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First Person Action Research

First Person Action Research
Living Life as Inquiry

First Edition

August 2016 | 248 pages | SAGE Publications Ltd

In First Person Action Research Judi Marshall invites her reader to join her in the rich world of first person inquiry: a reflexive approach to life and to one’s own participation in research and learning.


Written as a collage of interrelated chapters, fragments and voices, this is an important meditation on the nature of inquiring action. Judi Marshall’s book provides an accessible introduction to self-reflective practice; exploring its principles and practices and illustrating with reflective accounts of inquiry from the author’s professional and personal life. The book also considers action for change in relation to issues of ecological sustainability and corporate responsibility.


Writing is reviewed as a process of inquiry, and as a way to present action research experiences. Connections are made with the work of the literary authors Nathalie Sarraute and Kazuo Ishiguro to expand the scope of typical academic writing practices.


First Person Action Research is an important and practical resource for students, teachers and practitioners of action research alike. It is a thoughtful and sensitive account of an emerging field in Research Methods.

Introducing first person inquiry
'Going Going' by Philip Larkin
Part I - Living Life as Inquiry
Integrating action research, systemic thinking and attention to issues of power
Action inquiry and action logics
Part II - Dimensions of Inquiry
Notions of inquiry
Disciplines of inquiry
Inquiry in action
Images of aspiring inquiry practice
Part III – Working with Ideas, Theories and Images as Inquiry
Working with academic literatures
Drawing on the work of Nathalie Sarraute
Self-reflection and life narrative in the work of Kazuo Ishiguro
Part IV - Writing as Inquiry and as Representation
Writing as inquiry
Writing as representation
Selectively adopting Freefall Writing precepts
Part V - Stories of Inquiry
Inquiry learning groups and working with feedback
Acting for sustainability Seeking to contribute to systemic change, as time slips by
‘Work Song’ by Wendell Berry
Wondering what to do about an elderly relative
Part VI – Ongoing Inquiry
Well, I won’t be doing that again
In reflection

Judi Marshall’s enduring practice of living life as inquiry shines through this excellent volume which is at once a handbook, provocation, storybook, and confidant.  A vital resource for those wishing to engage in the messiness of self-reflexive practice, Judi’s text provides wise guidance through its difficulties while pointing to its possibilities for self and systems transformation. 

Dr Donna Ladkin
Professor of Leadership and Ethics, Plymouth Graduate Management School

This is a jewel of a book. Judi Marshall, not only provides insights into the theory and practice of first person action research she also engages in it herself. She shows how living life as inquiry is a responsibility that challenges us to think critically and act meaningfully in our world. This book is a must, not merely to read, but to internalise.  

David Coghlan
Trinity Business School Trinity College Dublin, Co editor, The Sage Encyclopedia of Action Research

First person action research, as Judi articulates it, helps inform better action, better research and more mindful leadership.  The field of action research has been waiting for Judi’s decades long crystallization of first person inquiry practices and First Person Action Research now offers a most welcome and timely read.   Action researchers, who are encouraged to hold high aspirations for positive impact with stakeholders, will find a guide to staying in touch with their aspiration, and support for making it real.  Judi’s work helps to situate inquiry that integrates what she calls “outer and inner arcs of attention,” into our everyday "living life as inquiry." First person inquiry is not for its own sake. As social scientists we may also understand that because ostensibly objective studies are increasingly questioned for their partiality, well-wrought first person action research can help clarify and refine our scientific insights. Judi offers examples of useful and occasionally artistic first person inquiry practices, helpfully brought alive with her own stories of living everyday inquiry. We are edified by inquiry practices that enrich all, both practitioners and those touched by the practice, alike. Thank you Judi!

Hilary Bradbury
Professor, Division of Management, OHSU and Editor, Action Research

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