Critical action research and the changing role of nurse executives: A case study

Inger Margrethe Holter, University of Rhode Island


The aim of this study was to propose the application of Habermas's theory of communicative action within an action research design (critical action research) to diagnose problems facing nurse executives in changing from a centralized to a decentralized leadership role, to initiate changes in relation to the problems and to assess the application of critical action research.^ First this dissertation outlines the concept of action research and presents four general features of action research as it was originally conceived: (a) collaboration between researcher and practitioner, (b) identification of a practical problem, (c) change in practice, and (d) development of new knowledge. Three main approaches to action research, the natural science, historical-hermeneutic, and critical theory were identified.^ A research methodology that adopts critical theory as the basis for knowledge development has never been specifically advanced. A critical action research design based on Habermas's communicative theory of action, was developed and applied in a single case study. Communicative action occurs through a co-operative achievement of common understanding among participants based on the conditions of symmetry and reciprocity. Agreement among the participants based on four types of validity claims, truth, rightness, truthfulness, and comprehensibility is the key to the co-operative achievement of common understanding.^ The analysis of the data from the case study shows that the major problems in a change process in converting from a centralized to a decentralized leadership role are the norms inherent in the organization culture. The strategies for a change of norms require a re-structuring of power relationships among the participants so that the conditions for symmetry and reciprocity necessary for an argumentation can be established.^ The dissertation concludes with a discussion of the problems inherent in applying critical action research. A set of six postulates focusing on the prerequisites for achieving symmetry and reciprocity to be included in a theory of empowerment in conjunction with the theory of communicative action and a revised version of the critical action research is presented. Finally, a case is made for the appropriateness of applying critical action research in nursing. ^

Subject Area

Sociology, Theory and Methods|Business Administration, Management|Health Sciences, Nursing

Recommended Citation

Inger Margrethe Holter, "Critical action research and the changing role of nurse executives: A case study" (1993). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI9421898.