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Balancing Acts: Interactive researcher as a virtual participant

In many professional roles we struggle with how to balance our involvement in different relations and work tasks. For instance, for a manager it is sometimes difficult to know when to delegate and when to instruct the employees exactly what to do. For a school teacher, it is important to be aware of the responsibility that comes with the power to impact the minds of our youths. A teacher, thus, needs the ability to know when to empower the students to make their own judgement calls and when to provide the correct answers.

Similar balancing acts are also significant for researchers involved in different forms of action and interactive research. Should we as researchers tell practitioners exactly what to do to solve a problem, or should we perhaps assume a more objective and distant role? Naturally, both of these positions come with pros and cons and that is why we in our paper in Action Research try to find some middle ground by discussing the concept of the researcher as a virtual participant.

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We argue that it is neither possible nor desirable for social scientific researchers to refrain entirely from participating in practice, but that such involvement must come with some restrictions. An action or interactive researcher should be able to participate in practice by supporting learning processes, voice critical issues, and encouraging practitioners to construct questions relevant for their development. However, researchers should not “go native” and end up taking responsibility for solving the problems that the practitioners are facing. This balancing act, between engaging in practice while still remaining an outsider, is what we in our paper refer to as acting as a virtual participant.

We hope this paper can stimulate a discussion in the field of action research, as well as in other related contexts that deal with similar issues. Are there for instance any virtual teachers or managers out there? Would virtual parenting be a suitable concept of use? Perhaps not, but we look forward to any comments on the topic of our paper!

You can access our paper FREE for the next 30 days by clicking THIS LINK.

Fredrik Sandberg and Andreas Wallo

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