Handbook Sections

Part I: Background and Contexts

Brief Summary: Joseph Shosh

The exploration of backgrounds, contexts, and definitions in this first section of the Handbook provides a dialogic starting point for constructing shared meanings and for articulating more clearly our respective approaches to action research inquiry. McTaggart, Nixon, & Kemmis advocate for critical participatory action research as we take communicative action within a critical public sphere, which, they believe, must be created to disrupt the extant cultural-discursive, material-economic and social-political practice architectures. In dialogic contrast, Clive Beck is concerned with the informal action research that occurs in classrooms everywhere, generally by individual teachers as they work to improve professional practice in ways that are often quite critical of the sanctioned methods of instruction. Margaret Ledwith, whose thinking is profoundly influenced by Freire, Giroux, and Gramsci, among others, shares her view of emancipatory action research as a critical living praxis, beginning with her own early days in a program where pre-service teachers were trained—not educated—to think of teaching as an apolitical, content delivery activity that offered no explanation of or protocol for dealing with the social inequalities that permeated the classroom and the wider world. Rowell and Hong discuss the incompatibility of positivist notions of social science and knowledge democracy, seeing democratizing knowledge production reflected clearly in the origins of participatory research in South America. Finally, Rowell, Riel, & Polush tackle head on the challenge of defining action research, building upon the contrasting definitions provided in the first four chapters of the Handbook, noting the diverse contexts and settings in which action research occurs around the world.

Part II: A World of Action Research

Brief Summary: Cathy Bruce

Individual action researchers and groups of action researchers may feel as though they are working in isolation because our action research contexts are often quite different – geographically, historically, culturally, politically, and even theoretically. The handbook embraces a full range of approaches including participatory action research, critical participatory action research, living theories, emancipatory action research, informal action research, and collaborative action research, among others in this wide range of contexts. Part II of the handbook brings together a series of action research stories from around the world. These accounts reflect the unique context of each action research site and nation, and it is in the particulars of these sites that we can learn deeply about the nature of action research and it’s incredibly broad scope and power. The 16 unique research stories from the east, west, north and south of our globe present essential and fascinating chronicles of the history and current practices of action research. Without a doubt, this collection of reports helps us to understand how action research plays out on the global stage: we see how action research operates as an important and viable approach to linking knowledge, ways of knowing and just knowledge production.

Part III: Action Research Networks in Local and Global Contexts

Brief Summary: Margaret Riel

Fostering and supporting communities relies on a mix of the formal and informal structures. In this section of the handbook, we collect insights from action research communities in their process of creating these structures. The authors of these chapters examine the role of networks, both local and global, in extending the reach and interconnections of action research activities, knowledge and resources. Our goal is to deepen understanding of the histories and current practices of the networks of the global action research community, while provoking new ideas about how to leverage social network structures and infrastructures.
Although often local in nature, action research moves beyond the localized contexts of action and reflection when action researchers share their knowledge, innovative practices, and evolving theories leading with extensive knowledge networks. What makes this possible in today’s world is the wide range of communication and transportation technologies: Communication technology externalizes knowledge and transportation technologies move either the community to a place of sharing or moves the knowledge directly to the members of the community. The knowledge that action researchers create is shared in meetings, conferences, study days, informal discussions, and more formally in journals and handbooks like this one. This third section of the Handbook focuses on networks, both local and global, and their role in extending the reach and interconnections of action research activity, findings, and resources.

Part IV: Challenges, Tensions, and Issues in the Expanding Conceptions of Action Research

Brief Summary: Joseph Shosh

Determining which critical questions are most in need of our attention as researchers and coming to consensus with multiple stakeholders about how best to proceed with our research may result result in a myriad of challenges, tensions, and issues that help to expand our conceptions of research. Chapters in this section of the Handbook pose and begin to answer crucial epistemological questions, including:

  1. Which critical questions are most in need of our attention, and how do we come to consensus about what is indeed the best course of action?
  2. How might we begin to privilege indigenous knowledges?
  3. How do we deal with the university as a neoliberal force?
  4. As action researchers, how do we ‘open communicative space’ in our inquiries, and how does the way in which we do so impact what we learn?
  5. How do funding sources problematize action research?
  6. Are we as action researchers truly able to take on the role of collaborator rather than role of expert?
  7. How do we best assist those who might rather be spectators to take meaningful action?
  8. What’s our positionality, and how do we embody colonized methodologies?
  9. What limitations of western knowledge and western ways of knowing do we run up against in our work?
  10. How do we best use the multiplicity of technological tools at our disposal?
  11. In an Aristotelian sense, how do we overcome a tradition of teaching as techne or application of technical skills, and how do we help to transform it into praxis guided by phronesis, or contextualized wisdom?


Part V: Case Studies in Action Research

Brief Summary: Cathy Bruce

In this section of the Handbook, we can immerse ourselves in five cases of Action Research that illustrate a geographical, philosophical and contextual range of action research on the international scene. These cases (and many other Action Research studies) featured in the Handbook exhibit three essential characteristics of Action Research: 1. there is an integral personal-professional and social change imperative embedded in Action Research methodology stemming from some form of deep dissatisfaction or lack of justice, often in the form of marginalization or human atrocities; 2. the direct involvement of the participants in the research process is a central and essential feature of the methods. The research participants work collaboratively (as a group of practitioner-researchers) to understand problems of practice, and to take action to better understand these problems or heal the wounds of injustice. And 3. there is an action, reflection and refinement structure in action research that enables local validity (the viability of new ways of knowing which are specific to the Action Research context and community) and the assessment of the sustainability of shifts in practice. In these example cases of Action Research, we learn about a range of nations, perspectives, data treatments and theoretical lenses that each describe a particular context and experience, and when considered in their totality this set of Action Research cases help us to better understand what action research looks like, feels like, and sounds like in light of these three essential characteristics.

Part VI: Looking Ahead

Brief Summary: Lonnie Rowell

There is much to look forward to in the world of action research. Yet, the future is also filled with risk, as we are witnessing in the increased global tensions in relation to racial and ethnic, religious, regional, and social class divides. Terrorism is not just some scary monster appearing in a global nightmare. It has real causes as well as effects; it reflects socio-cultural, socio-psychological, and economic dynamics deeply rooted in diverse regional and local contexts as well as human history writ large.

On the surface, as fears grow opportunities and openness constrict. At the time of writing the Handbook, the authors of the chapters in Part VI were seeing perhaps a bit less danger and more hope. Certainly, violence and social instability have been evident in many parts of the globe for the past several decades. But they now seem to be escalating at a truly alarming rate, with none of us really knowing where all the craziness might lead. Although as a group we likely all continue to view the world through more hopeful lens, it is hard not to feel constrained and squeezed now by concerns regarding just what kind of future we might see in the coming decades. In this context, the need for practicing a kind of appreciative imagination may be more important than ever. And so the chapters in Part VI of the Handbook look hopefully to a future in which global collaboration in the practice and dissemination of findings from action research and participatory action research grows and is nurtured by the sense that in the face of a troubled world we can find ways forward that bring good health, quality education, rational social development, and greater equality of opportunities for ever-increasing numbers of people across the globe.