Reconceptualising Power in Action Research: A Focauldian Perspective
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In the last decade there has been a renewed interest in the employment of Action Research within Psychology. Action Research is an orientation to inquiry, rather than a distinct method. It involves democratisation of the research process – i.e. knowledge created about a community should be created with that community. Participants are engaged in as much of the research process as possible – from formulation of research question to write up. Its value has been recognized in its capacity to empower participants, through the co-creation of knowledge, to understand and act to change their situations. Thus power here is viewed as a commodity – something to be passed between those who have it and those who don’t. It is argued here that adopting this conception of power proves inadequate to attain goals of empowerment. Instead I outline Foucault’s alternative view on the nature of power. Foucault outlines a notion of power as a complex network of relations, bound together by discourse, knowledge and the production of truth. This alternative view offers a novel way of understanding the relationship between the researcher and researched. By examining the manifestation of Foucault’s notions within six exemplary psychological action research studies, I demonstrate that working within this outdated conception, action research can in fact have unintended disempowering effects.