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Dialogue and Revolution: Proposal for Critical-Pragmatic Recursive Praxis to Support Operationalisation of Methodological Virtues


Systemic Practice and Action Research (SPAR) denotes a family of approaches with different theoretical foundations, the constructive encounter between which may propel the movement forward. A persistent scholarly debate persists between the so-called emancipatory and pragmatic strands, motivating perceptions of the impossibility to jointly accomplish both ‘dialogical’ and ‘revolutionary’ commitments of the movement. This reflects that SPAR is still grappling with how to maintain a normative foundation while prioritising local change processes, thus reconciling what is universally ‘right’ with the locally ‘good’ in order to foster an operational view of the nature of reciprocity and justification. In this paper, I mobilise experiences from five action research projects in the field of natural resource governance to undertake a methodological introspection to examine how we as SPAR professionals may negotiate our approach during project implementation and the encounter of concrete realities and stakeholder interests. The objective is to offer an alternative view on the relationship between the ‘dialogical’ and the ‘revolutionary’ elements of SPAR; a view which rejects a dichotomisation in favour of a critical-pragmatic recursive praxis that depends on the capacity of the researcher to negotiate methodological virtues with co-researchers in the process.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    For the sake of clarify in argument, I do not include further distinctions such as between critical utopian action research and the socio-technical tradition (Nielsen and Nielsen 2006).

  2. 2.

    A collective test procedure is in contrast to the Kantian universalisability test, which is an internal thought experiment.


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The arguments presented in this paper have grown out of PhD research conducted from the Communication and Innovation Studies Group at Wageningen University, The Netherlands, under the auspices of the Wageningen School of Social Sciences. Prof. Dr. Ir. C. Leeuwis, Wageningen University, and Dr. Neil Powell, Senior Research Fellow with the Stockholm Environment Institute, both provided invaluable guidance through supervision. Critical and constructive comments were received from Dr. Henk van den Belt at Wageningen University Applied Philosophy Group and the four members of the promotion committee: Dr. Jim Woodhill, Center for Development Innovation at Wageningen University, Dr. Kevin Collins, Department of Systems and Environment at the Open University, United Kingdom, Prof. Dr. Ir. Thea Hilhorst, Disaster Studies at Wageningen University, and Prof. Dr. Michiel Korthals, Professor in Applied Philosophy at Wageningen University. Funding for writing this paper was obtained jointly from the Stockholm Environment Institute and Wageningen University.

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Correspondence to Rasmus Kløcker Larsen.

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The analysis for this paper was conducted while the author was affiliated as an external PhD student with the Communication and Innovation Studies Group at Wageningen University, The Netherlands.

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Larsen, R.K. Dialogue and Revolution: Proposal for Critical-Pragmatic Recursive Praxis to Support Operationalisation of Methodological Virtues. Syst Pract Action Res 26, 173–193 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11213-012-9243-y

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  • Action research
  • Systemic practice
  • Methodology
  • Governance
  • Stakeholder