Activist research, is it really research?

When I was reading the online lecture this week I was thinking about social change and how important social changes can often begin with one person.  Social change action researchers can make a difference in their communities by researching a problem and helping to make changes to reach a solution. (Penn State WC, 2014). Activist researchers on the other hand sound like opportunists to me.  They are researchers who not only have a personal interest in the research but also have a personal interest in a particular outcome for the research.  (Penn State WC, 2014).  This type of researcher does not sound ethical.  We learned earlier that research is based on hypotheses and if a hypothesis is not proven it is to be discarded and the research begins anew, this does not seem to be the case with activist research.  The research is supposed to support whatever view the stakeholder holds and the public is to consider the source when reading the results.  (Penn State WC, 2014).  One of the questions I was left with after reading the lecture this week is; do social change researchers do different types of research or is an action researcher always an action researcher and is an activist researcher always an activist researcher or do they sometimes do action or participatory research?

Schneider, F.W., Gruman J.A., Coutts, L.M. (2012). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems.  SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.

Pennsylvania State World Campus. Applied Social Psychology. 2014. Retrieved from:


  1. I disagree with the idea that activist research is pseudo-research. Perhaps objectivity is minuscule if at all present but surely one must contend that it serves a purpose. Researching with the objective of changing what one perceives shouldn’t be a bad thing. Immersing one’s self in a group with the intent to change habits that are detrimental to their society should be seen as a boon I believe.

    Take for instance a researcher who visits a group of men/women in Alaska which has high rates of domestic violence(, 2012). The researcher is already aware that there is violence and actively wishes to change what they perceive to be a flaw in Anchorage’s society. It would behoove the researcher to apply their knowledge to engage the populace and induce them toward actions or instances of less violence. Perhaps advising the women to always protect themselves via having the police on speed dial etc. I believe in this instance a researcher is well within their ethical rights to not do harm.

  2. I wish that I could agree that activist research is not really research, but this would be unfair to all those researchers whose subjects of focus have been the drivers for important social change. Yes there are cases where corporations and private interests have sponsored so-called research in certain areas, but the objective has been always to come out with a predetermined outcome.

    In such situations, there is really no research to speak of, and therefore no activist researchers to point to. Activist research or PAR as our readings have also referred to, are mainly interested in issues that arise as a problem that affects society.The way I see it therefore is , whether they are also directly affected is beside the point. As students looking into activist research, we can first acknowledge that the problem is real. Next we can accept that the benefit of the research is focused on the betterment of others, whether it is empowerment of protecting them from some harm.

    The video of rescue ESG ( and Brydon-Miller (1997) both indicate the need for activist research and some areas of focus. Your opinion on the ethics of this type of research is not invalid though, because personal involvement can interfere with or lead to biased results. Brydon-Miller (1997) in fact acknowledges this fact and suggests that a careful methodology to integrate PAR into mainstream social research.
    Brydon-Miller, M (1997). Participatory Action Research: Psychology and Social Change. Journal of Social Issues (53- 4) Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

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