Action Research Needs a Quantum Storytelling Theory of Action and Research

Antenarrative Generative Mechanisms are Real, Before Narrative and Story Formation! In this blog post, I argue that there are two paradigms of ‘action’, one classical, and the other quantum, which could give new life to Action Research (AR). Currently, AR is dominated and coopted by the classical action paradigm, which does not allow for the sort of action-at-a-distance entanglements of quantum storytelling we discuss and debate at the Annual Quantum Storytelling Conference  (

Generative mechanisms according to Bhaskar (1975: 13) are distinct, in the ‘real’ and different from the actual and empirical. My purpose here is to propose Antenarrative Generative Mechanisms (AGMs) are ‘real’ and distinct from actual and empirical. Table 1 presents the model.

Table 1: Domains of Real, Actual, and Empirical are distinct – Adapted version of Bhaskar (1975: 13) by Boje

  Real Actual Empirical

AGMs are antecedent to patterns of living story events (without beginning or ending) that are rendered into retrospective sensemaking experiences with a beginning, middle, and end (or BME narrative linearity) (Weick, 1995). AGMs are necessary but do not always result in a consequent story event-ness or narrative sensemaking experience. The ‘real’, the ‘actual’, and positivistic empirical overlap, and are distinct from one another.


See previous blog post that develops concepts in Figure 1 above 

For Bhaskar the positivistic empirical realm is entirely anthropocentric (or humanist) in its social activity, and reductionist, as opposed to what Bardians call posthumanist (with more than just the human species doing its exclusive sensemaking experiencing by its five senses). In the epistemic fallacy of positivistic empirical, the ontology of the real, and the actual, are reduced to the epistemology of the empirical (reducio ad absurdum).

Bhaskar distinguished between ‘classical paradigm of action’ and what we will call here, a ‘quantum paradigm of action.’ The Newtonian ‘classical paradigm of action’ is referred to as ‘empirical realism’ where real and actual get reduced to empirical experience sensemaking in relatively closed systems. This is dialectic to transcendental realism (where AGMs and Real ontologically connect).

Towards a Quantum Storytelling Theory of Action at a Distance In the “Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum theory” we get what colleagues and I call ‘quantum storytelling’ beyond Newtonian “action-by-contact” (Bhaskar, 1975: 61). Action-by-contact paradigm is dialectically opposed to the Quantum theory of action-at-a-distance. Action-by-contact is worked out in ‘closed systems’ while action-at-a-distance is an AGM generative of potential antecedents and consequents actualizing a relationship in ‘open systems’ or what I call ‘systemicity’ of unmerged and unfinalized that do not attain closure in any kind of linearity, unidirectionality, and instead are multi-causal, nonlinear, where antecedents and consequents may or may not link up (Boje, 2008, 2014). Nor, does the open systemicity revolve around humancentric, and is rather posthumanist in its quantum storytelling (Boje & Henderson, 2014).

In quantum storytelling, action-at-a-distance is identified, described, and predicted phenomena in open systemicity. This means that Karl Popper’s solutions to problems of induction, only work in empirically regulated and controlled conditions of closed system experimentation to meet conditions of falsification of alternative models, entirely cut off from open system complexity dynamics (Bhaskar, 1975: 66, 69). Bhaskar is willing to risk Popper’s wrath, in positing transcendental realism as a dialectic opposition to empirical realism. Open systemicity, in contrast to closed systems, are a plurality of antecedents in search of a plurality of consequents.

In closed systems the principle of organizations assumes actions-by-contact, in their additivity, and atomicity (p. 76), which works for Newtonian positivistic empirical science, and is much to regressive and reductionistic for systemicity. In closed systems action occurs in a world that consists of “independent and atomistic events” (p. 81). Quantum storytelling assumes action-at-a-distance, events in non-additivity are entangled, and atoms composed of infinitesimally smaller entities.

This has implications for Action Research (AR). The epistemic positivistic empiricism of atomicity in ‘classical action paradigm’ requires additive events in raw sensemaking of experience, in quite linear process, in series of actions-by-contact. A billiard ball sort of model of AR results, where there are wholes greater than sum of atomistic parts, and parts and wholes are in limit conditions of closed systems. Quantum storytelling is about the potential of AGMs generating story or narrative, in action-at-a-distance entanglements.

Transcendental realism ontology, both closed and open systemicity are subject to AGMs, which may or may not manifest living story webs of event patterns and sensemaking narrative experiences. Tendencies of AGM exist in the ‘real’ that are unfulfilled, yet potentialities, in the actual, and empirical. Something is really generated the event pattern, and the experiences of sensemaking. Take as an example the ‘free market’ narrative, where equilibrium is expected as some sort of balance of buying and selling (Bhaskar, 1975: 99-100). Is the so-called ‘free market’ be pulled in two directions at once (buying & selling), or is the multi-directionality of market balancing act a problematic model? From an AGM approach, there is something generating the particular directions, and the concept of balance is a fictive mask concealing the influences. This is because AGMs are not events, rather they are self-organizing independent generators of events, and experiences. “But both antecedents and consequents are events in open systems” (p. 102). An AGM may be set in motion in systemicity, in a condition of undisclosability (opacity, non-transparency) and be undetected by an observer or participant observer. That does not mean that the AGMs are not ‘real’ and are not generating story event aliveness or retrospective narrative sensemaking experiences.

AR, in a transcendental realist analysis of action-at-a-distance, there are AGMs that action researchers (& participants) can become aware of, and others that they may not be attuned to, and remain undisclosed. Quantum thing in the quantum storytelling world situate limits on action because action-at-a-distance does not have atomistic, additivity, and action-in-contact assumptions.

Drawing by Marita Svane in Boje and Svane article

Figure 2: This is a depiction of the 5 B’s of Antenarrative assignment process, with Heidegger (1962) fore- concepts.  See blog post where above figure is explained

AGMs would focus AR attention on identifying, describing, and predicting (where possible) the particular ‘fore’s’: fore-having, fore-structuring, fore-concept, and fore-telling that make up what we call –fore-caring in advance and preparation in advance. That fore-caring in all its fore’s are the antecedent conditions necessary to accomplish living storyability, and narrative sensemaking. These fore’s may be said to be agential, to be agents rooted in the nature of the world in all its glorious systemicity.

Bhaskar, Roy. (1975). A Realist Theory of Science. Leeds, UK: Leeds Books Ltd.

Boje, D. M. (2008). Storytelling Organizations. London: Sage.

Boje, D. M. (2011). Storytelling and the Future of Organizations: An Antenarrative Handbook (London: Routledge Studies in Management, Organizations and Society)

Boje, D. M. (2012a). Quantum Storytelling. Free book on line.

Boje, D. M. (2012b) Quantum Spirals for Business Consulting. Free book on line.

Boje, D. M. & Henderson, T. L. (Eds.). (2014). Being Quantum: Ontological Storytelling in the Age of Antenarrative. Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Boje, D. M., Svane, M., Henderson, T. L., & Strevel, H. B. (in press). Critical corporate social responsibility in tamara-land: The role of tetranormalizing fractals. In R. Ocler (Ed.), Book chapter for a Springer collection, Rodolphe Ocler (ed.).

Boje, M., & Svane, M., Gergerich, E. (in press). Counternarrative and Antenarrative Inquiry in Two Cross-Cultural Contexts. Cross Cultural Management.