Wittgenstein’s Philosophy and Action Research

Davyyd Greenwood explores the nature of academic social sciences, as “primarily internally regulated, university based, professional activities”, that “privilege ‘theory’ and ‘method’ over all else, though what theory and method mean in this context is quite out of step with the meanings of these terms in the physical and natural sciences”. He then goes on to discuss a series of important difference between these ‘sciences’ and action research, and concludes that: “From what I have written, it seems that action research should dominate the social sciences. It has methods that are far more ‘scientific in the sense of knowledge tested and refined in action. It mobilizes relevant knowledge from people in a position to know their condition far better than conventional research can with its extractive approach… And it is driven by strongly-held democratic values”. Why doesn’t it in fact do so? Greenwood suggests two reasons: “suppression by the social sciences and political elites and the sloppiness and negligence of action researchers themselves”.

In my brief contribution to this discussion, I want to suggest that an understanding of Wittgenstein’s later philosophy, and the recognition of its striking differences from any previous philosophical works, can make some important contributions to all the issues mentioned above. Let me begin by noting, that while Wittgenstein is not critical of scientific investigations as such (in their own proper context), the whole scientific approach is in fact inimical to the character of his investigations. His investigations are of a grammatical kind. His remarks are thus not at all aimed at arguing for what is in fact the case. They are to do with “giving prominence to distinctions which our ordinary forms of language easily make us overlook”, withdrawing our attention to “what is possible before all new discoveries and inventions”  – they are expressions of a concern with what already lies “seen but unnoticed” in the background to all our everyday (and professional) communicative activities.

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About Giorgio Bertini

Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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