Collins, 2004

Collins, S. (2004). Ecology and ethics in participatory collaborative action research: An argument for the authentic participation of students in eduational research. Educational Action Research, 12(3), 347–362.

*So, study your chosen papers for examples of Kemmis et al's Ten Key Features of Public Spheres. For example, how are public spheres in Kaukko's research self-constituted, voluntary and autonomous? What more or less should be considered with respect to participation for action?

Try to find examples of each of the 10 key features in your chosen papers. Some features will be more apparent than others.

In your blog post discuss any 2 features found or not in your chosen papers (see below)*


A conception of action research is offered that is collaborative, participatory, targets ethical issues and includes students. Collaboration is ‘organic’ in that all members share the goal of the research and are interdependent in pursuing that goal. Participation is authentic, requiring a continuing negotiation of planning, roles, power differences and language. An ecological approach to ethics is examined in which the research community is regarded as an interconnected, interdependent, holistic system of language, relationships and ideas. A rationale for the authentic participation of students in research is offered based on ethical requirements, improved research benefits and professional enhancement.


On p 348, Collins quotes Fritjov Capra (1983)

To avoid confusion we may reserve the term ‘hierarchy’ for those rigid systems of domination and control in which orders are transmitted from the top down. The traditional symbol for these structures has been the pyramid ... That is why I have turned the pyramid around and transformed it into a tree, a more appropriate symbol for the ecological nature of stratification in living systems. As a real tree takes its nourishment through both its roots and its leaves, so the power in a systems tree flows in both directions, with neither end dominating the other and all levels interacting in the interdependent harmony to support the functioning of the whole. (Capra, 1983, p. 282, emphasis added)

Capra, F. (1983) The Turning Point: science, society and the rising culture. New York: Bantam.

I appreciate this way of conceptualizing interdependence counter to the view that stratified human systems are hierarchical and driven by top-down power-laden structures.

In organic, adaptive systems, connections, links, or relationships among parts are the focus, rather than the parts alone. in a classroom that promotes authentic participation, interactions among students and relationships throughout a stratified school structure are important...For the purposes of the following discussion, the classroom and those immersed in classroom research, are considered to be a dynamic, adaptive, ‘living’ system in which ecological considerations are paramount. (p. 348)

Collins rejects the use of utilitarian ethics which are common to IRBs in university.

Trolley problem solved by a 2-yr-old

Each member, whether a teacher, student or researcher, is an integral part of a co-evolving whole. As such, it is not enough to make discrete judgments of the morality of specific actions or decisions. Rather, there is an ongoing process of negotiating power structures to maximise the inclusion of all. An ecological approach to ethics fits well with the collaborative action research methodology to be described here. It is compatible with the participatory aspect of the research and setting, and the focus on ongoing interactions within the community. (p. 349)

Summary of Flinders findings...

Utilitarian Ecological
Recruitment Informed consent Cultural sensitivity
Fieldwork Avoidance of harm Attachment
Reporting Confidentiality Responsive Communication
p. 350

Flinders, D.J. (1992) In Search of Ethic Guidance: constructing a basis for dialog, Qualitative Studies in Education, 5(2), pp. 101-115.

  • AR does not allow for predictability, so consent is problematic
  • also can't guaranteed avoidance of harm due to subtle events causing stress
  • confidentiality also difficult due to the nature of qual research relying on rich descriptions

Beyond just informed consent at the start of the research, cultural sensitivity must be an ongoing focus of reflection and discourse. More than avoidance of harm, ecological ethics demand that we recognise the individual as part of a larger system. Therefore, protection of the entire environment is necessary, including the attachment of every individual to the whole culture. To damage one part of an ecological system is to damage the whole and vice versa. Responsive communication in reporting, as contrasted to confidentiality, is necessary in ecological ethics. (p. 350)

It is important to note that this framework was constructed to aid in conceptualising approaches to ethical thinking. In practice, there is much overlap. Flinders (1992), rather than pursuing one best system, seeks ‘a frame of reference that is able to encompass multiple points of view’ (p. 101). (p.351)

The second activity in the research depends on the outcome of the reflection on this first step. As the spiral of inquiry emerges, these limited research endeavors could become very significant and sophisticated. Robin McTaggart (1991) recommends that research start small and build a basis for collaboration:

It starts with small cycles of planning, acting, observing, and reflecting which can help define the issues, ideas, and assumptions more clearly so that those involved can define more powerful questions for themselves as their work progresses. (p. 178)

McTaggart, R. (1991) Principles for Participatory Action Research, Adult Education Quarterly, 41(3), pp. 168-187.

Clearly, in participatory collaborative action research, joint ownership of the research is necessary, despite differing roles among the participants. However, power differences are subtle and pervasive. McTaggart (1991) points to the substantive knowledge that exists in the academy, which can help people to understand that their own subjectivity is likely to be gendered, colonialised, nationalised, westernised and capitalistic (p. 174). To address issues of power, group members must change their language, activities and social relationships.

Irwin rejected the idea that one should abandon their expertise, allowing others to stumble, in the name of sharing power:

Rather, a delicate balance must be maintained so that empowerment of the collective is nurtured while the power of the individual is recognized ... The only way to truly accept this dynamic is to develop a level of trust within the group that allows for reflection and action that constantly examines the effects of teaching and leadership. (Irwin, 1997, p. 10)

Irwin, R., Crawford, N., Mastri, R., Neale, A., Robertson, H. & Stephenson, W. (1997) Collaborative Action Research: a journey of six women artist-pedagogues, British Columbia Art Teachers’ Association Journal for Art Teachers, 37(2), pp. 8-17.

Many authors (Carr & Kemmis, 1986; McTaggart, 1991) claim that action research should be a participatory and emancipatory process. Its purpose is to enact social change. Although I do not anticipate a classroom revolution where students dominate the teacher and control without reason, there is an opportunity in action research for students to assume some negotiated autonomy with regard to their own learning in the current research. (p. 358)