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Research & Activism: A guide

Site: STEPS Learning - Online courses on sustainability from the ESRC STEPS Centre
Course: STEPS Learning - Online courses on sustainability from the ESRC STEPS Centre
Book: Research & Activism: A guide
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Date: Sunday, 9 December 2018, 8:32 PM

Overview

Resources and ideas for scholars and activists

The resources in this section aim to support researchers engaged in action research involving civil society organisations and movements for social change. They offer suggestions on ideas, literature and networks to provoke thought and action on making links between scholars and activists.

Change


Browse the resources

In each of these sections, you'll find a report by each participant, plus links to resources and papers for further reflection.

Why get involved?

What motivates scholars (both young and established) to get involved in activism, and what are the obstacles and fears they might face?

Ethical challenges

What are the main ethical challenges in activist research for sustainable transformations? How to best prepare for these - especially in work with vulnerable communities?

Approaches, channels and platforms

What are some of the (out of the box) approaches / channels / platforms that scholars can use to link / channel their work to activism / activist causes?

Bridging the gap between research and activism

How can the STEPS Centre’s pathways approach be put into practice, and what are the boundaries and barriers for doing so? What kinds of language, techniques and materials best help enable more complex and reflexive thinking?

The Pathways Approach and the Sustainable Development Goals

How can pathways for sustainability serve as vehicles for activists in struggles to achieve the SDGs, and how do such pathways interact with these goals?


About these resources

FPH logoThese resources were compiled by a group of participants in the 2016 STEPS Summer School, facilitated by the STEPS Centre, and supported through a grant from the Fondation Charles Léopold Mayer pour le Progrès de l’Homme (FPH).

Through individual work, group discussion and a final plenary session, they aimed to answer the question:

“How can work by the STEPS Centre and its networks and alumni bridge the gap between conventional academic research and practitioner / activist communities?”

The participants are:

  • Thabit Jacob
  • Kennedy Liti Mbeva
  • Julianna Gwiszcz
  • Felix Donkor
  • Shauna Mahajan

Video: Bridging research and activism

The 5 participants talk about why they are interested in this topic, and what they learned from their experience at the 2016 STEPS Summer School.


Top photo: change by Richard P J Lambert on Flickr (cc by-nc 2.0)

Why get involved?

Scholars are sometimes accused of working in ‘ivory towers’, at a distance from the issues and people they study. But many decide to engage with activists to inform their research or translate it into action.

Motivations might include the ‘impact agenda’ of funders, personal desire for change, the inspiration of other academics and more. But scholars also face barriers. They might fear that engaging with activism will expose them to ethical or professional risks, or be limited by time or distance.

The resources in this section were compiled by Thabit Senior, a participant in the 2016 STEPS Centre Summer School.

Read Thabit’s report

This report builds on the discussion at the Summer School and offers reflections and ideas on the subject.

Scholar activism: motivations and obstacles (PDF)


Resources

A list of links to networks and further reading.

The Antipode Foundation
A community of radical geographers.

Scholar-Activist Project Awards
A series of annual awards run by the Antipode Foundation.

Uniting Detroiters: Coming together From the Ground Up
A report on a project which brought residents, activists, and scholars together to examine critical problems facing Detroit and develop tools for collective analysis, reflection, and co-research.

Engaged Scholarship and Action Research
A bibliography of resources for participatory researchers and activist academics in diverse fields who are interested in web-based fora for sharing research, engaging publics, and networking, compiled by students at the University of North Carolina.

International Network of Scholar Activists
a network of teachers and scholars from many disciplines committed to advancing social movements and radical democracy

The Global Scholars Network
Some resources on global activist networks and communication.

Papers and books

McLaren, Best and Nocella (2010), Academic Repression- Reflections from the Academic Industrial Complex (book), AK Press

Taylor, M. (2014) ‘Being useful’ after the Ivory Tower: combining research and activism with the Brixton Pound, Area 46(3) (Open Access)

Chatterton, Hodkinson and Pickerill (2010) Beyond scholar activism: Making strategic interventions inside and outside the neoliberal university, ACME 9(2) (Open Access)

Flood, Martin and Dreher (2013) Combining Academia and Activism- Common obstacles and useful tools, Australian Universities Review, 55(1) (Open Access)

Borras (2016) Land politics, agrarian movements and scholar-activism (pdf), Inaugural lecture, International Institute of Social Studies (Open Access)

Hern (2016) Navigating the Borderland of Scholar Activism: Narrative Practice as Applied Sociology in the Movement for Single Payer Health Care Reform, Journal of Applied Social Science (Open Access)    

Putting Activist Scholarship to Work, Part III in Hale, C., ‘Engaging Contradictions: Theory, Politics and Methods of Activist Scholarship’, University of California Press (Open Access)

Chatterton, Fuller and Routledge, Relating Action to Activism-Theoretical and Methodological Reflections, In S. Kindon, R. Pain, & Kesby, M. (2007). Participatory action research approaches and methods: connecting people, participation and place. Routledge studies in human geography, 22. London: Routledge (Open Access)

Ethical challenges

As you become involved in activist scholarship for sustainability, you are likely to come across ethical challenges. The knowledge making process raises questions of power, privilege and accountability. Who is setting the research agenda? What kind of knowledge is valued? Are we doing more harm than good? Is it possible, or desirable to be ‘objective’ in order to be rigorous?

This section explores the ethical challenges faced by scholars engaging in activism, and some of the practical strategies they could use to tackle these challenges.

The resources in this section were compiled by Julianna Gwiszcz, a participant in the 2016 STEPS Centre Summer School.

Read Julianna’s report

This report builds on the discussion at the Summer School and offers reflections and ideas on the subject.

Scholar activism: ethical challenges and strategies (PDF)


Resources

A list of links to networks and further reading on this topic.

Papers

Ackerly, B. and True, J. (2008) Reflexivity in practice: Power and ethics in feminist research on international relations. International Studies Review, 10: 693–707. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2486.2008.00826.x

Hale, C. (ed.) (2008) Engaging contradictions: Theory, politics, and methods of activist scholarship. Berkeley, Los Angeles & London: Global, Area, and International Archive (GAIA)/University of California Press (Open Access)

Jennings, B. (2010) Ethical aspects of sustainability. Minding Nature, 3(1) (Open Access)

Nelson, M. P. & Vucetich, J. A. (2012) Sustainability science: Ethical foundations and emerging challengesNature Education Knowledge, 3(10):12 (Open Access)

Speed, S. (2006) At the crossroads of human rights and anthropology: Toward a critically engaged activist research. American Anthropologist, 108: 66–76 doi:10.1525/aa.2006.108.1.66

Blog posts

Flores, N. (2015) Meeting the ethical responsibilities of activist research while on the tenure track, AAA Ethics Blog: American Anthropological Association

Networks

Global Ethics Network


Approaches, channels and platforms

For many years, scholars and activists have found innovative ways to work together. Now, as digital technology becomes widespread around the globe, an increasing number of online spaces are used by scholars, activists and others to communicate. Social media, blogging and the participatory digital tools used in open science are transforming people’s ability to access and create knowledge together.

These digital spaces, however, have not replaced face to face communication. Public spaces including dialogues, workshops or teach-ins remain important in allowing research and social movements to inform each other.

This section outlines some of these platforms and reflects on the changing ways they are used.

The resources in this section were compiled by Kennedy Liti Mbeva, a participant in the 2016 STEPS Centre Summer School.

Read Kennedy’s report

This report builds on the discussion at the Summer School and offers reflections and ideas on the subject.

Scholar activism: approaches, channels and platforms (PDF)


Resources

A list of links to networks and further reading.

Top 10 Open Source Tools for eActivism
A list of tools, hosted the Designing for Civil Society website.

Scholar-Activist Project Awards
A series of annual awards run by the Antipode Foundation.

Social media

Shirky, C. (2011) The Political Power of Social Media. Technology, the Public Sphere, and Political Change, Foreign Affairs (Open Access)

Carroll and Hackett (2006) Democratic media activism through the lens of social movement theory. Media, Culture and Society 21(8)

Cox, L. (2015) Scholarship and Activism. A Social Movements Perspective, Studies in Social Justice. 9(1) (Open Access)

Daniels, J. & Feagin, J. (2011) The (Coming) Social Media Revolution in the Academy. Fast Capitalism 8(2) (Open Access)

Blog articles

Barlow, A. (2015). Scholar Activism as Practice, Academe blog

Grollman, E. (2014). Toward A self-Defined Activist-Academic Career in Sociology, Conditionally Accepted

 Kweder, M. (2014). Why I’m not waiting for tenure to change the world, Conditionally Accepted

Peters, R. (2015). Are Scholar-Activists Welcome in the Academy? Feminist Studies in Religion blog

Open Science

McKiernan, E. (2013) Activism or Science? A Debate on Open Access (E. McKiernan’s blog)

Dosemagen, S. (2015) Open Science and the environmental movement, Open Thoughts blog

Digital Activist's Suicide Casts Spotlight on Growth of Open-Access Movement, Wendy M. Grossman, Scientific American, 23 January 2013

Simmons, M. (2016). From Politics of Science to Evidence-Based Activism, kib.be

Festival shows the promise and perils of open data, Kat Austen, New Scientist, 25 July 2014

Public Dialogues

Review of Research Councils UK Public Dialogues – Sciencewise

Rowe, G. & Frewer, L. (2004) Evaluating Public Participation Exercises: A Research Agenda. Science, Technology, & Human Values, 29(4): 512-556

Nature (2006) Overview: Nature’s peer review trial

Bonney, R., Ballard, H., Jordan, R., McCallie, E., Phillips, T., Shirk, J., and Wilderman, C. C. (2009) Public Participation in Scientific Research: Defining the Field and Assessing Its Potential for Informal Science Education. A CAISE Inquiry Group Report. Washington, D.C.: Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE)

Teach-ins/bike-ins

The Sunflower Movement and the Emergence of a “New Mass” in Taiwan. By Wakabayashi Masahiro, nippon.com, 31 July 2014  

Ho, M. (2015) The Sunflower Movement and Taiwan’s Embattled Sociology. Global Dialogue newsletter, 5(4), November 2015  

Horton, D. (2009). Social Movements and the Bicycle, Thinking About Cycling blog  

Manski, B. (2015). 50 years: The roots of the next major teach-in wave. The Next System Project

Schugurensky, D. (2007) First "teach-in" held at University of Michigan: New tool for public education is born, History of Education: Selected Moments of the 20th Century (ASU website)

YouTube Science Shows

17 science shows on YouTube that will totally blow your mind, by Cynthia McKelvey, The Daily Dot, August 2015

New Journal Formats

The Green European Journal
“A space for discussion within the European Green movement.”

Interface: A journal for and about social movements

Key organisations / networks

International Network of Scholar Activists

Resistance Studies Network

National Film Network: The Making of a Scholar/Activist

Progressive Radio Network (‘Scholar activist’ tag).

Scholars Strategy Network

National Association of Scholars


Bridging the gap between research and activism

The STEPS Centre’s Pathways Approach, among other approaches and ideas, offers ways to understand pathways to sustainability grounded in social justice. In practice, however, there are numerous boundaries that prevent such useful tools and approaches from serving this purpose.

These include language barriers, a shortage of time for reflection or exploring alternative ways of thinking about problems and solutions, and the difficult power and politics that exist within and between organizations working on environmental and social challenges.

The resources in this section explore some of the challenges of applying the pathways approach in practice, some possible solutions, and links, questions and ideas to provoke further reflection and action.

The resources in this section were compiled by Shauna Mahajan, a participant in the 2016 STEPS Centre Summer School.

Read Shauna’s report

This report builds on the discussion at the Summer School and offers reflections and ideas on the subject.

Bridging the practitioner and scholar divide (PDF)


Resources

A list of links to networks and further reading.

Concepts and ideas

Boundary science
A group of conservation scientists have been advocating the use of the term ‘boundary science’ – reflecting science that is useful for conservation decision making.

see also: Cook, C.N. et al (2013) Achieving Conservation Science that Bridges the Knowledge–Action Boundary, Conservation Biology 27(4): 669-678

Useful Science
A website developed by a group of young scientists in Canada, which aims to summarize scientific findings from across disciplines in a way that is easy to digest.

Resources that operate in the ‘middle ground’ between science and practice

Human-Centred Design
A toolkit designed by IDEO, a San Francisco based design firm, for action research, featuring a number of participatory research methods.

PhotoVoice
Offers training in the PhotoVoice methodology, which helps communities to tell their story through images and words.

Teaching Case Studies at PAL
A useful way of presenting a complex materials online through teaching videos.

Stockholm Resilience Centre’s “Applying Resilience” series
The Stockholm Resilience Centre has a number of video vignettes that communicate some of the concepts core to the resilience approach, and also highlights particular ongoing research initiative and projects.

The Pathways Approach and the Sustainable Development Goals

How can pathways for sustainability serve as vehicles for activists in struggles to achieve the United Nations SDGs, and how do such pathways interact with these goals?

Launched in 2015, the SDGs aim to shape a new international agenda for action on sustainability. Given the scope of the goals – from poverty, hunger and health to infrastructure and partnerships – no one discipline or approach will be enough.

The resources in this section explore how scholars and activists working together might highlight overlooked issues, engage with dialogue processes around the SDGs, and learn from multidisciplinary approaches.

The resources in this section were compiled by Felix Donkor, a participant in the 2016 STEPS Centre Summer School.

Read Felix’s report

This report builds on the discussion at the Summer School and offers reflections and ideas on the subject.

Interactions between the SDGs, Pathways for Sustainability Approach and Opportunities for Activism (PDF)


Resources

A list of links to networks and further reading.

The Pathways Approach

Leach. M., Scoones, I. and Stirling, A. (2007) Pathways to Sustainability: an overview of the STEPS Centre approach, STEPS Working Paper, Brighton: STEPS Centre (open accesss)

Sustainable Development Goals

Sustainable Development Goals
Website about the UN’s 17 global goals for development, launched in 2015.

Fan, S. and Polman, P. (2014) An ambitious development goal: Ending hunger and undernutrition by 2025. In 2013 Global food policy report, Eds. Marble, A. and Fritschel, H. Chapter 2. Washington, D.C.: International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)

One Health

What is One Health?
A short overview of what One Health means and how it came to be.

One Health Initiative
A multidisciplinary collaborative approach to solving global and environmental challenges.