Occasional pieces in AR (Action Research)

Occasional pieces in AR — Introduction

I was sent a link to this page by one of my students currently conducting research. I have many on-going discussions about qualitative vs quantitative research, and my student thought this discussion was something in which I might have an interest. Obviously–I do!

First, let me say, I find it interesting that we even have a struggle between “quant” and “qual” or between “hard sciences” and the “soft sciences.” It certainly strikes me as arrogance that one group of academics feel they can claim to be “true researchers” and thus limit the contributions of others through a claim of “lack of rigor.” I have for years argued that different disciplines have different types of rigor. The rigor a chemist requires is different from that of an electrical engineer. The rigor required to conduct solid research in History is different from that of Hebrew Literature. In the words of Rodney King “Can’t we all just get along?”

Now, moving on to the website referenced: This posits another interested direction for research–that of activist. Creswell, in his text on “Research Design” refers to for different “Knowledge Claims” that we have for research, and argues that we fit in one of 4 categories. One of those categories includes “Activist.” Of course, this makes the hair on the back of many necks stand straight up. How can one be “objective” if one has as one’s goal effecting change?

The need to effect change forms an explicit assumption of one’s research. Perhaps the greatest difference here is that the assumption is explicit, and often embedded in the “problem statement.” For instance, consider this problem statement/research question: “Heroin use remains a significant killer on the streets of major cities. This research seeks to identify the many ways people die from heroin use and propose policies that would reduce the number of deaths of our fellow citizens.”

Not very objective–or is it? Certainly it is “activist” in it’s role. Embedded in this statement is an assumption (hopefuly supported in a lit review) that heroin is a killer. Also embedded is that the “solution” must involve government intervention, since it seeks “policies” to effect change.

My question for you all, dear students, is this: Can one be objective, and be an activist researcher (or an “action researcher?”)

Please, feel free to share your comments and ideas on this.

The Professors


One thought on “Occasional pieces in AR (Action Research)

  1. Yes, one can be objective and activist. Just don’t expect those who disagree with you to think that you are objective. 🙂

    You see one the of the problems we have run into over the last oh-so-many years of open mindedness is the conceit that one isn’t really objective if one actually has a conviction. Why? Because if you are objective then you shouldn’t say that one view is any more right or correct than another.

    Unless… the unless goes back to perceptions of hard/soft sciences. Unless the facts, those things externally verifiable, clearly show one result to be right and others to be wrong. The difficulty then is how to deal with things like history. If I argue that Clinton was one of the best fiscal presidents in US history I can muster lots of facts, but those who disagree would gather other facts. Each case would then tie these facts together with arguments predicated upon perceptions. And of course, being so close in time to the topic, a critic of any of the historians would take into considerations the historian’s own political positions and opinions, thus implying (if not stating) that the historian lacked objectivity in their analysis of “the facts.”

    Back to the heroin case. That, I think, could be argued as “objective” on many levels (the drug as used illegally leads to many unwanted and unintended deaths, etc.) Describing “the many ways people die from heroin use” should be objective, or certainly can be. Proposing policy may objective, but likely will not be since we make those kinds of judgments (as they are) from a variety of mixed influences on our own lives.

    I have rambled, and just went I have thought of a good contrast between “objective” works on Hebrew grammar and literature as opposed to inherently “subjective” theologies developed from the Hebrew Scriptures. Oh well. Some other time.

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