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The Beginning of Action Research

Reason and Bradbury (2006) acknowledge the diverse origins of action research and the drawing of inspiration from pragmatic philosophy, critical thinking, democracy, liberationist thought, humanistic and transpersonal psychology, constructionist theory, systems thinking and, latterly, complexity theory. This diverse range of roots can be illuminated by identifying the domains where the action research approach has been used, from questioning the development of the modern world to questioning organisational changes. Reason and Bradbury describe further how it can be an inquiry relating on a personal level to everyday life or an endeavour to connect with whole communities. Hope and Waterman (2002) concur that action research assumes many forms and “has been laid claim to by more than one school” (p. 123). This field of qualitative research does not draw its explanations from a collection of principles, but rather its fundamental nature includes a dedication to the naturalistic, interpretive approach (Gillis & Jackson, 2002). According to Hope and Waterman, most researchers locate action research within the realm of critical theory whilst others locate it within the constructivist/interpretivist paradigm.

DePoy, Hartman and Haslett (1999) are clear about what critical theory is not, (a research approach), but they provide scant explanation of what it is. Whether critical theory is philosophical, political or sociological in origins is debated, but they conclude that those who are devoted to critical theory use it to understand the human experience and effect change in society. De Poy et al. explain the origins of critical theory can be traced back to Social Institute of the Frankfurt School in Germany. Critical theorists relocated to the United States following the Nazis rule of Germany and further developed critical theory as knowledge to examine social, historical and political contexts. They conclude that action research and critical theory both place importance on a democratic process. Fontana (2004) describes the critical tradition utilised in nursing research drawing from the Frankfurt school and theorists such as Jurgen Habermas and Paulo Friere. McNiff and Whitehead (2006) urge that critical theory proposes that in order to change a situation you need to understand it, and social situations are generated by people, therefore they can be dismantled and re-constructed. Finally, situations that are taken for granted need to be


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