation of this.
(7) For example Garry Dowsett's AIDS-related work, Priscilla Pyett's work with the Victorian Prostitutes Collective, Bob Connell's work with organized teachers or Frank Vanclay's farmers' research.
(8) Anthony Giddens, personal exchange, Cambridge, 1995.
(9) Hugh Stretton, personal correspondence, 12 March 1980.
(10) Most recently a search for a generic term for all these variants had yielded the descriptor 'integration and implementation sciences' as a contender--at the Australian National University http://www.anu.edu.au/iisn/overview.php
(11) This 'systems thinking' (or 'systemic thinking') is characterized by complex causality, uncertainty and ecological-like feedback loops. It is distinguished in action research from an older more mechanistic 'systems theory' (or 'systems dynamics') characterized by linear, predictable, measurable, structural-functional causality.
(12) In Victoria: Deakin University's Education faculty and the State and Commonwealth Education Departments formed a prominent grouping in education action research, policy, teacher development and schools improvement; the Action Research Issues Association and Action Research Issues Centre, in health, community development and human services; systems-thinkers, group relations and organizational development in business, organizations and management--and also at the ANU Canberra Centre for Continuing Education; in Brisbane: in higher education, organizational practice and management; in NSW: the Hawksbury School of Human Ecology in agricultural, rural environmental and farmer uses of action research; in SA in vocational education and training; and in WA in Aboriginal Studies and the feminist Centre for Research on Women.
(13) This list builds from Wadsworth (2001).
(14) See for example the 2001 Boston 'Bridging the Gap: Between PAR and Feminisms' conference (Brydon-Miller et al., 2004).
Yoland Wadsworth has worked as a research sociologist practitioner, theorist, facilitator, activist and consultant for 34 years. She has authored Australia's two best-selling social research and evaluation texts, and is past president of the international action research association(ALARPM). She convenes an action research programme at the Institute for Social Research at Swinburne University of Technology, where she is an Adjunct Professor. Address: ISR--ARP, Mail P11, Swinburne University of Technology, PO Box 218, Hawthorn, Victoria 3122, Australia. [email: YWadsworth@swin.edu.au]
Table 1: A brief summary of the contenders in 'the great paradigm wars' Key features of positivist Key features o f the critical assumptions constructivist critique (i) The subject-matter to (i) The subject-matter be studied--social life--is consists of inter- taken to be objective, subjectively and factual, true, external socially constructed and independent of the relational 'realities' observer; and determining (Berger and Luckmann, or causing further 1967: 43-8; Habermas, patterns of social 1974: 253). behaviour. (Durkheim, Objectivity may be thought 1970: 38) of as 'achieved facticity'; 'truth' as 'a truth', 'truths' or truthful for this 'situation or purposes'. (ii) The method of coming to (ii) The method of coming to know social life is taken know social life is taken to require detached acts to require 'engaged' acts of pure perception of perception, conversa- whereby these 'external tion and meaning-making realities'--the facts--may to understand how people be observed directly and construct their 'reali- empirically (including ties' or taken-for-granted unobtrusively). In this worlds. These rely on the way the observing reflexive relationship scientist is a neutral between the researcher/s, instrument of technique, the researched, and the 'picking up' truth from researched-for, mediated the 'data' (from the by their questions, Latin, 'thing given'). worldviews (experiences, The literal meanings beliefs, values, inte- of factual data/truths rests, desires), theories are seen as relatively of everyday practice unproblematic. ('capta' from the Latin, 'thing taken'). (iii) These external realities (iii) The researcher/s construct display inherent or theories, themes, trends intrinsic patterns, or regularities in the which can be 'discovered' practices observed, 'rea- when quantified and ding into' the material statistically analysed. The contextualized generali- researcher's task is zations, i.e. speak/s to 'listen' to the for the 'facts' (Glaser facts (as they axioma- and Strauss, 1967). tically 'speak for Meanings of observations themselves'), and 'read are not self-evident and off' ideally law-like must be checked through predictive generalizations. communication. Probabilistic generali- Possibilistic genera- zations can be calculated lizations can be for application elsewhere. offered for practical trial elsewhere. (iv) Mathematical language is (iv) The focus of most assumed to correlate most 'technique' is closely with the phenomena, on 'talking to and can more easily show with', or other logical inconsistencies, forms of communication. is explicit, unambiguous, As all language embeds universal and value-free, assumptions, then any and enables statistical quantification is manipulation of abstracted recognized as also variables. Verbal language embedding such socially is considered inferior constructed meanings and on these grounds. interpretations and their contexts, including all the uncertainty attaching to verbal language. (v) Since the task is to (v) Since the first task is apprehend 'reality' as to understand and explain, it 'really' is, the and since this implies successful end product some kind of purposes, is 'pure' unbiased infor- consciously articulated mation, knowledge, or not (to understand this explanations and law-like or explain that, and in generalizations, ideally this way rather than that free of value judgments, way), then the successful and hence not implying 'product' is always in statements of 'ought'. To some sense 'applied' or know how social life is value-driven (value- di- determined or caused is rected if consciously ar- to be able to predict ticulated; biased if not). and potentially control Thus the researcher/s future social life. are also implicated in However the scientist as the field of consequential scientist claims to have actions (though not no hand in or respon- simply deterministically sibility for actions or so), and the future is consequences of the made not predicted' knowledge attained. (Applebaum, 1977). (vi) This kind of science can (vi) This kind of social be thought of as procee- inquiry can be thought ding in a straightforward of as proceeding more in linear and finite a ongoing fashion, fashion starting from nominally 'starting' at either observations or any point. While the hypotheses, through sequential logic is fieldwork or testing, to comparable to that of the generation of 'data', positivism, it can better the acceptance or be thought of as continu- refutation of the hypothe- ing cycles (or a spiral), ses, and ending with the as research into social writing up of 'results'. action derived from a previous cycle, will, in turn, be followed by further cycles of questioning, observation, theorizing, conclusions, testing action, further reflection, and so on. Change and causality are complex and non-linear. (vii) The arbiters of the (vii) The arbiters of the suc- success of this kind of cess of the research are science are other those who it is intended scientists (the 'community to help (understand their of science') whose dis- situation or inform their course is privileged over practice). A 'community everyday 'lay' discourse of experienced re- (resulting from an extended searchers' may act as a period of tertiary education resource, e.g. facilita- and certified by the tion of inquiry by this award of a credential). new community of scientists'. (viii) Since knowledge is (viii) Since understanding and considered to constitute explanation represent a picture of universal situated accounts of law-following reality, historically and socially- it can be added to over constructed 'realities' at time, with the ultimate the intersections of goal of accumulating a particular economic, complete 'body of political and cultural knowledge'. As the body conditions, the only sense of knowledge is social in which such knowledge is context-free it is valued cumulative is as an in and of itself. It is infinite collection of seen as still 'early days' successive historical for social science, so 'versions' that bear more its 'body' cannot be or less of a relationship expected to be as large to each other. Given that as that of natural knowledge 'develops', science (which has been it can be seen as being accumulating for longer). with reason, purpose or consequences (intended or unintended). (ix) Transmission of research (ix) Facilitating learning results consists of a consists of all in teacher transferring a community-of-inquiry the existing body of enabling each other to knowledge to students, exercise an assumption- and conveying technical critical perspective skills to enable them and a range of methods to to add to it. explore the conditions for This 'banking' model of social life. This education, involves the 'problem-posing education' teacher 'making deposits' uses a teacher-learner which the students model based on mutual receive and memorize discussion, interpretation and which the teacher and learning for critical later 'withdraws' at exam purpose (Freire, 1972). time (Freire, 1972:45-59). This is seen as the same model for carrying out research. (x) When social scientists (x) When researchers use a carry out research for critical sociological non-academic sponsors, perspective to facilitate they are supplying 'mere or coordinate research technique', and factual for sponsors/clients, they information and knowledge are assisting the efforts to their employers/ of a 'new community of clients. As values and science'. Values and 'oughts' are outside 'oughts' lie within the the realm of the social realm of all the co- scientist as social researchers (researchers, scientist, these are researched and researched supplied by employers/ for), and the extent to clients. Researchers which these align with 'apply' themselves to those of sponsors/clients investigating these given becomes a crucial condi- practical problems. tion for carrying out the This kind of 'applied' research. All research knowledge contrasts inevitably applies itself with the 'pure' value- to value questions free knowledge accumulated (whether researchers are in the academy for its aware of this or not). own sake. 'Bias' and 'contamination' When social science are yet more 'ways of applies itself to value seeing' to be surfaced questions, it risks bias and studied for meaning, and contamination of and explored for critical the facts to which absences. pure science in the academy is less vulnerable.
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|Title Annotation:||Alvin Gouldner|
|Publication:||Journal of Sociology|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2005|
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