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Towards Living Theory as a Social Movement: On the use of Pac-Man video game models in TQM research

Re: Towards Living Theory as a Social Movement: On the use of Pac-Man video game models in TQM research - concluding conversation

by Petter Øgland -
Number of replies: 0

Dear Marie,

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on why my efforts on trying to get published in EJOLTS have not been successful.

First – it would be very inappropriate at best for any journal editorial board to make any response as to how a prospective author might resolve an issue they have with their employer such as the one you point to. You say you have consulted academics and been told quite clearly it is not appropriate for them to comment on.

'What would you or others from the editorial board have done if you were in my situation? As I point out in the paper, I have discussed the situation with a couple of academics, and neither of them could give me clear advice beyond saying that a situational judgement is required. For me, it is a difficult dilemma, and that is why I have written the paper.'

I appreciate you have a difficult dilemma but to write a journal paper in order to get advice or support when you are in a dispute with your employer is inappropriate at best and is not something you can expect a journal editorial board or reviewer to respond to.

I am afraid I must have expressed myself unclearly.  The point I discussed with the academics was the issue of how to design action research in an ethically appropriate manner given the conditions of my situation.  I was not asking them to give me advice on the problem itself, but I was asking them for advice on how to research the problem.

When I asked the question, 'What would you or others from the editorial board have done if you were in my situation?', I was thinking about the problem of how to design action research within the context I describe.  In both organisations I have a job title as researcher, but in practice it is very difficult to do research, as I explain in the paper.  I am feeling like a living contradiction in a similar way as Jack described himself when he was having his academic struggles.

So, what does a person do in a situation like this?  One answer would be to give up, given the premise that it is unethical to do action research when those in power tell us not to do research.  Jack could also have given in to pressure, but then he would not have been able to write "The Growth of Educational Knowledge" (1993), which is one of the finest books I have ever read.  So, inspired by Jack, I discuss an alternative approach in my paper, trying to distinguish between what is action research and what is change management, and then try to sort this out in a manner which should make the action research ethically sound.

Second – you have repeatedly intimated over years that you want to get published and want to know how to mould your paper to fit. This is not the same as wanting to develop as a Living Theory researcher and create authentic, valid accounts of your living-theory as contributions to the evolution of an educational knowledgebase. I may be wrong but I believe that is one of the reasons you are making no progress I can discern in developing as a Living Theory researcher: there is not a ‘model’ you can apply to your research to turn it into Living Theory research. Living Theory research is not a game to be played for the purpose of increasing the number of your publications. You ask me to:

‘… recommend two or three seminal EJOLTS papers (empirical papers) that I could use as models for writing living theory by means of action research?’

Living Theory research is something you ‘do’ rather than simply ‘write’. You might find it more productive to work on writing action research for one of the many journals devoted to publishing work concerned with Action Research.

I acknowledge this point.  My 25 years of experience as a researcher comes from mainstream social science and engineering science, so there are certain aspects of Living Theory research that I find difficult to grasp.  For instance, when I read Peter Mellet's foreword to the latest edition of EJOLTS, I have difficulty following him in the way he draws a very strict line between Living Theory research and conventional research.  One of the basic premises in all of the four papers I have submitted is that it might be more fruitful to think of propositional theory and living theory as integratable and mutually supportive theories, rather than engaging in a "paradigm war", although I have nothing against others taking part in such wars.

In this sense, I think you are right in observing how I am stuck in my own mental models of what science is and how the scientific method works, thus having difficulties in reading living theory texts without immediately trying to translate them into my own way of thinking.  However, this does not mean that I have not tried.  In fact, when I submitted the revised Pac-Man paper I believed there was a fair chance that the paper would get published.

Your point about moulding research into fitting with Living Theory requirements is also interesting.  My intention of making progress as a Living Theory researcher has not been to reject everything I have previously believed in by converting to Living Theory beliefs.  Quite the contrary, my reasons for being attracted to Living Theory research have to do with how I believe Living Theory research adds an additional dimension to conventional research, thus expanding on the way we understand science rather than changing it completely.  Jack's 1993 account of his PhD struggles touched me on a deep emotional level, and his seminal 1989 paper about developing living theory through action research makes very much sense to me, although (for me) neither of these texts exclude the possibility of choosing conventional science (models and propositional theories) as a basis for private knowledge and develop living theories from that.

Third – Living Theory and Action Research are not synonymous. Living Theory researchers rarely focus on one methodology such as Action Research as they exercise their methodological inventiveness in creating their own living-theory and living-theory-methodology. Living Theory researchers usually draw insights from a range of methodological insights from methodologies such as Narrative Inquiry, Phenomenology, Auto-ethnography as well as Action Research in the generation of their living-educational-theory.

I have no problem with this statement.  There may be many ways of developing living theory, but the type of living theory that interests me is the type of living theory that is developed from action research.  I am interested in theories of managing change.  However, when I have asked people about seminal Living Theory action research articles from EJOLTS, I have not gotten so many answers, so perhaps the action research approach for developing living theory is not as popular as it used to be, people developing their own methodologies and so on, as you suggest.  Still, I know there are some good Living Theory action research accounts published in EJOLTS, like some of the work done by Branko and associates, but I was hoping for a list of 2-3 examples of what the editorial board would describe as recommendable for those of us struggling with becoming part of the Living Theory movement.

Finally, I have the very strong impression you are trying to fit your work into Living Theory research, which therefore makes it an inappropriate methodology for you. From what I have seen of the papers you have submitted I would suggest you look for a methodology more suited to your needs by first thinking about the nature of the question you want to research. One methodology is not better or worse than another any more than a spoon is better than a fork: depends on what you are trying to do; you don’t chose a fork to eat soup and that is what it feels you are trying to do.

The underlying research question in all my work is 'How do I improve my practice?', which is why I got attracted to Living Theory research by reading "All you need to know about action research" (McNiff & Whitehead, 2006), among other things, and got engaged with the EJOLTS community.  Obviously I must be doing something wrong in my attempts to improve practice by looking at my personal values, describing my feelings of being a living contradiction, imagining ways of overcoming the problem, implementing action etc., as I am being perceived as somebody choosing a fork to eat soup.

Nevertheless, I am very happy for the discussions on the review and discussion forums as I feel I am able to clarify aspects of the submitted papers that apparently have been misunderstood and generally learn from talking with Living Theory experts.  Despite what you say about not seeing much progress in my development as a Living Theory researcher, I personally feel that I have made progress due to much good feedback, although it looks like I still have a long way to go.


Best regards,