First Person Action Research – the Doctoral Journey

by Vicki Stieha

Reading Valerie’s post this week brings me back to a project that she and I undertook with a group of other doctoral students began almost a year ago. (1) At that time, eight of us drafted a book chapter exploring AR from a student perspective. Our work surfaced many of the same tensions as Burgess (2006) discusses in her article, “Participatory action research: First-person perspectives of a graduate student.”

I’m including the opening paragraphs from our draft, which we hope will someday be published in its entirety. It feels appropriate share this work as several of us have now completed our doctoral journeys and the remaining few are nearing their final stretches.

“Naked on the Page: Stripped Down Encounters with Action Research.”

When we began the work for this chapter we, perhaps naively, thought it would require us to gather a few times over the summer and then we would work independently on our own sections. The question that we initially asked was “What does it mean to conduct AR for your doctoral dissertation?” We hoped to capture our earliest reactions to action research and the ways that each of us have come to think of and through this paradigm. In the midst of writing about action research, we began to see our work as action research. As is the case for many action research projects, ours did not follow our early conceptions of how the work would come together; rather, we found ourselves in a recursive cycle of talking, writing, analyzing, and reflecting as we moved more and more deeply into the many questions and concerns that surround our work as action researchers.

Why have we named this chapter as we did? Perhaps it is because we are aware that our action research dissertations are “the new kid on the block” (Herr & Anderson, 2005) paradigmatically. Or it might be that we chose paths as action researchers that do not allow us to hide behind a “white coat” – to assume a stance of dispassionate observer. In another sense, as action researchers we are emboldened to admit that we are naked; we speak as the fabled wise-child who saw the emperor’s non-clothes and said as much. We may feel awkward moments in our nakedness as we feel with our participants and reveal ourselves, but we never forget that it is our choice to be naked – to reveal our positionalities, to form relationships with our participants, to care deeply about our inquiry, and to want fervently to bring about change.

Next time, I’ll add a bit more from our chapter. In the meantime, we’d love to hear from other graduate students about your own experiences of aligning with “the new kid,” as Herr and Anderson (2005) say.

1 The authors of the book chapter, “Naked on the Page: Stripped Down Encounters with Action Research,” are Vicki Stieha, Valerie Louis, Sarah Hellman, Cathy Ramstetter, Sarah Lanman, Angie Woods, James Stallworth, and Billy Hensley.

2 Herr, K., & Anderson, G. L. (2005). The action research dissertation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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