Call for Special Issue submissions – QROM, Action Research

Special Issue

Qualitative Research in Organization and Management: An International Journal


Opening a Window on Action Research


Submission Deadline: 20th November 2019


Giuseppe Scaratti (Catholic University of Milan, Italy)

Lone Hersted (Aalborg University, Denmark)

Russ Vince (University of Bath, UK)

Ann L Cunliffe (FGV-EAESP, Brazil)


This special issue addresses the epistemological, methodological and operational implications related to the adoption and use of Action Research (AR) as a key approach in generating knowledge, learning, and transformative organizational change and development.

AR adopts a problem-based approach to connect knowing and changing (Scaratti et al., 2018) in studying organizational, managerial and workplace processes and dimensions. As a methodology, it has been described as a ‘family of approaches’ (Reason and Bradbury, 2008), which cross a number of philosophical orientations, structuralist and systems, social constructionist (e.g., Hersted and Madsen, 2018), dialogic (e.g., Shotter, 2006, 2010), practice-based (Whitehead and McNiff 2006), and critical approaches (e.g., Trehan et al, 2017) to name a few. It is also applied in a wide range of contexts.

The origins of AR can be traced to the period after the Second World War, to ideas about new ways to engage with groups and with group decision methods (Lewin, 1947), developed both at the Center for Group Dynamics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US and at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations in London, UK. This action-orientation arose from a desire to create ‘social engagement in social science’ (Trist and Murray, 1990), where insights from (e.g.) social psychiatry, anthropology and psychoanalysis could contribute to finding new ways of addressing social issues. Heller (2004) refers to this approach as ‘research action’ where ‘the initial purpose of the research was discovery. Action followed once reasonably adequate knowledge had become available. He differentiates this from contemporary action research, where the emphasis had shifted ‘from knowledge acquisition towards the achievement of change’ (Heller, 2004: 352).

The philosophy of AR is also embedded in Schön’s (1983) work in reflective practice, recognising the basis of AR as practical theorizing – the idea that practice can give rise to new forms of knowledge; and in Revans’ ‘action learning’ (Revans, 1982), which was designed to help individuals to collaborate in understanding and changing a system through action and reflection on action. Several different ‘action strategies’ have emerged, including participatory action research, action learning, action science, action inquiry, and collaborative inquiry, (Raelin, 1999). In addition, Moreno (1967) was critical of conventional social sciences and instigated a participatory approach in which the researcher does not stand outside the field of inquiry but becomes a social investigator and co-operator with participants as creative co-actors. Their approaches are all connected to an underlying research theme: ‘distinctions between the broad focus of action research and the popular empirical tradition of logical positivism’ (Raelin, 1999: 115).

Contemporary calls for research to become more relevant and impactful (McNamee and Hosking, 2013; Gergen 2015) are creating a space in which action research can play a prominent role.  The interplay of the two terms – ‘research’ and ‘action’ – conveys the relationship and interdependence between theory and practice, thinking and doing, researcher and practitioner, academy and other domains that the AR approach allows. Such an articulation of views provides an impetus for tackling the complexity and relationality of the organizational contexts. Indeed, practitioners are required to deal with dynamic and complex situations for which established and acquired forms of research are not always, or sometimes only marginally, appropriate. Action research undertaken within organisations can unsettle peoples’ attachments to established ways of working and draw attention to processes of power and control. This makes it both a welcome and an unwelcome process of inquiry in organizations, one that can illuminate tensions, as well as possibilities for and resistance to learning and change (Lüscher and Lewis, 2008). Research and researchers have to cope with the lived work experience of people, detecting and gathering knowledge which exists inside and permeates systems of activity, embedded within work practices and interactions, being for the most part tacit and implicit. AR claims the impossibility of ignoring daily life as an essential and crucial source from which human beings draw their meanings and courses of action. Within the variety of AR approaches, we can underline some common features:

–         A contextual sensitivity (focus on local problems and situated/embedded knowledge) while working from within the organization;

–         The production of relevant knowledge and change through co-generation, dialogue; critical reflection, reflexivity; polyphony and plurivocality;

–         The promotion of participation and collaboration of multiple stakeholders in contributing to the construction of knowledge and change;

–         A shared problem setting and research agenda (governance of processes and outcomes);

–         A political orientation (trust in democracy; exploring the political nature of knowledge generation in AR, researchers as reflexive and engaged scholars).

Thereby we need to explore the role of the action researcher; the involvement of plural organizational actors and stakeholders; negotiation of the knowledge objectives to be pursued; and their internal and external expendability.

The purpose of this special Issue is to bring together contemporary advances in the use and challenges of engaging in AR, seeking for differing ontological and epistemic perspectives (Cunliffe, 2011), and exploring and applying the many expressions of AR (Cassell and Johnson, 2006).

The proposed Special Issue invites contributions, either conceptual or empirical, which develop the transformative (pragmatic, learning, emancipatory) orientation of AR.

We invite submissions that address questions such as:

  • What is the added value of AR compared to other forms of research?
  • What are the different ways in which the distinctive features of AR may be articulated paradigmatically (e.g., practice process, relational, and reflexive orientations), methodologically, geographically, and culturally?
  • How can AR redefine the principles of rigorous and relevant knowledge and research?
  • How can we share and collaborate around the actors’ responsibility for elaborating (rethinking the forms and sense of what they do), developing (seeking to imagine other, unprecedented modes of action), transforming (seeking to implement change) and improving (verifying results of growth and effective innovation) the forms of their activity within organizational contexts?
  • What are the roles, challenges and ethical issues of the AR researcher in practice?
  • Which kind of material and immaterial conditions present a context for a sustainable and actionable AR?
  • What are some of the issues and challenges of engaging in AR from both an academic and organizational perspective? This may include institutional and procedural requirements of universities, publishing norms, ethical codes of conduct and confidentiality issues, etc.
  • What is the range of possible methodological approaches, tools, practices, methods (e.g., journals, role play, videos, participatory action research, digital media, sociodrama, etc.), pitfalls, dilemmas, power issues, etc?



Cassell, C. & Johnson, P. (2006) Action research: Explaining the diversity, Human Relations, 59, 783-814.

Cunliffe, A. L. (2011) Crafting qualitative research: Morgan and Smircich 30 years on. Organizational Research Methods, 14: 647-673.

Gergen, K.J. (2015) From mirroring to world-making: Research as future forming. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 45, 287-310.

Heller, F. (2004) Action research and research action: A family of methods. In C. Cassell & G. Symon (Eds.) Essential Guide to Qualitative Methods in Organizational Research, (pp 349-360), London: Sage.

Hersted, L. & Madsen, C. Ø., (2018) Polyphonic inquiry for team development, learning and knowledge production. In Madsen, C. Ø., Larsen, M. V., Hansen, Lone Hersted, L., & Rasmussen, J. G. (Eds.) Relational Research and Organisation Studies. (pp. 85-116) New York & London: Routledge.

Lüscher, L. S., & Lewis, M. W. (2008). Organizational change and managerial sensemaking: Working through paradox. Academy of Management Journal, 51, 221-240.

McNamee, S. & Hosking, D. M. (2013). Research and Social Change: A Relational Constructionist Approach. New York: Routledge.

Moreno, J.L. (1967) Die Grundlagen der Soziometrie, (2nd edn.) Köln und Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag.

Raelin, J. (1999) Preface to the special issue on the action dimension in management. Management Learning, 30, 115-125.

Reason, P. & Bradbury, H. (2008) Handbook of Action Research. London: Sage.

Revans, R.W. (1982) The Origin and Growth of Action Learning. Bromley, UK: Chartwell-Bratt.

Scaratti, G., Gorli, M., Galuppo, L., & Ripamonti, S. (2018) Action research: Knowing and changing (in) organizational contexts. In:  Cassell, C., Cunliffe, A.L., & Grandy G. (Eds.), The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Business and Management Research Methods. (pp.286-307) London: Sage.

Schön, D.A. (1983) The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. New York: Basic Books.

Shotter J. (2006). Understanding process from within: An argument for ‘withness’-thinking. Organization Studies, 27, 585–604.

Shotter, J. (2010) Situated dialogic action research: Disclosing “beginnings” for innovative change in organizations, Organizational Research Methods, 13, 268-285.

Trehan, K., Vince, R., Anderson, L., & Rigg, C. (2018) Critical action learning. Management Learning, 49, 67-68.

Trist, E. & Murray, H. (1990) The Social Engagement in Social Science (Vol. 1). London: Tavistock.

Whitehead, J., & J. McNiff. 2006. Action Research: Living Theory. London: Sage

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