Post-print of Phelps, R & Hase, S 2002, 'Complexity and action research: exploring the theoretical and methodological connection', Educational Action Research, vol. 10, no. 3, pp. 507-524.
Published version available from:
Complexity theory is essentially a formal attempt to question how coherent and purposive wholes emerge from the interactions of simple and sometimes non-purposive components. Explicit recognition of complexity can provide a fresh and enlightening perspective on action research. Through an expository discussion of the foundational postulates of complexity theory this article demonstrates the theoretical and methodological connections between complexity and action research, with particular emphasis on the relevance of complexity in educational and workplace contexts. Complexity is an emerging theoretical perspective, which presents possibilities for revolutionizing approaches to action research, as well as strengthening arguments promoting the value of action research in a wide range of contexts. Complexity, it is argued, can provide a valuable theoretical underpinning for action research. Furthermore, action research provides a valid methodological approach to the study of complexity. This article is primarily theoretical and attempts to demonstrate the application of complexity to a specific action research project will be left to future publication(s). Rather, this article explores the general applicability of complexity as both theory and metaphor in action research. The article begins with a brief exploration of the theory, particularly focusing on its application in the social sciences. The theoretical and methodological connections between complexity and action research are discussed through several of the foundational postulates of complexity, how these manifest in action research and how they add to our understanding of action research itself.