The Politics of Activist Scholarship

Blog Home    |     04.21.2017 by     |    


A central proposition in understanding the political engagement behind the project of public humanities resides in the teasing out “the unavoidable paradox,” as Lisa Lowe puts it, brought on by producing knowledge in social institutions that perpetuate an imbalance in power relations while unsettling such status quo through practices of community engagement. This week’s readings discuss the theoretical, methodological and political facets of assuming the role of a public scholar, be it as a community-engaged researcher, an activist scholar, or a “specific” intellectual in Western universities. Although each reading sheds light on the various ways of embodying community-engaged scholarship, all authors converge in one theoretical aspect that shapes their role as knowledge workers: radical feminism. For this week’s blog entry, I would like to comment briefly on how the study of power relations resonates with the ideas inspiring radical feminist movements as projects of emancipation, liberation, and reconciliation. Moreover, it is paramount to continue to reflect on the ethical dimensions of assuming the role of and engaging in public scholarship.

Third World Feminism was a key movement in the development and inclusion of a radical politics of liberation and emancipation that was infused into the western university. It meant the creation of ethnic studies departments in some institutions of higher education across North America. This inclusion did not happen smoothly and without contradictions. On the contrary, the radical politics of feminism and other civil rights movements challenge the elitist, exclusionary vision and mission of the university as a site of privilege and power. As such, the university continues to be a metaphor for structural contradictions of North American society today. With the advent of globalization in a technological era, the university has become a site more concerned with the professionalization of individuals than the development of critical minds that challenge the status quo. Similarly, many of the authors of this week’s reading caution against the professionalization of public scholarship skills as a response to the revival of humanistic inquiry. What resonated more pointedly from the reading was the level of vulnerability radical activist scholars occupy when bringing power to account. I wonder, then, how much freedom of critique public scholars truly have without having to compromise their role as knowledge workers. In an ethical sense, how can this “unavoidable paradox” be reconciled, or is it that we need to find spaces of hope within all contractions?