Educational policy analysis archives

Educational policy analysis archives

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Educational policy analysis archives
Arizona State University
University of South Florida
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Arizona State University
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Educational policy analysis archives.
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Action research and social movement : a challenge for policy research / Stephen Kemmis.
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1 of 8 Education Policy Analysis Archives Volume 1 Number 1January 19, 1993ISSN 1068-2341A peer-reviewed scholarly electronic journal. Editor: Gene V Glass, Glass@ASU.EDU. College of Edu cation, Arizona State University,Tempe AZ 85287-2411 Copyright 1993, the EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES.Permission is hereby granted to copy any a rticle provided that EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES is credited and copies are not sold.Action Research and Social Movement: A Challenge for Policy Research Stephen Kemmis Deakin Abstract: Large-scale policy research on topics of concern to teachers may assist in changing educational theory, policy and practice, a s may educational action research. This article discusses different traditions of acti on research in relation to their views about the connection of research and social movemen t, touching on the so-called "macro-micro" problem which bedevils conceptualizat ions of this relationship. Again, there is a renewed debate about the potenti al of educational action research for addressing educational problems and is sues. Some hold that action research is the key to making research relevant to the conce rns and needs of teachers and the education profession; some hold that large-scale po licy research which connects more directly with professional concerns is what is need ed not necessarily action research. This way of putting the problem involves a troubles ome distinction between the "micro" and the "macro" in educational research, to which I will return shortly. It also raises the question of the nature of the relationship between social research and social movement, which I will also touch on briefly. But the debate about the potential of educational action research also presumes a notion of what acti on research is and this, too, is a matter of debate, as it has been for the fifty or s o years of its history in social and educational research in the English-speaking world. In this period, there have been several waves of advocacy for educational action re search, each, in one way or another, shaped by the climate of its times. There is now a variety of traditions of educational action research, each with its own potential and li mitations, and, increasingly, with its


2 of 8own literature. And each, one supposes, is more or less suited to the distinctive cultural and historial conditions under which it has evolved Kurt Lewin is usually asserted to be the "father" of action research, especially in social psychology and education (for example, Kemmi s, 1988: 29). For most purposes, this is a reasonable attribution. However, Altricht er and Gstettner (forthcoming) have recently thrown a little light on Lewin's "paternit y" of AR. When Lewin went to the US, he had been much influenced by Moreno, the inventor of group dynamics and sociodrama and psychodrama. Moreno had already deve loped a view of action research in which the "action" was about activism, not just about changing practice or behaviour understood in narrowly individualistic terms. Moren o was interested in research as a part of social movement. In the US in the late '40s and early '50s these el ements of action research were not well understood, and they were (of course) controve rsial. Concerns about Marxism and communism were already provoking self-censorship am ong leftist scholars. Thus, though there is plenty of evidence that Lewin saw t he connections between action research and social movement (for example, in actio n research projects on desegregation), others exploring action research we re more cautious about such connections, preferring to treat action research in methodological terms (for example, Chein, Cook and Harding,1948). Given the climate of the 1950s, it is hardly surprising that some advocates of action research would de-emp hasize the link between action research and social justice movements; what is more surprising, perhaps, is the commitment of other advocates, like Stephen Corey o f Teachers' College, Columbia (see, for example, Corey, 1953), or (even more) lik e the sociologist Abraham Shumsky, who continued to emphasize such connections (for ex ample, Shumsky 1956, 1958). If one takes the view that the "essential" nature o f action research involved a connection with social movements, then one would co nclude that the version of action research which filtered into education in the '50s, and in a later wave in the '70s, was somewhat "de-natured". It would be more accurate to say that the evolution of action research, especially in the USA, had emphasized cer tain elements of Lewin's and others' early conceptualizations, de-emphasized others, and added new elements (like the scientistic and rather technical attitude to resear ch characteristic of the aspirations of educational psychology of the time). Thus, the vers ion of action research that began to attract adherents in education in the '50s was shif ting from one which connected easily with the progressive ideals of the first half of th e century towards one which was more self-consciously "scientific" as this was underst ood in terms of the positivist aspirations of the social and educational science o f that time. Under such conditions, action research began to seem more like "amateur" o r "poor man's" research, to be distinguished from the Real Thing. So understood, i t was inevitable that it would lose the attractions it had both to the academy and to t eacher-researchers: for the former group, any form of research that admitted and encou raged amateurs could not be sufficiently pioneering and high-status; for teache rs, there could be no long-term credit in submitting to the condescension such a view impl ied. Still, there is no keeping a good idea down. Since the '50s, there has been a great variety of strong advocacies for action research. T hey vary from advocacies, like that of Nevitt Sanford (1970), which represent the great pr ogressive tradition of American liberalism, through to the more radical advocacies of such people as Paulo Freire (1982) and Orlando Fals Borda (1979) and others working in community development contexts in such places as Central and South America. Indeed over the last four decades, it is possible to see waves of different groups in differ ent places reviving, revitalising and refurbishing "the" idea of action research to meet different and changing needs and


3 of 8circumstances. Anyone who wants to confront the issues will soon enough begin to discover for themselves the complexities of the connections betw een ideas and life, theory and practice, and social theorists and ordinary folks l iving and working in the world. Sooner or later, anyone interested in these questions in t he social and educational sciences will run across one variant or another of action researc h, or begin to "invent" something like it for themselves and those with whom they want to work. But there are sharp differences between variants of action research in the way they theorize the relationship between research and social (or educational) change : some see it as a technical (or instrumental) connection, some see it as a version of what Aristotle, and Schwab (1969) after him, described as practical reasoning, and ot hers see it in terms of critical social science. Some versions of action research the one I favou r (see Carr and Kemmis, 1986), and also associated with the work of people like Ri chard Winter (1987, 1989) in England, and Orlando Fals Borda (1990, 1991) in Col ombia, and Cesar Cascante (1991) in Asturias, Spain aim to make strong and explici t connections between action research and social movement. In past work, Shirley Grundy ( 1982) and I (see, for instance, Carr and Kemmis, 1986) have distinguished between (a) "t echnical" action research, which is frequently like amateur research conducted under th e eye of university researchers; (b) "practical" action research, along the lines advoca ted by Donald Schon (1983) in the US, and John Elliott (1978, 1991) in Britain; and (c) emancipatory" or "critical" action research, which Wilf Carr and I advocate (Carr and Kemmis, 1986). The latter view comprehends that social research is always (in one way or another) connected to social action and social movement. It sees the connection between social research and social life as intrinsic to research as an activity, not e xtrinsic, or instrumental, or as a question of the enlightenment of individuals who will later set about changing the world though these things may give clues to important aspects of a deep critical understanding and practice of action research. In my view, critical or emancipatory action researc h is always connected to social action: it always understands itself as a concrete and practical expression of the aspiration to change the social (or educational) wo rld for the better through improving shared social practices, our shared understandings of these social practices, and the shared situations in which these practices are carr ied out. It is thus always critical, in the sense that it is about relentlessly trying to under stand and improve the way things are in relation to how they could be better. But it is als o critical in the sense that it is activist: it aims at creating a form of collaborative learning b y doing (in which groups of participants set out to learn from change in a proc ess of making changes, studying the process and consequences of these changes, and tryi ng again). It aims to help people understand themselves as the agents, as well as the products, of history. In my view, action research is also committed to spreading invo lvement and participation in the research process. Action research offers ways in which people can im prove social life through research on the here and now, but also in relation to wider social structures and processes as people whose interconnections consti tute the wider webs of interaction which structure social life in discourses, in work, and in the organisational and interpersonal relationships in which we recognise r elations of power. One of the reasons so many people have trouble in understanding and dealing with the political face of social and educational r esearch is that they fail to understand the relationships between the "micro" and the "macr o" in social and educational life. (Hence the methodological and epistemological bent of some of the action research


4 of 8literature, which allows such political issues to b e adressed in the "neutral", "impartial" mode conventional in research writing.) They see th ese as different orders of events rather than as dialectically related (on this probl em, see Giddens, 1984). If the "macro" is conceptualized as a different order from the micro as unanalyzable in the same terms then it will be impossible adequately to conceptual ize the relations between local and global change, between research for the improvement of local practice and research for the development of universalizing theory. (A versio n of this problem bedevilled Stephen Corey, 1949, in his misguided attempt to distinguis h the "horizontal generalizations" that he thought action research would permit from the "v ertical generalizations" he associated with the "fundamental" positivistic educational research of the time.) This frequently occurs when theorists treat the macro as merely an aggregation of local micro-states, with the consequence that they are dr iven to see the macro as indeterminate and therefore as beyond the grasp of scientific tre atment. More dialectical conceptualizations of macro-micro issues (like Gidd ens's theory of structuration) avoid these difficulties. We would be well advised, I thi nk, to recognise that what we have learned to see as "the macro" and "the micro" are r eflections of different traditions of social and educational analysis: on the one hand, m acro research has been employed in the service of big bureaucracy and abstracted polic y; on the other, micro research has been employed by those who want to look at ordinary folks in their own "home" settings. Alternative conceptualizations and research traditi ons which avoid the "macro-micro problem" are available, however. When we see indivi dual and social action (and thought) as always socially-constructed, we are mor e ready to understand how research is a social act, and how, as a social practice, it is always and inevitably sociallyand historically-constructed. We begin to see how the s ocial practice which is research is a social practice which relates to (and has its meani ng in a context of) other social practices like those involved in serving a bureaucr acy, or participating in the practices which constitute a disciplinary field, or participa ting in social movements. One consequence of taking such a view of research is th at some researchers will begin to make markedly different decisions about how they wi ll participate in the research act, and on whose behalf for example, on behalf of the social order and/or on behalf of social movements like the civil rights movement, on e or another feminism, or the environmental movement (to name just a few). Alain Touraine's (1981) analysis of the relations between social order and social movement, or Jurgen Habermas's (1987) analysis of the relations between system and lifewo rld can also help to illuminate such insights. To return to my point: the connection between soci al research and social action is not resolved simply by changing to a different set of research sponsors (big unions instead of big bureaucracies, for example). Nor wil l it be achieved solely by improving research methods. It is achieved by doing different research, frequently with different purposes and substance and methodologies, with diff erent people, in the service of different interests. A whole variety of kinds of re search, and methodologies, is potentially relevant for such changed purposes. Mor eover, part of the point of these different forms of research will be to connect up w ith different people and to work with them in the pursuit of shared social goals of which the primary ones are discovering and superseding those of our current ideas and ideals w hich are incoherent, contradictory and mistaken; eliminating those of our current ways of working which have turned out to be ineffective, inadequate or harmful; and overcoming the myriad forms of social injustice which are the necessary and inevitable accompanimen t of the way our social lives are currently ordered. Instead of working quite so much with and for other professional researchers for the sake of our intellectual fields (and, it must be recognised, for the sake


5 of 8of our self-interests as professional researchers), for example, we may wish to work more closely with and for teachers, students, paren ts or even with and for those educational administrators and policy-makers who un derstand their own social goals in these terms. Some epistemological positions (e.g., Habermas's 1 972 theory of knowledge-constitutive interests, and his 1987 theo ry of communicative action) comprehend these connections while some (like old-s tyle positivism with its ideas about neutrality) do not. And some theories of action res earch comprehend these points while others do not. For those interested in changing edu cational theory, policy and practice as different aspects of a single endeavour in social a nd educational research, understanding such connections is an important task, and, if my a rgument is correct, this understanding is but one aspect of changing educational research practice and policy. Our task as educational researchers involves us in taking concr ete and explicit steps towards changing the theory, policy and practice of educati onal research, as well as participating in the work of changing educational theory, educati onal policy and educational practice more broadly. To confront the challenges of this ta sk may involve us not only in changing the kinds and the extent of the connection s we make with other theorists, but also in changing the kinds and extent of our relati onships with educational policy-makers, and with the educational practitione rs whose work constitutes the social practice of education. REFERENCES Altrichter, H. and Gstettner, P. (forthcoming) "Act ion Research: A Closed Chapter in the History of German Science?" in R. McTaggart (Ed.) P ARTICIPATORY ACTION RESEARCH: CONTEXTS AND CONSEQUENCES.Carr, W. and Kemmis, S. (1986) BECOMING CRITICAL: E DUCATION, KNOWLEDGE AND ACTION RESEARCH, Falmer, London.Cascante Fernandez, C. (1991) Los ambitos de la pra ctica educativa: Una experiencia de investigacion accion, REVISTA INTERUNIVERSITARIA DE FORMACION DEL PROFESORADO, Numero 10, Enero/Abril, pp. 265-274.Chein, I., Cook, S.W. and Harding, J. (1948) The fi eld of action research, AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGIST, 3, pp.43-50.Corey, S. (1949) Action research, fundamental resea rch and educational practices, TEACHERS' COLLEGE RECORD, 50 (May), pp.509-14.Corey, S. (1953) ACTION RESEARCH TO IMPROVE SCHOOL PRACTICES, Teachers' College Press, New York.Elliott, J. (1978) What is action-research in schoo ls?, JOURNAL OF CURRICULUM STUDIES, 10 (4), pp.355-7.Elliott, J. (1991) ACTION RESEARCH FOR EDUCATIONAL CHANGE, Allen and Unwin, London.Fals Borda, O. (1979) Investigating reality in orde r to transform it: The Colombian experience, DIALECTICAL ANTHROPOLOGY, 4 (March), pp .33-55.


6 of 8 Fals Borda, O. (1990) Social movements and politica l power: Evolution in Latin America, INTERNATIONAL SOCIOLOGY, 5 (2), pp. 115-12 0. Fals Borda, O. and Rahman, M.A. (1991) ACTION AND K NOWLEDGE: BREAKING THE MONOPOLY, Apex Press, New York.Freire, P. (1982) "Creating Alternative Research Me thods: Learning To Do It by Doing It" pp.29-37 in B. Hall, A. Gillette and R. Tandon, CREATING KNOWLEDGE: A MONOPOLY? Society for Participatory Research in Asi a, New Dehi. Giddens, Anthony (1984) THE CONSTITUTION OF SOCIETY Polity Press, Cambridge.Grundy, S. (1982) Three modes of action research, C URRICULUM PERSPECTIVES, 2 (3), pp.23-34.Habermas, J. (1972) KNOWLEDGE AND HUMAN INTERESTS, trans. John Viertel, Heinemann, London.Habermas, J. (1987) THEORY OF COMMUNICATIVE ACTION, VOL.2: SYSTEM AND LIFEWORLD: THE CRITIQUE OF FUNCTIONALIST REASON trans. Thomas McCarthy, Beacon, Boston.Kemmis, S. (1988) "Action Research in Retrospect an d Prospect", pp. 27-39 in S. Kemmis and R. McTaggart (Eds.) THE ACTION RESEARCH READER, 3rd edn., Deakin University Press, Geelong, Victoria.Sanford, N. (1970) Whatever happened to action rese arch? JOURNAL OF SOCIAL ISSUES, 26 (4), pp. 3-23.Schon, D. (1983) THE REFLECTIVE PRACTITIONER: HOW P ROFESSIONALS THINK IN ACTION, Basic Books, New York.Schwab, J.J. (1969) The practical: a language for c urriculum, SCHOOL REVIEW, 78, pp.1-24.Shumsky, A. (1956) Cooperation in action research: A rationale, JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL SOCIOLOGY, 30, pp. 180-5.Shumsky, A. (1958) THE ACTION RESEARCH WAY OF LEARN ING, Teachers' College Press, New York.Touraine, A. (1981) THE VOICE AND THE EYE: AN ANALY SIS OF SOCIAL MOVEMENTS, trans. Charles Duff, Cambridge Universit y Press, Cambridge. Winter, R. (1987) ACTION RESEARCH AND THE NATURE OF SOCIAL INQUIRY, Gower, Aldershot.Winter, R. (1989) LEARNING FROM EXPERIENCE: PRINCIP LES AND PRACTICE IN ACTION-RESEARCH, Falmer, London.


7 of 8 Copyright 1993 by the Education Policy Analysis ArchivesEPAA can be accessed either by visiting one of its seve ral archived forms or by subscribing to the LISTSERV known as EPAA at (To sub scribe, send an email letter to whose sole contents are SUB EPAA y our-name.) As articles are published by the Archives they are sent immediately to the EPAA subscribers and simultaneously archived in three forms. Articles are archived on EPAA as individual files under the name of the author a nd the Volume and article number. For example, the article by Stephen Kemmis in Volume 1, Number 1 of the Archives can be retrieved by sending an e-mail letter to LI and making the single line in the letter read GET KEMMIS V1N1 F=MAIL. For a table of contents of the entire ARCHIVES, send the following e-mail message to INDEX EPAA F=MAIL, that is, send an e-mail letter and make its single line read INDEX EPAA F=MAIL. The World Wide Web address for the Education Policy Analysis Archives is Policy Analysis Archives are "gophered" at To receive a publication guide for submitting artic les, see the EPAA World Wide Web site or send an e-mail letter to and include th e single line GET EPAA PUBGUIDE F=MAIL. It will be sent to you by return e-mail. Ge neral questions about appropriateness of topics or particular articles may be addressed to the Edit or, Gene V Glass, or reach him at College of Education, Arizona State University, Tem pe, AZ 85287-2411. (602-965-2692)Editorial Board John Andrew Coulson Alan Davis Mark E. Thomas F. Alison I. Arlen Gullickson Ernest R. Aimee Craig B. Howley u56e3@wvnvm.bitnet William Richard M. Jaeger Benjamin Thomas Dewayne Mary P. Les Susan Bobbitt Anne L. Hugh G.


8 of 8Richard C. Anthony G. Rud Dennis Jay Robert Robert T.


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