FERGUSON's picture

inherent limitations to self-study.

Pip Bruce Ferguson Teaching Developer University of Waikato Hamilton, New Zealand

Dianne wrote:"

What I am still struggling with is that to claim that there are 'inherent limitations' is also to declare myself to be operating within a limited world view, in the view of others (from the more rigorous 'social-critical-theory' corner).   At this stage, I can find myself immobilised."

I could not agree more. This struggle to recognise the extent to which I operate within a limited world view is exactly the content of the ALARA paper that my husband and I are offering in September. But finding ourselves immobilised is not really an option in our context. For me, in my context, there are Maori writers who argue that those of us who have benefited from the Westernised education system 'owe it' back to Maori to share our privilege with them. So, even though it is 'tricky territory' as Linda Smith has commented, we cannot remain immobilised. However, the potential for putting our foot (feet?) in it remains high! I look forward to discussing these kinds of issues with whoever is interested, in Melbourne in September.

Warm regards


This struggle to be familiar

This struggle to be familiar with the extent to which I function within
a limited world view is precisely the content of the ALARA paper that I
offering in September.

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What I understand to be the Inherent limitations to self-study

Dianne.ALLEN's picture

As part of a response to a 'standard proforma' for presenting a research proposal at UoW, students are expected to identify 'limitations' to their research.   For students undertaking one-semester-length level studies, the focus on expressed limitations is usually on what I call the 'circumstantial'.   In one semester there is limited time, so the process of research can only operate within significantly circumscribed conditions.  The sample tapped for data tends to be small, the time for change to be observed for evaluation, in any action research cycle, is short, the quantity of data collected and the level of analysis, of necessity, tends to be restricted (in a 13 weeks of semester, the data collection doesn't usually start much before week 6 because of ethics forms and submission process, and reporting is encouraged to be virtually finalised by week 12 when an oral presentation is made). 

What most students overlook, and then look askance when I try to point them towards the issues, are what I call 'inherent limitations' - the limitations that arise because of the nature of the research, in and of itself.

It is my understanding that every kind of research has its own inherent limitations. 

For a survey-based inquiry, such an inherent limitation comes from the questions asked, the range of responses allowed, the questions not asked.

For self-study inquiry, the limitations include those of the self component.   If it is self-in-activity, then what a self can do (eg attend to research aspects) while doing something else (eg attending to teaching a class) is such an inherent limitation (which might also become an ethical dilemma).

The scientific paradigm has sought to take 'self', and 'subjectivity', and the associated limitations and biases, out of the reckoning, by demanding 'replication' criteria to be met (where other researchers can repeat the same processes, and by using the same mechanisms, confirm that the results are repeated, indicating that these outcomes to experimental conditions and specified activities can be relied on to happen time and again, demonstrating a simple cause-and-effect relationship).   So mechanical devices are calibrated and used to measure factors, taking, as far as possible, the person, the individual, any personal idiosyncracy, out of the process of measurement, of description, of categorisation.

The social sciences, with their more recent development and attention to what might risk the quality (ie reliability of findings for generalisation and prediction purposes) of research findings has found that the logic of research of humans by humans, requires that other ways of securing quality, that permit the humans to be/remain human while researching selves and others, need to be invoked (John Heron's and Peter Reason's idea of 'axiology' adding to the mix of 'ontology-epistemology-methodology') (1). 

This is, for me, where cooperative and/or collaborative research offers some tools, notably other minds with other biases (or perspectives) to look at the same material (or phenomona) and to share those different views.   Here is where 'member checking' can operate.   In cooperative research such 'members' are also 'peer researchers'.   The concept of the 'critical friend', in reflective research inquiries, is similar, but different.  The critical friend, as I understand it, is outside the current research activity, but within the general field, has experience of the phenomena under self-study, and can draw on their own practice and experiential knowledge to question and perhaps challenge self-serving perceptive tendencies (whether overly positive or overly negative).

What I am still struggling with is that to claim that there are 'inherent limitations' is also to declare myself to be operating within a limited world view, in the view of others (from the more rigorous 'social-critical-theory' corner).   At this stage, I can find myself immobilised.


Heron, J. (1996). Quality as Primacy of the Practical. Qualitative Inquiry, 2(1), 41-.

Heron, J., & Reason, P. (1997). A participatory inquiry paradigm. Qualitative Inquiry, 3(3), 274(221).

Heron, J., & Reason, P. (2001). The Practice of Co-operative Inquiry: Research 'with' rather than 'on' People. In P. Reason & H. Bradbury (Eds.), Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice (pp. 179-188). London: Sage.


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