Action research: Explaining the diversity

Catherine Cassell*, Phil Johnson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

131 Citations (Scopus)


For nearly 70 years scholars have been discussing the characteristics of action research and it is apparent that there is an increasingly wide range of forms that action research takes in practice. Here we argue that such diversity is not haphazard and that we must be cautious about developing all-embracing standards to differentiate the 'good' from the 'bad'. Rather this diversity is inspired by different philosophical stances, which usually remain tacit in published accounts thereby fuelling ambiguity and controversy about what action research should entail in practice and as to its 'scientific' status. The aim of this article is to explain the apparent diversity of action research in the organization studies domain, by clarifying how variable philosophical assumptions systematically lead to the constitution of distinctive forms of action research with their attendant conceptions of social science. This diversity is illustrated, with examples from the relevant literature, in terms of variation in: the aims of action research; its conception of social science; the role of the action researcher and their relations with members; the validity criteria deployed and the internal tensions that arise.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)783-814
Number of pages32
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2006


  • Action research
  • Epistemology
  • Methodology
  • Ontology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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