Participation, Knowledge and Power in ‘New’ Forms of Action Research
The paper uses the Offenders' Social Reintegration Project, run between 1988 and 1998 by the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, to discuss the characteristics of new forms of action research and to reflect on the main debates within action research literature. Firstly, new forms of action research dealing with community issues tend to take place within complex systems, aiming to bring potential partners together and to facilitate the development of networks of organisations. Networking presupposes a more open-ended mode of research and opens the question of participation of the social groups concerned. The varying and changing degrees of participation within the Project are described with reference to the role of the researchers and the discrepancy between formal and informal partnerships. Secondly, the relation between research and action is dealt with via a discussion of the different types of knowledge produced in the course of the Project and their appropriateness for informing and evaluating practice. The implications of these arguments for the scientific status of action research and the paradigm within which it can be located are also addressed. Thirdly, the paper discusses the role of the various institutional contexts in shaping and constraining possible types of research and action. Finally, the type of change pursued by action research projects is considered with reference to the ongoing debate within action research literature on the role of politics, leading to the acknowledgement of the inevitable implication of political negotiations and power in any initiative towards social change.
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