Management Research News
Vol. 30 No. 5, 2007
# Emerald Group Publishing Limited
From epistemology to gnoseology –
understanding the knowledge
claims of action research
Work Research Institute (WRI), Oslo, Norway
Purpose – The purpose of the article is to aid the reader in understanding the knowledge claims in
different forms of action research and to see what kind of ‘‘turn to practice’’ is required in research on
organising, organisational learning, and management.
Design/methodology/approach – A conceptual framework extracted from the philosophy of
Aristotle is presented for understanding the knowledge claims of action research in relation to other
Findings – Some form of action research should be pursued, but action research is a label covering
many different approaches suggesting different ways of relating knowledge and action.
Research limitations/implications – In order to provide valid, practicable knowledge both action
research and mainstream research need to reconfigure and sort things better. The call is for doing
more organizational research as ‘‘praxis research’’ as part of late modern, socially distributed
knowledge production modes.
Practical implications – The required reconfiguration of organizational research also requires
systematic organizational learning in work organizations.
Originality/value – Providing a conceptual framework that is able to grasp the different knowledge
forms operating under socially distributed ‘‘mode 2’’ conditions, and to point out required implications
for both research and practice, is new.
Keywords Action research, Epistemology
Paper type Conceptual paper
Recently, in two other articles, I have discussed (a) the relationship of action research to
validity requirements emerging from within mainstream social research (Eikeland,
2006a) and (b) the relationship between action research and Aristotelian phro
practical wisdom (Eikeland, 2006b). My conclusion in Eikeland (2006a) is that a certain
form of action research could and should be developed as a potential solution to
quite basic validity challenges within mainstream social research. Mainstream social
research often causes difficulties by accepting a division of labour between the
researchers and the researched, between the knowers and the known. For social
research, within an emerging socially distributed ‘‘mode 2’’ of knowledge production
(Gibbons et al., 1994; Nowotny et al., 2001), the social conditions are becoming ripe for a
permanent suspension of this division. In order to be both more relevant for practice
and more valid, some kind of ‘‘turn to practice’’ is needed (e.g. Gherardi, 2000; Nicolini
et al., 2003; Schatzki et al., 2001; Cunliffe and Easterby-Smith, 2004). The questions are:
what kind of turn, why, and how?
Although Aristotle could be interpreted as an action researcher in his own right, my
conclusion elsewhere (Eikeland, 2006b) is that, although phro
eesis (or practical
wisdom) is an important and necessary skill, action research cannot be reduced to
eesis alone. Action research is not merely applied research or some other form of
applied general knowledge. Certain variants of action research work with processes of
learning and knowledge acquisition that produce quite basic insights.
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at