First Advisor

Karlyn Adams-Wiggins

Term of Graduation

Spring 2022

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Applied Psychology






Action research, Participant observation, Undergraduates -- Psychology, Identity (Psychology), Action research in education



Physical Description

1 online resource (vii, 228 pages)


In contrast to the dominant, post-positivist approaches to research in psychology, participatory action research (PAR) programs aim to democratize knowledge production and participate in social action through explicitly value-based and politicized agendas. Despite the inclusive nature of this work, college students are often left out of PAR collaborations and rarely even exposed to this frame of research. The handful of researcher-educators who have conducted participatory and action-oriented research with undergraduate students report a range of benefits for students, their universities, and the surrounding communities, confirming its importance. Left unaddressed are the key identity processes that unfold during knowledge production and changemaking with undergraduate students. Given that communities of practice and other sociocultural learning science literature robustly document the connection between learning and identity, it stands to reason that students engaging in action research could construct their own action researcher identities. Hence, the current study aimed to build on critical and participatory pedagogy by investigating undergraduate students' action researcher identity processes. This study was undergirded by a transformative ontology (Stetsenko, 2017), which assumes that identity construction is accompanied by and co-constitutes transformative social practices. Therefore, in addition to examining the construction of action researcher identities, this study also documented students' perceived transformations related to their contribution to participatory and action-oriented research. The present study took place within a 20-week undergraduate course that involved the design and execution of participatory and action-oriented research for antiracism led by undergraduate students. To answer the research questions, I drew upon four data sources from 21 student-participants, including: pre-course surveys, midway focus groups, culminating written reflections, and post-course one-on-one interviews. Through thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006), two identity dimensions emerged--namely, one's affinity for an action researcher identity and one's self-recognition as an action researcher. Participants' profiles of these identity dimensions produced four distinct identity trajectories related to action research: Definitive Action Researchers, En Route Action Researchers, Change Agents with Action Research Tools, and Non-Action Researchers. These differing identity trajectories were informed by several sociohistorical, personal, and emergent factors related to participants' contributions to the course. Additionally, participants reported various levels of transformations related to themselves, their social worlds, and the college classroom. Notably, some students reported ways these levels remained untransformed. Findings from this study have implications for researchers, educators, and activists. This conceptualization of action researcher identity responds to the calls for value-based and agentive scientific inquiry at the level of ontology. Further, findings from this study provide college educators with new avenues for liberatory and justice-oriented curricula that include recommendations for supporting students' activist pursuits in the university setting.


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