Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

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

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1

Notes

  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.

References

  1. Argyris C, Schön DA (1996) Organizational learning II: theory, method, and practice. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Wokingham

  2. Barrett M (1991) The politics of truth. From Marx to Foucault. University Press, Stanford

  3. Barton J, Stephens J, Haslett T (2009) Action research: its foundations in open systems thinking and relationship to the scientific method. Syst Pract Action Res 22:475–488

  4. Basden A, Wood-Harper AT (2006) A philosophical discussion of the root definition in soft systems thinking: an enrichment of CATWOE. Syst Res Behav Sci 23:61–87

  5. Bateson G (2000) Steps to an ecology of mind. University Press, Chicago

  6. Baumann Z (1995) Postmodern etik (Postmodern Ethics). Daidalos, Gothenburg

  7. Bawden RJ (1999) The community challenge: the learning response. N Horiz Edu 99:40–59

  8. Bawden R (2005) Systemic development at Hawkesbury: some personal lessons from experience. Syst Res Behav Sci 22:151–164

  9. Bawden R, McKenzie B, Packham R (2007) Moving beyond the academy: a commentary on extra-mural initiatives in systemic development. Syst Res Behav Sci 24:129–141

  10. Benhabib S (1992) Situating the self: gender, community and post-modernism in contemporary ethics. Polity Press, Cambridge

  11. Bernstein RJ (1971) Praxis and action. University of Pennsylvania Press Inc., Philadelphia

  12. Bhaskar R (2008) Dialectic: the pulse of freedom. Routledge, London

  13. Blackmore C (2007) What kinds of knowledge, knowing and learning are required for addressing resource dilemmas? A theoretical overview. Environ Sci Policy 10:512–525

  14. Bracci SL (2002) Seyla Benhabib’s interactive universalism: fragile hope for a radically democratic conversational model. Qual Inq 8(4):463–488

  15. Buber M (2002) Between man and man. Routledge, New York

  16. Bunge M (2001) Sociology, epistemology of. In: Smelser NJ, Baltes PB (eds) International encyclopedia of the social and behavioral sciences. Elsevier, Oxford, pp 14569–14574

  17. Callo VN, Packham RG (1999) The use of soft systems methodology in emancipatory development. Syst Res Behav Sci 16:311–319

  18. Capra F (1997) The web of life. A new synthesis of mind and matter. Flamingo, London

  19. Carr W, Kemmis S (1986) Becoming critical: education, knowledge, and action research. Falmer Press/Taylor and Francis, London

  20. Chambers R (1997) Whose reality counts? Putting the first last. ITDG Publishing, London

  21. Checkland P (1999) Systems thinking, systems practice. Wiley, New York

  22. Checkland P, Holwell S (1998) Action research: its nature and validity. Syst Pract Action Res 11(1):9–21

  23. Checkland P, Scholes J (1999) Soft systems methodology in action. Wiley, New York

  24. Cullity G, Gaut B (1997) Ethics and practical reason. Clarendon Press, Oxford

  25. Dennis A, Martin PJ (2005) Symbolic interactionism and the concept of power. Brit J Soc 56(2):191–213

  26. Denzin NK, Lincoln YS (2005) Introduction: the discipline and practice of qualitative research. In: Denzin NK, Lincoln YS (eds) The Sage handbook of qualitative research. Sage, London, pp 1–32

  27. Devenney M (2004) Ethics and politics in contemporary theory. Between critical theory and post-Marxism. Routledge, London

  28. Dewey J (1981) The development of American Pragmatism. In: McDermott JJ (ed) The philosophy of John Dewey. Two volumes in one. 1: The structure of experience. 2: The lived experience. University Press, Chicago, pp 41–57

  29. Dowling WC (1984) Jameson, Althusser, Marx. An introduction to the political unconscious. Methuen/Cornell University Press, Bristol

  30. Fals-Borda O, Rahman MA (1991) Action and knowledge. Breaking the monopoly with participatory action research. The Apex Press, London

  31. Fear FA, Rosaen CL, Bawden RJ, Foster-Fischman PG (2006) Coming to critical engagement: An autoethnographic exploration. University Press of America Inc., Lanham

  32. Fell L, Russell D (1994) An introduction to Maturana’s biology. In: Fell L, Russell D, Stewart A (eds) Seized by agreement, swamped by understanding. A collection of papers to celebrate the visit to Australia in August, 1994, by Humberto Maturana. University of Western Sydney, Sydney

  33. Flood RL (1998) Action research and the management and systems sciences. Syst Pract Action Res 11(1):79–101

  34. Flood RL, Jackson MC (1991a) Total systems intervention: a practical face to critical systems thinking. Syst Pract 4(3):197–213

  35. Flood RL, Jackson MC (1991b) Creative problem solving. Total systems intervention. Wiley, New York

  36. Flyvbjerg B (2006) Five misunderstandings about case-study research. Qual Inq 12(2):219–245

  37. Freire P (1970) Pedagogy of the oppressed. Continuum, New York

  38. Friedman M (1999) The worlds of existentialism: a critical reader. Humanity Books, New York

  39. Fuchs C (2003) Structuration theory and self-organization. Syst Pract Action Res 16(2):133–167

  40. Fuenmayor R (1990) Systems thinking and critique I what is critique? Syst Pract 3(6):525–544

  41. Funtowicz SO, Ravetz JR (1993) Science for the postnormal age. Futures 25(7):739–755

  42. Gadamer H-G (2004) Truth and method. Continuum, London

  43. Gatenby B, Humphries M (2000) Feminist participatory action research. Methodological and ethical issues. Women Stud Int Forum 23(1):89–105

  44. Gergen KJ (2003) Action research and orders of democracy. Action Res 1(1):39–56

  45. Gergen KJ, Gergen MG (2008) Social construction and research as action. In: Reason P, Bradbury H (eds) The SAGE handbook of participative inquiry and practice, 2nd edn. Sage, London, pp 1159–1171

  46. Greenwood DJ, Levin M (2007) Introduction to action research: social research for social change. Sage, London

  47. Habermas J (1973) Legitimation crisis. Beacon Press, Boston

  48. Holliday A (2002) Doing and writing qualitative research. Sage, London

  49. Holling CS, Meffe GK (1996) Command and control and the Pathology of natural resource management. Cons Biol 10:329–337

  50. Hoy DC, McCarthy T (1994) Critical theory. Blackwell, Oxford

  51. Ison R (2008) Systems thinking and practice for action research. In: Reason P, Bradbury H (eds) The SAGE handbook of participative inquiry and practice, 2nd edn. Sage, London, pp 139–158

  52. Ison R, Blackmore C, Jiggins J (2007) Social learning: an alternative policy instrument for managing in the context of Europe’s water. Environ Sci Policy 10:499–511

  53. Jackson MC (1991) Arguments between critical systems thinkers: a critical comment on flood and Ulrich’s ‘testament’. Syst Pract 4(6):611–614

  54. James S (1985) Louis Althusser. In: Skinner Q (ed) The return of grand theory in the human sciences. University Press, Cambridge, pp 141–158

  55. James W (2010) Pragmatism. A new name for some old ways of thinking. Filiquarian Publishing, La Vergne

  56. Joas H (2000) The genesis of values. University Press, Chicago

  57. Johansson AW, Lindhult E (2008) Emancipation or workability? Critical versus pragmatic scientific orientation in action research. Action Res 6(1):95–115

  58. Kincheloe JL, McLaren P (2005) Rethinking critical theory and qualitative research. In: Denzin NK, Lincoln YS (eds) The Sage handbook of qualitative research, 3rd edn. Sage, London, pp 303–342

  59. Kindon S, Pain R, Kesby M (2009) Participatory action research. In: Kitchen R, Thrift N (eds) International encyclopedia of human geography, vol 11. Elsevier, Oxford, pp 90–95

  60. Kolb DA, Boyatzis RE, Mainemelis C (2000) Experiential learning theory: previous research and new directions. In: Sternberg RJ, Zhang LF (eds) Perspectives on cognitive, learning, and thinking styles. Lawrence Erlbaum, New Jersey

  61. Kompridis N (2004) From reason to self-realisation? Axel Honneth and the ‘ethical turn’ in critical theory. In: Rundell J, Petherbridge D, Bryant J (eds) Contemporary perspectives in critical and social philosophy. Brill, Leiden, pp 323–360

  62. Kothari U (ed) (2005) A radical history of development studies. Individuals, institutions and ideologies. Zed books, London

  63. Larsen RK (2011a) Critical systems thinking for the facilitation of conservation planning in philippine coastal management. Syst Res Behav Sci 28(1):63–76

  64. Larsen RK (2011b) Dialogue and revolution: fostering legitimacy of stakeholder agency in natural resource governance, doctoral dissertation, communication and innovation studies. Wageningen University, pp 311. Available at http://edepot.wur.nl/188817

  65. Larsen RK, Powell N (forthcoming) Policy coherence for sustainable agricultural development: uncovering prospects and pretence within the Swedish policy for global development. Dev Policy Rev

  66. Leeuwis C, Pyburn R (eds) (2002) Wheelbarrows full of frogs. Social learning in rural resource management. Royal Van Gorcum, Assen

  67. Leeuwis C, Van den Ban A (2004) Communication for rural innovation: rethinking agricultural extension, 3rd edn. Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford

  68. Leleur S (2008) Systems science and complexity: some proposals for future development. Syst Res Behav Sci 25:67–79

  69. Levin M (1994) Action research and critical systems thinking: two icons carved out of the same log? Syst Pract 7(1):25–41

  70. Lloyd M (2009) Performing radical democracy. In: Little A, Lloyd M (eds) The politics of radical democracy. University Press, Edinburgh, pp 33–51

  71. Loseke DR (2007) Thinking about social problems. Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick

  72. Ludwig D (2001) The era of management is over. Ecosys 4:758–764

  73. Luhmann N (1992) What is communication? Commun Theory 2:251–259

  74. Luks F (1999) Post-normal science and the rhetoric of inquiry: deconstructing normal science? Futures 31:705–719

  75. Mannheim K (1936) Ideology and Utopia. Harvest Books, New York

  76. Margonis F (2003) Paolo Freire and post-colonial dilemmas. A review of Peter Roberts, 2000, education, literacy, and humanization (Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey). Stud Philos Edu 22:145–156

  77. Maturana HR, Varela FJ (1998) The tree of knowledge. The biological roots of human understanding. Shambhala, Boston

  78. McCarthy T (1992) Practical discourse. On the relation of morality to politics. In: Calhoun C (ed) Habermas and the public sphere. MIT Press, Cambridge, pp 51–72

  79. McTaggert R (ed) (1997) Participatory action research. International contexts and consequences. State University of New York Press, Albany

  80. Mejía M (2004) The problem of knowledge imposition: Paulo Freire and critical systems thinking. Syst Res Behav Sci 21:63–82

  81. Merleau-Ponty M (2002) The primacy of perception and other essays. In: Moran D, Mooney T (eds) The phenomenology reader. Routledge, New York, pp 436–460

  82. Midgley G (1997) Dealing with coercion: critical systems heuristics and beyond. Syst Pract 10(1):37–57

  83. Midgley G (2000) Systemic intervention: philosophy, methodology, and practice. Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, New York

  84. Nielsen GM (2002) The norms of answerability. Social theory between Bahktin and Habermas. State University of New York Press, Albany

  85. Nielsen KA, Nielsen BS (2006) Methodologies in action research. In: Nielsen KA, Svensson L (eds) Action research and interactive research. Shaker Publishing, Maastricht, pp 63–88

  86. Nielsen BS, Nielsen KA (2010) In: Brinkmann S, Tanggaard L (eds) Kvalitative metoder: En grundbog (Qualitative methods: a foundation). Hans Reitzel Publishing, Copenhagen, pp 97–120

  87. Packham R, Sriskandarajah N (2005) Systemic action research for postgraduate education in agriculture and rural development. Syst Res Behav Sci 22:119–130

  88. Peirce CS (1878) How to make our ideas clear. Pop Sci Mon 12:286–302

  89. Powell N (1998) Co-management in non-equilibrium systems: cases from Namibian Rangelands. PhD dissertation (Agraria, 138), Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala

  90. Powell N, Larsen RK (forthcoming) Integrated water resource management: a platform for improving the adaptive capacity of higher education institutions in meeting complex sustainability challenges. Environ Edu Res

  91. Rahman MA (1991) The theoretical standpoints of PAR. In: Fals-Borda O, Rahman MA (eds) Action and knowledge. Breaking the monopoly with participatory action research. The Apex Press, London, pp 13–23

  92. Rahnema M, Bawtree V (eds) (1997) The post-development reader. Zed Books, London

  93. Reason P (2003) Pragmatist philosophy and action research. Readings and conversation with Richard Rorty. Action Res 1(1):103–123

  94. Röling NG, Wagemakers MAE (eds) (1998) Facilitating sustainable agriculture: participatory learning and adaptive management in times of environmental uncertainty. University Press, Cambridge

  95. Rorty R (2009) Philosophy and the mirror of nature, 30th Anniversary edn. University Press, Princeton

  96. Sartre JP (1956) Being and nothingness. Washington Square Press, New York

  97. Searle JR (1995) The construction of social reality. The Free Press, New York

  98. Seel M (2004) Adorno’s contemplative ethics. In: Rundell J, Petherbridge D, Bryant J (eds) Contemporary perspectives in critical and social philosophy. Brill, Leiden, pp 259–270

  99. Shen CY, Midgley G (2007) Toward a Buddhist systems methodology 1: comparisons between Buddhism and systems theory. Syst Pract Action Res 20:67–194

  100. Skinner Q (1985) The return of grand theory in the human sciences. University Press, Cambridge

  101. Sriskandarajah N, Bawden R, Blackmore C, Tidball K, Wals A (2011) Resilience in learning systems: case studies in university education. Environ Edu Res 16(5–6):559–573

  102. Tsivacou I (1992) Emancipation and truth in critical systems methodologies. Syst Pract 5(2):181–191

  103. Ulrich W (1998) Systems thinking as if people mattered. Critical systems thinking for citizens and managers. Lincoln School of Management, working paper no. 23, University of Lincolnshire and Humberside, Lincoln

  104. Waldenström C (2001) Constructing the world in dialogue. A study of advisory situations in Swedish agriculture. PhD dissertation (no. 105), Department of Education, Stockholm University, Stockholm

  105. Westberg L (2005) Aktörssamverkan i praktiken. Om lärende och makt i samverkensprocesser mellan aktörer i livsmedelssystemet (Actor cooperation in practice. About learning and power in cooperative processes between actors in the food system). PhD dissertation (no. 2005:96), Faculty of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala

  106. Westphal KR (ed) (2009) The Blackwell’s guide to Hegel’s phenomenology of spirit. Blackwell, Oxford

  107. Whitehead J, McNiff J (2006) Action research and living theory. Sage, London

Download references

Acknowledgments

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.

Author information

Correspondence to Rasmus Kløcker Larsen.

Additional information

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.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

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

Download citation

Keywords

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