Hilary Bradbury: How to Do Action Research for Transformations At a Time of Eco-Social Crisis (2022)

A Systems Library, Vol. 27

Photo by Cole Keister
  • Part I presents the meta model of spaces and choicepoints within the wider tradition of participative action research.
  • Part II is presented as a theory of adult development, which hides a progressive shift in foundational ontology. As we move from developmental edge to edge, we learn to see the world not in terms of ‘things’ and ‘causes’ but as a web of relationships, fluxes of energy and pockets of potential.
  • Part III speaks to the ways in which particularly formal institutions of learning can create space for ART and attune themselves to the consilience of objectivity and subjectivity that this practice entails.
  • Some of the language used in the book feels dated and out of tune with its general tenor. Why not move on from ‘stakeholders’ (literally people holding a stake) to ‘learning partners’ or something to similar effect? Even the talk about ‘change’ and ‘leaders’ I find somewhat grating and old-fashioned.
  • How to deal with issues of power, primarily considered through a gender and minority lens, is an important theme in the book. Nevertheless, I, as a member of the hyper-privileged class, remain unsure about an appropriate disposition. We can be genuinely friendly and respectful, but is it going to be enough to lighten the shadow of historical iniquity?
  • ART is messy and time-consuming. “To be clear, the more relational the more time-consuming.” However, time is the scarcest of resources in this line of work. And it becomes ever more harder to come by. The covid-driven shift to the easy-going efficiency and discipline of on-line group processes makes it even harder to persuade people to make time to travel and sit down, face-to-face. How to deal as a practitioner with this double challenge of shrinking time and space for real-life texture of collaborative inquiry?
  • Conceptual space’s architecture in terms of fluid choicepoints creates plenty of space for the craft and creativity of ARTists. And it counters practitioners’ obsession with tools. That is very welcome. However, the opposition between ‘flexible choicepoints’ and ‘rigid methods’ may obscure the value of rich and generative action research methodologies such as Soft Systems Methodology or scenario planning (Bradbury’s own version of the scenario technique, foregrounded in Chapter 11, strikes me as a very banal demotion of this sophisticated approach to group-based inquiry). There is more under the sun than World Cafés and focus groups. We shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
  • This book is a valuable resource for participatory action learners. It is a pity that it only found a home with an academic publisher that charges prohibitive prices for physical copies. I acquired a more favourably priced electronic version via the e-textbook platform Kortext, but I found the reading experience less than stellar.



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Philippe Vandenbroeck

Philippe Vandenbroeck


Facilitator @ shiftN ⎹ Post-disciplinary researcher @ Newrope, ETH Zürich ⎹ How to create spaces were life is able to unfold, and is experienced as life?