Research & Activism: A guide

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)


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)