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Bridging Scholarship and Activism

Bridging Scholarship and Activism: Reflections from the Frontlines of Collaborative Research

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    Bridging Scholarship and Activism
    Book Description:

    This timely book brings together activist scholars from a number of disciplines (political science, geography, sociology, anthropology, and communications) to provide new insights into a growing trend in publicly engaged research and scholarship.Bridging Scholarship and Activismcreatively redefines what constitutes activism without limiting it to a narrow range of practices. Acknowledging that the current conjuncture of neoliberal globalization has created constraints on as well as possibilities for activist scholarly engagement, the book argues that racism and its intersections with gender and class oppression are salient forces to be interrogated and confronted in the predicaments and struggles activist scholarship targets. The book's ultimate goal is to create a decolonized and democratized forum in which activist scholars from the Global South converse and cross-fertilize ideas and projects with their counterparts from the United States and other North Atlantic metropolitan-based academy. The coeditors and contributors attempt to decenter hegemonic knowledge and to create some of the necessary (if not sufficient) conditions for a more pluriversal (rather than orthodox "universal") context for producing enabling knowledge, without the naiveté and romanticism that has characterized earlier projects in critical and radical social science.CONTENTS:Introduction,Ulrich Oslender and Bernd ReiterPart One. The Promises and Pitfalls of Collaborative ResearchOf Academic Embeddedness: Communities of Choice and How to Make Sense of Activism and Research Abroad,Bernd ReiterNew Shapes of Revolution,Gustavo EstevaThe Accidental Activist Scholar: A Memoir on Reactive Boundary and Identity Work for Social Change within the Academy,Rob BenfordLeaving the Field: How to Write about Disappointment and Frustration in Collaborative Research,Ulrich OslenderInvisible Heroes,Eshe LewisPart Two. Negotiating Racialized and Gendered PositionalitiesEl Muntuen America,Manuel Zapata OlivellaActivism as History Making: The Collective and the Personal in Collaborative Research with the Process of Black Communities in Colombia,Arturo EscobarOut of Bounds: Negotiating Researcher Positionality in Brazil,Elizabeth Hordge-FreemanBetween Soapboxes and Shadows: Activism, Theory, and the Politics of Life and Death in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil,Christen A. SmithState Violence and the Ethnographic Encounter: Feminist Research and Racial Embodiment,Keisha-Khan Y. PerryThe Challenges Resulting from Combining Scientific Production and Social-Political Activism in the Brazilian Academy,Fernando ConceiçãoThe Challenge of Doing Applied/Activist Anti-Racist Anthropology in Revolutionary Cuba,Gayle L. McGarrityConclusion,Ulrich Oslender and Bernd ReiterAbout the Authors

    eISBN: 978-1-60917-434-7
    Subjects: Sociology, Education, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xx)
    Ulrich Oslender and Bernd Reiter

    Should you find yourself wandering one day around Highgate Cemetery in London, stop by at Karl Marx’s tombstone, easily recognizable by a towering bust of the bearded man. One of the engraved epitaphs reads: “Philosophers have only interpreted the world differently; the point is to change it.”¹ Th is dictum is the eleventh of Marx’sTheses on Feuerbach, which he wrote in 1845, but which were only published as an appendix to Friedrich Engels’sLudwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophyin 1886. The Eleventh Thesis is also one of the most cited expressions of Marx. In 1953...

  2. Part One. The Promises and Pitfalls of Collaborative Research

    • Of Academic Embeddedness: Communities of Choice and How to Make Sense of Activism and Research Abroad
      (pp. 3-14)
      Bernd Reiter

      Postmodernism has caught up with all of us in one way or another. We are all decentered to some degree. Advances in education and increased exposure to a globalized media have corroded traditions everywhere and challenged monistic worldviews and belief systems in the remotest corners of the globe. While we are becoming more and more aware of Others everywhere, we can rely less and less on those traditional values and guiding systems passed on to us from the past. The postmodern condition, as Jean-Francois Lyotard (1979) has argued, is one of uncertainty and of disconnection, as traditional bonds, both vertical...

    • New Shapes of Revolution
      (pp. 15-30)
      Gustavo Esteva

      In 1997, after a year-long reflection and debate, the indigenous people of Oaxaca offered a firm public declaration: “The school has been the main tool of the State to destroy the indigenous people.” This was a historical truth. In Mexico, as in other countries, the educational system was born with the obsession of de-Indianizing the Indians; the elite preferred culturicide to genocide. After the declaration, some communities began to close schools and kick out teachers, scandalizing everyone. Two years later, tests showed that children not going to school were better prepared in everything than those going to school. Yet, the...

    • The Accidental Activist Scholar: A Memoir on Reactive Boundary and Identity Work for Social Change within the Academy
      (pp. 31-48)
      Rob Benford

      I would like to be able to tell you a heroic tale about myself as an activist scholar and how I conscientiously and strategically used my privileged positions within the academy and as a white male to set out to affect progressive social change in the world and thus to help those less fortunate than me. But that would be self-serving and not completely accurate. In reflecting on my activism across my academic career, I’ve reached the uneasy conclusion that my status as an “activist scholar” was somewhat accidental. Thus, rather than narrating a purely proactive story, I want to...

    • Can Development Bridge the Gap between Activism and Academia?
      (pp. 49-62)
      Cristina Espinosa

      This short article is not a research paper but rather a reflection based on my personal experience, sharing some insights on this interesting discussion about the gaps and synergies between theory and practice, in particular between activism and academia.¹

      Our perceptions and our knowledge are not universal, neutral, or objective, but rather particular, subjective, and situated, as well presented by Nazarea (2006). And this is reflected in the different ways each of us experience either activism or academia or both, and how our views evolve according to our different positioning. In my case, my experience in both during the last...

    • Leaving the Field: How to Write about Disappointment and Frustration in Collaborative Research
      (pp. 63-74)
      Ulrich Oslender

      Collaborative research is back on the agenda these days. It has certainly become more accepted in mainstream academia than back in the 1970s, when Orlando Fals Borda and others developed what came to be known as Participatory Action-Research (par). Research councils are increasingly interested in funding collaborative research proposals, seemingly willing to listen to and learn from the experiences of subaltern groups. Surprisingly, maybe, much collaborative research reinvents itself today without reference to the pioneering work of Fals Borda and others. One of the lacunae of methodological engagement is the lack of addressing issues offracaso, or failure, where the...

    • Invisible Heroes
      (pp. 75-96)
      Eshe Lewis

      European intellectual traditions dominate the mindsets and frameworks of scholars and intellectuals all over the world. The people who produced these frameworks are well known. Their lives and thoughts are transmitted from generation to generation in textbooks and novels, their images reproduced by the media. There are, however, many unsung heroes—people whose ideas could help others, providing them with alternative frameworks for thought and analysis, whose lives could inspire by example, because their work for justice and equality has impacted many lives in their own countries. The lives and works of most of them remain unknown to the world...

  3. Part Two. Negotiating Racialized and Gendered Positionalities

    • El Muntu en América (Our People in America)
      (pp. 99-104)
      Manuel Zapata Olivella
    • Activism as History Making: The Collective and the Personal in Collaborative Research with the Process of Black Communities in Colombia
      (pp. 105-122)
      Arturo Escobar

      In January 1993, I went to Colombia for a year of field research on a project then titled “Afro-Colombian Responses to Modernization and Development.” During that initial year, I was able to assemble a small research team to work in the southern Pacific Coast region of Colombia.¹ At that point this region was still customarily described as a poor and forgotten hot and humid forest crisscrossed by innumerable rivers and inhabited by black and indigenous groups—alitoral recóndito, as Sofonías Yacup, a local author and politician, put it in the 1930s. By then, the region was fully immersed in...

    • Out of Bounds: Negotiating Researcher Positionality in Brazil
      (pp. 123-134)
      Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman

      The transnational dialogues between black researchers from the United States and Brazil have been documented by a number of scholars (Hellwig 1992; Yelvington 2006). While the historical import of these dialogues have been discussed at length, only rarely does the analysis of these dialogues focus on dilemmas in the field that are related to how researchers practice activism and research (see Twine & Warren 2000 for an exception). This is, indeed, unfortunate as black scholars find themselves in a truly unique position to provide insight into these negotiations. Their positionality allows them to, at times, slip seamlessly through social spaces and,...

    • Between Soapboxes and Shadows: Activism, Theory, and the Politics of Life and Death in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil
      (pp. 135-150)
      Christen A. Smith

      On June 16, 2009, over one hundred civil, military, and special operations police officers invaded Canabrava, a peripheral neighborhood located in the northern part of the city of Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. Five young men from the community were summarily executed. Three of the young men, Edmilson Ferreira dos Anjos (22), Rogério Ferreira (24), and Manoel Ferreira (23) were brothers. According to their sister, the police invaded their house, pulled their mother out, and shot the boys while they were watching TV on the couch and sleeping in a bedroom (Rebouças Lima & 2009; Lima 2007). The raid was allegedly executed in...

    • State Violence and the Ethnographic Encounter: Feminist Research and Racial Embodiment
      (pp. 151-170)
      Keisha-Khan Y. Perry

      Omuro(The Wall), a poem by Afro-Brazilian poet Oliveira Silveira (1997), embodies various meanings for the black¹ majority of Brazil who oftentimes confront innumerable social and economic barriers to their survival and advancement. Silveira’s poem also invokes W. E. B. Du Bois’s 1903 statement inThe Souls of Black Folkthat “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line,—the relation of darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea” (9). In Brazilian society today, themuromay refer to the thick glass ceiling...

    • The Challenges Resulting from Combining Scientific Production and Social-Political Activism in the Brazilian Academy
      (pp. 171-180)
      Fernando Conceição

      When Barack Obama was elected to the presidency of the United States in 2008, the world celebrated. So did Brazil. A black man took command of the most powerful country of the world. Brazil is considered a developing country with a population of 180 million, half of which is black or mixed. To some 90 million Afro-Brazilians, the election of Barack Obama was very significant.

      After the election, I published an article asking when my country would do the same. That is: when would Brazil elect a black person to the presidency—given that Brazil is the country with the...

    • The Challenge of Doing Applied/Activist Anti-Racist Anthropology in Revolutionary Cuba
      (pp. 181-200)
      Gayle L. McGarrity

      The present contribution to this critically important volume on activist anthropology traces my personal, academic, and professional development as an applied/activist anthropologist, as well as an advocate for social change—with a particular emphasis on furthering the transformation, and eventual elimination, of racist attitudes in the Hispanic Caribbean and Central and South America. I have focused here on my ethnographic research on, and analysis of, race relations in contemporary Cuba.

      The often formidable challenge of charting one’s own course, with only intermittent periods of participation within the walls of formal academia, is explored in this chapter. The frustrations of realizing...

  4. Conclusion
    (pp. 201-204)
    Ulrich Oslender and Bernd Reiter

    Let’s be clear about it. Activist scholarship is not for everyone. As the contributions in this book make clear, there are a great many trials to overcome, difficult situations to navigate in a sea of obstacles placed in one’s way as an academic. Institutional structures (university boards, tenure and promotion committees, funding agencies, etc.) typically reward streamlined academic output, thereby discouraging overly activist and time-intensive engagement with research subjects. Activist scholarship also often demands a level of commitment and risk-taking that not everyone is willing, or able, to offer. However, as the accounts assembled here also demonstrate, for many social...