Chapter 17: Research Methods in the Real World
While many researchers, such as academics, undertake their activities as part of their paid employment duties, others do research voluntarily for a cause. These latter researchers are often involved in what is known as action research. If you have an interest in sociological research but would rather not pursue a career in research, perhaps some volunteer involvement in action research will interest you.
Action research is defined as research that is conducted for the purpose of creating some form of social change. Action research is also known as action learning, community of practice inquiry, developmental evaluation, interactive evaluation practice, participatory action research, reflective practice, and team learning (Patton, 2015). When conducting action research, scholars collaborate with community stakeholders at all stages of the research process, with the aim of producing results that will be usable in the community and by scientists. On the continuum of basic to applied research, action research is very far on the applied end of the spectrum. Sociologists who engage in this form of research never work alone; instead, they collaborate with the people who are affected by the research. Paulo Freire is credited with first developing the notion of action research in the 1960s and 70s. His book Pedagogy of the Oppressed drew from his lived experiences as a child in Brazil. Since then, action research has become increasingly popular among scholars who wish for their work to have tangible outcomes that benefit the groups that they study.
There are many excellent examples of action research, some of which focuses solely on arriving at useful outcomes for the communities upon which and with whom research is conducted. Other action research projects result in some new knowledge that has a practical application and purpose in addition to the creation of knowledge for basic scientific purposes. A search using the key term action research in sociological abstracts will yield a number of examples of the latter type.
The Canadian Journal of Action Research (CJAR) is a full-text, peer-reviewed electronic journal focused on educational knowledge through action research. The journal´s goal is to mend “the rift between researcher and practitioner” in educational research. They publish a range of action research projects in education, across a variety of professions, with the following aims: 1) to make research outcomes “widely available;” 2) to provide “models of effective action research;” and 3) to enable “educators to share their experiences” (see https://journals.nipissingu.ca/index.php/cjar).
Perhaps one of the most unique and rewarding aspects of engaging in action research is that it is often interdisciplinary. Action research projects might bring together researchers from any number of disciplines, including: the social sciences, such as sociology, political science, and psychology; an assortment of physical and natural sciences, such as biology and chemistry; engineering; philosophy; and history (to name just a few). Interdisciplinary action research is a focus of the University of Maine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative (SSI) (http://www.umaine.edu/sustainabilitysolutions/index.htm). This initiative unites researchers from across campus together with local community members to connect knowledge with action in ways that promote strong economies, vibrant communities, and healthy ecosystems in and beyond Maine.” The knowledge/action connection is essential to SSI’s mission, and the collaboration between community stakeholders and researchers is crucial to maintaining that connection. SSI is a relatively new effort; stay tuned to the SSI website to follow how this collaborative action research initiative develops.
Anyone interested in social change can benefit from having some understanding of social scientific research methods. The knowledge you have gained from this textbook and enrolling in research methods courses can be put to good use even if you do not have an interest in pursuing a career in research. As a member of a community, perhaps you will find that the opportunity to engage in action research presents itself to you one day. Your background in research methodology will no doubt assist you and your collaborators in your effort to make life better for yourself and those who share your interests, circumstances, or geographic region.
One of the most important consequences of the trend toward public sociology is that the discipline has become more visible and more accessible to much broader audiences than perhaps ever before. The Canadian Sociological Association (CSA) is a professional association that promotes research, publication and teaching in sociology in Canada (see https://www.csa-scs.ca/). The CSA´s journal, the Canadian Review of Sociology (CRS), has been in existence since 1964 (originally known as the Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology). The CRS disseminates innovative ideas and research findings related to sociology.