The 3 R’s of Activist Research: Responsible, Relational, and Revolutionary (Part 1)

Scholars working within or outside the university tend to have access to radical theories about topics like abolition, decolonization, intersectionality, queer justice, disabilty justice, and beyond. Yet far less opportunity exists to learn and develop radical methodologies.  This problem has grave implications not only for scholars but also for the communities with whom scholars conduct their research. It is well established, for example, that the harm research inflicts on BIPOC communities can reinforce the very forms of colonization or oppression that radical scholarship often seeks to dismantle.

For scholar-activists whose research is often embedded within communities, it is especially imperative to be intentional about one’s research practices. Over the years, I have clarified a set of principles that I try to live by as I engage in activist research.

While there is no “one-size-fits-all” research methodology, You can start clarifying your own intentional and accountable research practices by asking yourself these questions:

What do I believe about my role and responsibilities within the various relationships I foster in my own life?

What do I believe are the responsible and accountable practices I can apply when power dynamics arise in my relationships?

What do I believe about my role within collectives committed to social transformation?

How can I apply these beliefs to the relationships I foster within the spaces of my activist research?

I clarified my own principles by calling them The 3 R’s of Activist Research: Responsible, Relational, and Revolutionary. They guide me in co-creating ideas collectively through accountable partnerships; contributing to efforts to dismantle the idea that research and theory-making is meant only for “academics;” producing research that furthers social movement agendas; and uplifting the significance of activist scholarship in the face of academic and non-profit gatekeeping.

As the first of 3 posts, this tool kit explains how I have been using the principle of Responsible Research.

For me, Responsible Research requires building in-depth relationships with the communities I am working with in order to foster mutual trust, respect, and accountability. For scholars publishing research out of relationships with communities/social movements, I believe responsible research necessitates not only integrating the community/social movement into the research process but also developing systems of mutual support. For example, scholar-activists might generate resources that can dismantle the notion that only “ academics” are the “best” thinkers or analysts on whatever political issue is at hand. Systems of mutual support might enable many community/movement folks in putting their own ideas out into the world on their own terms (that is, if this aligns with their needs and goals).

Here are 3 examples reflecting how I put the principle of Responsible Research into practice.

Supporting research participants to publish their own ideas.

While developing the collective book project, MAMAS (with BIPOC people who mother in the face of state violence), we have integrated support for our research participants into our research budget. We use this support for projects that support movement folks clarify their own ideas while putting them out into the world. For example, we provided training in writing OpEds and they are publishing their own ideas about mothering and activism. In a previous project focused on Arab immigrant and refugee women in Chicago, we raised funds to support the Arab Women’s Committee to publish their own book, including their stories of immigration and activism. The goal is to challenge limiting, hierarchical definitions about who and where theory and analysis is developed while helping to foster collective power within grassroots communities.

Supporting my research participants to advocate for their own struggles on their own terms.

As a research and activist project, MAMAS also uplifts the activism of movement folks in our orbit. This includes creating social media campaigns whenever the opportunity arises for moving activist agendas forward; working with broader communities/movements to to make sure people who are mothering have a seat at the movement or policy table; and offering support around writing political speeches or creating other media/policy based tools. The goal is to challenge the separation between “research” and “activism” far beyond simply “contributing” research findings to movements or organizations, and instead, contributing skill sets and labor to social movement goals. I believe these strategies are necessary, especially when my own academic career benefits from the writing I do about communities/movements. As I grow my own writing, I strive to grow the writing and public work of the collectives/movements that both embrace and trust me and help form my analysis and publications.

Supporting my research participants in healing and building loving, supportive communities.

MAMAS organizes in person and virtual gatherings to build friendships and community, heal from the issues the research focuses upon (racism, sexism, family separations etc.), and foster a network of mutual aid and support. Our relationships with one another extend far beyond “research.” We are in community together, showing up not only for the benefit of our project but also to be there for one another in all of the pains and joys life brings. The goal is to challenge extractivist research, including for example, entering into people’s lives for the sake of collecting data and then conveniently walking away from “the pain and struggle” when it no longer serves research or career goals.

Indeed, every attempt at responsibility is laden with contradictions, challenges, and negotiations over power and academic violence. Yet equipping oneself with a set of guiding principles can help foster accountability to the people whose lives and struggles form the basis of one’s research and in many cases, one’s professional career. Taking this responsibility is crucial, even among university-based scholars who are already embedded in social movements.

Contact me to learn more about how Liberate Your Research supports scholar-activists name and claim their theories and methodologies: info@nadinenaber.com

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.