Ethics and A/Esthetics’ Introduction
Back in 2015 at the Collaborative Action Research Network (CARN) Conference in Braga, Portugal as part of a new collaborative venture between the editors of Educational Action Research Journal (EARJ) and CARN Co-ordinating Group (CARN CG), we introduced the concept of an occasional virtual issue that brings together articles on a theme of potential interest to CARN Members and the action research community.
Virtual issues are based on ‘conversations’ that have been threaded through the published issues of EARJ over the years. The collection is intended as a resource for action researchers and students of action research. The papers are personal choices of both EARJ Board members and CARN CG and in no way are representative of all of the issues raised in relation to the topic– rather we intend them as a taster and catalyst to illustrate the range and types of issues related to the topic. By way of example, this issue is dedicated to ‘Ethics and A/Esthetics’ in a myriad of forms. We hope it prompts readers to think laterally about how such issues are manifested in a variety of ways both explicit and implicit in all of the articles published in the journal.
Ethics and A/Esthetics’
The set of papers chosen for this Virtual Issue articulate challenges, in particular the challenges of doing action research within ways of understanding research and ethics that continue to privilege predetermination and predictability as indicators of methodological rigour. This is not to say that these elements are not relevant for some approaches to research, for methodologies that are seeking a particular form of knowing, but this set of papers challenges us, as action researchers, to recognise how ways of conceptualising/framing research and ethics need to be elevated to demonstrate the wider possibilities of knowing and to recognise how the way in which we understand research can extend or limit ways of knowing.
We begin with two papers that look specifically at approaching the practice, presentation and writing of action research. Part of their argument is the need to make spaces in research in practice that allow for open, unbounded ways of seeing that transcend more prescriptive ways of knowing and understanding the world.
Starting with Amorim and Ryan’s paper Deleuze, Action Research, and Rhizomatic Growth, Mary Brydon-Miller has chosen a paper that presents a way of seeing that deliberately seeks to decentre our knowing to allow us to be informed by what is happening at the margins or borderlands - rhizomatic ways of understanding the nature of knowing, networks and connections that extend from a centre but creep out and along to initiate new spaces for action. They challenge us to imagine new ways of presenting learning and knowledge gained through action research; of reframing how we understand and write about action research.
Chosen by Tina Cook, the next paper Educational poetics: an aesthetic approach to action research also discusses how new learning comes from activities at the borderlands, spaces peripheral to traditional research. Gitlin and Pecks use what they term Educational Poetics to challenge the rationality of traditional and reconstructed science. They argue that such approaches deliberate on, and seek to improve, actions already bounded by frameworks for thinking and understanding found in our cultural norms. This perpetuates what is and as such is a limit to radical change. Gitlin then presents Educational Poetics as an aesthetic approach to action research that draws on, and elevates, imagination, inspiration creativity and an acceptance of incompleteness as key concepts for engaging in transformational research. Moving ‘Beyond Method’ Peck’s reflective conversation is demonstrates how this is put to work in real life to disrupt taken for granted thinking and meaning making.
The third choice, Jordan and Kapoor’s paper, written eight years after Giltlins’ is also a call to consider how methodological stance supports ways of thinking that justify particular ideological assumptions for practice. Chosen by Una Hanley, Repoliticising participatory action research: unmasking neoliberalism and the illusions of participation questions whether there is a taken-for-grantedness around the use of approaches for research that have become accepted within communities of practice. It considers the role of theory from wider sources, arguing for a need to recognise the dangers of neoliberal cooperation. The authors discuss the use of a wide range of theoretical approaches, seeking concepts from Marxism, feminism, Freirean adult education, social justice, post-colonial critiques, postmodernism (to name but a few) to provide the potential for new ‘theoretical insights’ and ‘cross pollinations’ within action research and participatory action research. For Hanley it raises the question of how researchers, working within conceptual frameworks perceived as appropriate for PAR and AR, recognise and understand the role of theory.
All three of the above papers have challenged those who nominated them for this issue (MBM, TC and UH) to question, reflect and consider - to appropriate a more disruptive stance. This disruptive stance is not merely of the practice under consideration, but how the power of methodological concepts and theories affect what can be known, what can be known by whom, and what can be done. Starting with the methodological they meld ethics and politics in an aesthetic that cries out for the full use of human creativity and imagination as an overt stance in the practice of action research.
The next cluster of three papers, reflect themes that are woven throughout the collection in relation to complexity and fluidity in relational practices. Based on research projects that either involve collaborations between practitioners and service users or between family members they highlight the need to explore ways of looking, seeing, articulating and acting that go beyond the technicist/procedural understandings of ethics.
The article picked by Carol Munn-Giddings It gets me upset talking about the Royal Albert: collaborative analysis of the ethics of an oral history project raises a plethora of ethical issues for author Steve Mee as he reflects on how the legacy of a previous role (as a nurse in an institution for people with learning disabilities) and former hierarchical power relationships continue to emerge both explicitly but also implicitly in a collaboration with people who were former residents in the institution. The limitations of technocractic ethical processes and the need to be reflexively vigilant at all points in the research process are foregrounded.
Andy Convery ‘s nominated paper The ethics of researching those who are close to you: the case of the abandoned ADD project echoes the themes of researchers whose projects set off with good intentions to follow best action research practice but who find the necessary approvals and following ‘the rules’ woefully inadequate to address the issues that arise. This paper focuses on research on ADD within the authors own families and the dilemma’s and deep insights it gave them into the impacts of projects that may remain masked by relational distance.
Ruth Balogh’s choice of an auto-ethnographic project Ethics of care in participatory health research: mutual responsibility in collaboration with co-researchers is set in an acute psychiatric ward and involves an innovative collaboration between practitioners and service users. As with the previous two articles the limitations of standard ethical codes and institutional review processes are identified. Offering a way forward the article draws on a feminist ethic of care that emphasizes responsibilities and relationships to reframe ethical practice between co-researchers as a mutual process of care.
Overall, the articles in this collection suggest a more nuanced approach to ethics– ethics that are mutual rather than externally fixed and imposed. An approach that foregrounds relational aspects understanding them as fundamental rather than (as is often the case) to be marginalised. We hope you have enjoyed this collection and they have provided a stimulus for considering similar issues in your own action research practice.
Carol Munn-Giddings and Tina Cook (Eds)