What is public scholarship or community-engaged scholarship? What can this engagement look like? What counts as ‘giving back’ or establishing reciprocal relationships with the communities we study? These are all difficult questions to answer that I have grappled with and tried to disentangle.

I am excited to be part of this year’s cohort of Mellon Public Scholars and ponder about these questions in our seminar together and see how our projects actually unfold. I was particularly drawn to being part of a cohort with whom I could learn about our various experiences and processes ‘doing’ public scholarship. I find that even when researchers or scholars who work with communities discuss their methodological ethics, nuances and complexities, they often present it as a clean, progressive process—omitting the barriers and blockades they need to navigate. Furthermore, I believe that describing public scholarship in this matter obscures our ‘partners’ own agency.

Through my own experience, I have encountered that field research is much messier, and relationships with other actors often do not play out as expected. Morevoer, field research is not simply a rational endeavor in which we draft a well-thought out plan and just execute it. In reality, we may go off-track, and even have a few slips here and there. We feel and become affected in the field and by others. Intentionally or not, becoming engaged or involved has real consequences. Furthermore, the field can be tricky and even deceptive. Sometimes we find ourselves having to make difficult decisions we had not foreseen or remotely imagined. As complex beings ourselves in complex relationships,

I hope that we can create a space together in which we can share our different processes, challenges and difficulties, what worked, what didn’t. I also wish that we can expose our sensibilities, fears, and concerns that we deal with as we do our own projects and go into ‘the field’, and find ways to deal with these.