ARJ Special Issue

Welcome to the Action Research Journal (ARJ) Special Issue:
Development, Aid and Social Transformation (2016)

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Action Research Journal Special Issue:
Development, Aid and Social Transformation


Many of us have grappled with the limits of development aid and philanthropy in support of long-term, local and systemic changes in communities and countries south and north, rich and poor, central and peripheral, colonized and colonizing. Do our projects help? Can projects truly address root causes of marginalization? What does scaling up of such successes mean if “best practice” is acknowledged as problematic? How and what should we measure about what does or doesn’t work and what we learn from both? What should this mean for our own identities and how we engage with others?
The editors of this Special Issue have long struggled with these questions, some of us as reflective practitioners engaged in development projects and some of us as academic / practitioners engaged in action research with development professionals. As we have continued to implement development aid in different guises, evidence—in both wealthy and poor countries—points toward growing social and economic inequality. Less contested evidence points toward the growth of truly global problems such as climate change, food sovereignty, natural resource exploitation and conflict that seem to demand new forms of collaboration among nations and peoples—and with it demand new approaches to aid and philanthropy. We worry that aid and philanthropy – well known for its forms of “anti-politics” – may be exacerbating these trends. We believe aid and philanthropy can be more emancipatory.
Action Researchers see our craft as an emancipatory one. By emancipatory we mean taking reflective action and generating knowledge from action in empathetic relationships that generate increased autonomy for those that participate in the process. It means democratizing access to knowledge and knowledge generation and broadening spaces for action for all people to improve their own lives and communities. And it means putting our own transformation in the picture—affecting and being affected and not just intervening to improve others. With this special issue we wish to investigate the extent to which action research – if more broadly adopted by change agents, communities, funders, and policy makers,– plays and might play a more powerful role in untaming aid, in nudging aid policies and philanthropic practices towards more emancipatory ends. We are interested, too, in arguments that this is Quixotic, or otherwise ill-advised. We are intrigued by the idea that action research can help us imagine different kinds of processes and results, different kinds of evidence of change, and do so in ways that might widely affect the conversations, cultures and policies adopted by aid, philanthropic, and public officials. We have seen small-scale evidence of this – and seek examples of this for the Special Issue.
In emphasizing the production, reproduction, or reduction of persistent structural inequality – a stance that is second nature to many action researchers and central to our journal (Bradbury Huang, 2010) — we link action research to the current conversations regarding complexity and development (Ramalingam, 2013), to critiques of the “audit culture” (Strathern, 2000) of aid which leads to “development programs that are…easily measured [and] the least transformational” (Natsios, 2010, 3), and to the pragmatics of persuasion within institutional bureaucracies (Jones, Jones, Shaxson, & Walker, 2012). What is the potential of action research for engaging – intervening — in complex adaptive systems in ways that lead to alternative policy and program formulation, implementation, and evaluation? Together, we wish to examine the opportunities and constraints of action research – as inquiry methodology, as program approach, as evaluation mode, as ideological frame, and more – for transformational social change, particularly within the personal, organizational and institutional relationships and fields generated by interactions between funders of all kinds (governmental, philanthropic, investors), grantees, and people such efforts are supposed to assist. We feel there is no limit to this geography.
In addressing these themes, the following questions are of interest. The list is not meant to be exhaustive; authors may well pursue other specific questions related to the themes of the Special Issue:
 How is action research and action learning being used in transformational ways in international development?
o How is knowledge being generated and utilized in emancipatory ways in international development?
o How is action being taken in emancipatory ways in international development?
 How does action research – as an intervention methodology as well as a knowledge generating strategy – help generate new insights about success and the measures and methods for determining this?
 How, specifically, do AR methodologies and methods – in comparison to other approaches – enable and constrain change in complex environments?
 What particular insights about the nature of complex social interactions/systems and social change is action research capable of that other methodologies are not? What is action research particularly good for in these contexts?
 How can action research’s methods and forms of knowledge be better communicated to managers, decision-makers, leaders, and politicians in order to influence future investment streams in their use in support of social, economic, and political development?
 How can we better educate and train, particularly at the post-graduate level, young professionals if emancipatory and transformation change are our aims? To what extent do current educational processes create tame, obedient “development professionals” good at incremental change, and what are the opportunities for action research to foster strategically disobedient, disruptive, and systems-changing professionals?

We seek a wide range of contributions and, with this Special Issue, hope to launch a wider, more varied, and more long-term dialogue on these questions. A standard Special Issue of ARJ will be issued, containing five major articles of 5000-7000 words each. In addition, our sister web site – AR+ ( – will publish shorter pieces whose format and content do not lend them to the journal. These may be articles, videos, or other media. This site will be curated by the editors of the Special Issue, with a hope that new research collaborations will emerge from this more dialogic space.
The special guest editors for the issue are Kent Glenzer, Karim-Aly Saleh Kassam, Hok Bun Ku, and Alfredo Ortiz. Full drafts of papers should be submitted online ( no later than May 30 2015. Please note: all papers should follow regular ARJ submission recommendations, that is, 5000–7000 words inclusive, using APA style. It is important to state clearly in the title and at the end of the abstract that the manuscript is intended for this special issue. All manuscripts will be subjected to standard blind peer review processes.
More detail on how to offer a manuscript may be found at
We also acknowledge that interesting and relevant work on the topic of this special call for papers may address related but different questions and so we invite authors to be in touch with the guest editors to see if their paper fits within the envisaged parameters. Questions should be directed to the lead special issue guest editor Kent Glenzer (
Alternative materials intended for contributing to our AR+ dialogue should be sent directly to Kent Glenzer ( You can also email Kent directly if you wish to discuss such submissions in advance.

Bradbury Huang, H. (2010). What is good action research? Why the resurgent interest? Action Research Journal, 8(1), 93-109.
Jones, H., Jones, N., Shaxson, L., & Walker, D. (2013). Knowledge, policy and power in international development: A practical guide. Bristol, UK: The Policy Press.
Natsios, A. (2010). The clash of the counter-bureaucracy and development. Retrieved from
Ramalingam, B. (2013). Aid on the edge of chaos: Rethinking international cooperation in a complex world. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Strathern, M. (2000). Audit cultures: Anthropological studies in accountability, ethics and the academy. London and New York: Routledge.