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See details. In our academic department there has been an extended discussion of whether PhD candidates should be allowed to substitute these classes for more traditional qualitative research methods classes. From my standpoint, there are three reasons why PAR methods should be accepted as a viable alternative.
Introduction: Action Research for Development and Social Change
First, unless graduate students learn how to interact with a client-community from the outset of a research effort, they will never learn how to communicate "with" rather than send messages "to" agencies, groups, organizations and institutions seeking to promote social change. Second, unless they learn how to make sense of what is happening in a specific case or context, rather than in a randomly drawn sample of places or situations, they will always be limited to analyzing superficial correlations and missing the deeper causal dynamics.
Third, unless they learn how to build relationships with the users of actionable knowledge, they will be stuck offering pronouncements to the "cognoscenti" rather than collaborating with the people committed to making social change happen. The resistance to PAR is strongest among social scientists who yearn to be part of the natural science fraternity, and who are more concerned about being respected by other academics than they are about building the capacity of client-communities to solve the problems they face. In their view, PAR advocates feed right into the hands of natural science skeptics who think putting "social" in front of scientist is equivalent to putting "witch" in front of "doctor.
We want to initiate a different conversation.
PAR teachers and practitioners should focus on explaining to their potential client-communities what they do, and why they do it and why it would be best to work with PAR researchers rather than traditional social scientists. They should do more to codify the ethical norms that guide PAR in practice so they can be held accountable. And, they should think hard about the best ways of integrating what PAR teaches about case specific situations with the kinds of generalizations that traditional social scientists produce. Finally, we believe that graduate students interested in PAR should also seek to master a range of traditional science research methods.
Mixed methods can yield valuable insights.
He has been a member of the MIT faculty for more than 40 years.
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