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Zeni, J. (2009). Ethics and the ‘Personal’ in Action Research. In B. Somekh & S. E. Noffke (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of educational action research (pp. 254–265). Sage.


Despite my efforts to behave in a fair and respectful way, and to guide my research students accordingly, ethical dilemmas, questions, and roadblocks have emerged, usually catching me by surprise. Gradually, I realized that action research calls into question the ethical norms that guide the academic modes of inquiry, both quantitative and qualitative. The norms of quantitative research have defined the ethical researcher as an outsider; any personal involvement with the people or engagement with the events in a research setting is considered bias. The norms of qualitative research have allowed for the ethical researcher who is involved with participants, and who affects and is affected by events in the research setting; however, those relationships are limited, kept in check by anonymity and informed consent. Neither quantitative nor qualitative guidelines offer a good fit for action research. It is no surprise, therefore, that research textbooks and mentors often cite universal principles that hamstring the action researcher, while ignoring real ethical dangers to students, colleagues, or others. I have found that analyzing exemplary cases (Mitchell, 2004; Smith, 1990) is a better route to understanding the ethics of the local, situated dilemmas of action research.