Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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Action research

core definition

Action research involves planned intervention in some social process accompanied by an evaluation of the effects of this intervention.

explanatory context

Action research aims to contribute both to the practical concerns of people in an immediate problematic situation and to an increase in knowledge.


Examples include:

the setting-up of Educational Priority Areas following the Plowden Report and the subsequent research to evaluate their effectiveness;

the community development projects set up in 1969 as part of Britain’s ‘Poverty Programme’;

the Local Politics of Race by Ben Tovin et al. outlined and analysed at

analytical review

Smith (2007) wrote:

In the literature, discussion of action research tends to fall into two distinctive camps. The British tradition - especially that linked to education - tends to view action research as research oriented toward the enhancement of direct practice. For example, Carr and Kemmis provide a classic definition:

Action research is simply a form of self-reflective enquiry undertaken by participants in social situations in order to improve the rationality and justice of their own practices, their understanding of these practices, and the situations in which the practices are carried out (Carr and Kemmis 1986: 162 [not referenced]).

Many people are drawn to this understanding of action research because it is firmly located in the realm of the practitioner - it is tied to self-reflection. As a way of working it is very close to the notion of reflective practice coined by Donald Schön (1983 [not referenced]).

The second tradition, perhaps more widely approached within the social welfare field - and most certainly the broader understanding in the USA is of action research as 'the systematic collection of information that is designed to bring about social change' (Bogdan and Biklen 1992: 223). Bogdan and Biklen continue by saying that its practitioners marshal evidence or data to expose unjust practices or environmental dangers and recommend actions for change. In many respects, for them, it is linked into traditions of citizen’s action and community organizing. The practitioner is actively involved in the cause for which the research is conducted. For others, it is such commitment is a necessary part of being a practitioner or member of a community of practice. Thus, various projects designed to enhance practice within youth work, for example, such as the detached work reported on by Goetschius and Tash (1967) could be talked of as action research.

associated issues


related areas

See also

Critical Social Research Section 4.5


Bogdan, R. and Biklen, S. K., 1992, Qualitative Research For Education, Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Goetschius, G. and Tash, J., 1967, Working with the Unattached, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul

Smith, M.K., 1996–2007, 'Action research' in the encyclopedia of informal education available at, accessed 21 November 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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