Bridget Clark

I am here because I want my research to speak to a larger audience. As a doctoral candidate in sociology, I work on tax incentives and local economic development. Economists have argued for 40-plus years that more often than not tax incentives for business do more harm than good, and yet local practitioners and politicians have increased their use of these ineffective policy tools following the Great Recession. Since coming to graduate school I’ve realized that the process/ findings of research do not magically transform into knowledge for relevant publics. I’ve found a vast communication gap remains between scholars, practitioners, and local communities. We have to do more to present our work in ways that are not only accessible, but in formats that actively engages the audience.

That is how I’ve come to public scholarship. Like most academics, I had aspirations that my research would have “real world” implications, that it might change people’s perceptions about a social phenomenon, or speak to social justice issues. However, I thought that I could just stay in my ivory tower, write my jargon-filled journal articles, and that these would magically turn into policy briefs or reach beyond my academic audience to the mythical “public.”

So for me, the Mellon Public Scholars program represents the Prince’s cry: “Rapunzel, Rapunzel let down your hair.” In other words, come out of your ivory tower into the real world. Through partnership with a community organization, I hope to learn how to co-produce knowledge that is both rigorous and engaging, to learn what problems are of relevance and concern for people beyond “the literature”, and to gain skills and tools necessary to bridge these gaps between stakeholders and academics.

Almost as mythical as the “public,” public scholarship also remains this illusive concept that has recently gained traction within the academy. So for me, one of the things I hope to gain from participation in the Mellon Public Scholar’s seminar is a clearer conceptualization of what exactly we mean by “Public Scholarship,” how other’s have thought about this, engaged in this, and what it might look like in the future as this kind of scholarship gains legitimacy in the university.

So, to sum up “Why am I here?” I’d have to say I am here “to let down my hair”!