“We define activist scholarship as the production of knowledge and pedagogical practices through the active engagements with the service of progressive social movements”

The aforementioned quote comes from the Okazawa-Rey and Sudbury reading, “Activist Scholarship and the Neoliberal university after 9/11.” They succinctly define activist-scholarship as being in constant service to the public and radical progressive social movements. As someone that identifies as an activist scholar, what Okazawa-Rey and Sudbury put forth is in essence the trajectory I aspire my for my work. In their article Okazawa-Rey and Sudbury posit: activist scholarship occurs both on and off college campuses; activism isn’t something that is to be done “on the side,” but an integral feature and mission of activist-scholars’ work; activist scholarship is a means to connect the academy with community; knowledge production must be emancipated and made accessible; and we must begin to reckon with the gendered and radicalized dynamics within activist scholarship.

The article (and other readings from this week) affirmed much of what I’ve observed, experienced, and taken action on. However, the final section of the piece, “Living with Contradictions,” strongly resonated with me as I continue to grapple with how exactly do I navigate the academy, the public, my various communities, and activist circles simultaneously? This year I have been appointed and asked to step into several leadership roles within community, grassroots organizing spaces, and on the university level— positions that are arguably odds. Okazawa-Rey’s discussion around ethics and when do activist-scholars draw their “ethical lines” without imploding one’s career or being dismissed as inauthentic by comrades has been at the forefront of my thinking for the past few months. How can we go about delineating our politics and trying to ensure that they meet the needs of the academy, community, and grassroots organizing? Is this even possible, especially working within neoliberal institutions?

Another observation that I recognized in this week’s readings was the various ways in which “public,” “community,” and “activist” were used seemingly interchangeably. While I do not perceive these three terms to be the same, why are they deployed in a similar fashion? It is important that we safeguard (without policing or gatekeeping) what it means to do community-based and activist-scholarship as we’ve begin to witness the appropriation, privatization, and commodification of “public scholarship.” Moreover, many forms of “public scholarship” are also very conservative and do not necessarily help to advance the good of the public nor social movements. I think a good example of this is evidenced in the recent discussions around the #sciencemarch. While many scientists have come to the forefront to highlight why science researchers and organizations should continue to be funded, many also hold the belief that science is a-political, while ignoring the troubling past science has had with regards to issues around race, gender, sexuality, etc. Thus, while it is great to see scientists taking a stand, many are engaging in this form of public scholarship, via marches, twitter and social media discussions with the public, articles on mainstream outlets, etc., for the supposed good of public, but often for the good of their own livelihood and welfare. It is only now when science is threatened that we see such “public scholarship” coming from the academic elite. Thus, what constitutes public scholarship?