Judi Marshall on First Person Action Research

The field of action research has been waiting for Judi’s crystallization of first person inquiry practices. Her work of decades now shows in First Person Action Research (Marshall, 2016, Sage Publications), which offers a useful and timely read.

First person action research – inquiry about our subjectivity, our biases, our partialities and motivations – helps inform better action, better research and more mindful leadership. Judi’s book helps to situate inquiry and give the fuller, more honest version of our work as social scientists and change agents. Judi names this integrative mode of inquiry a linking of “outer and inner arcs of attention.” Once you start doing it, it will enrich everyday day, a “living life as inquiry.”

First person inquiry is not for its own sake! Objective studies are increasingly questioned for their partiality. Rigorous first person action research helps complement scientific insights by “troubling” and clarifying them. A simple example – in an otherwise ordinary board meeting to select a new CEO how come I keep noticing that the men repeatedly overlook the lone female candidate?  Is this candidate just forgettable? Is it related to what studies tell us is a pattern among men to select men to replace men in leadership positions? Do I over-notice all this because of my own subject position as a woman? How do I raise this thorny topic in a fruitful rather than blaming way?

When we take first person action research seriously, we could say that any work passed off as “objective” lacks rigor unless and until we also account for the reflexivity, or first person insights, that undergird it. Ironically, and counter to conventional notions, the admission of first person inquiry into our work as social scientists and change agents does not reveal only subjectivity (which is naturally always present), but brings more reflection, more reflexivity to (partially) objective findings.

Judi offers examples of useful and occasionally artistic first person inquiry practices, helpfully brought alive with her own stories of living everyday inquiry. Action researchers, who are encouraged to hold high aspirations for positive impact with stakeholders, will find a guide to staying in touch with their aspiration, and support for keeping it real.

Here is a link to the book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/First-Person-Action-Research-Inquiry/dp/1412912156/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8