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Fieldwork and Parenting

I am a parent. I am also a qualitative researcher, whose work often requires time in the field. In my last blog post I talked a bit about the challenges of avoiding “parachute research.” In that post I discussed the importance of continual reflexivity–the process of self-reflection wherein I am constantly checking my own power and privileged as the researcher and how my “position” might influence not only my analyses, but the people with whom I interact.  It requires that I adapt my research to the needs and interests of the people with whom I am working, continually reflecting on my role in the community. Avoiding parachute research, also requires being present. Working with communities, building relationships with people, and gaining a sense of “life on the ground” requires fieldwork. Yet, doing fieldwork as a parent is complicated. Some scholars have the ability to spend a year doing field work, others a few months. What do you do when your time is dictated, in part, by your role as a parent? I can’t leave for a year. For one, my kids are school-aged. Second, I have a job that requires me to be present. So, I typically carve out  3-6 week periods during the summer months to “live” in the community. I rent rooms from local residents, stay at local B&Bs, and attend an array of events, meetings, and get-togethers. I schedule my interviews during this time, too. So, as I am trying to be continually reflexive, I am also thinking about my role as a parent: “I wonder how the kids are doing?” or “I can’t wait to see my kids.” Thus, my identity and role...

Parachute Researchers

The term “parachute researcher” refers to scientists, inclusive of social scientists, that descend on a local community (which is not their own) to collect specimens, data, or interviews; quickly leaving to conduct their analysis elsewhere. It is often associated with researchers from wealthy countries swooping in to poorer countries uninvited, but it can be applied to people like me, as well: a privileged white academic, interested in understanding the lived experiences of a majority minority city.

Empowered Participation: What Cities (including Flint) Can do to Foster Meaningful Participation

To date, most of my work has focused on how local governments and states are becoming less participatory as a result of budget cuts and resource shortfalls. These fiscal pressures are compounded by popular movements that call for “less government” or “smaller government” in favor of public-private partnerships and the contracting of the public services to private entities, often compromising (or eliminating) time-consuming deliberative and participatory processes.

What I learned while studying Flint’s Municipal Takeover: Pt. III

I have been warned by numerous scholars, and practitioners alike, to keep an open mind about the use of municipal takeovers. These policies are not designed, they have argued, with malicious intent. Instead, they offer, these policies are intended to help fiscally distressed municipalities deal with the reality that they are facing municipal bankruptcy or dissolution.

In other words, would I rather see these cities go bankrupt? Would it be better that the state did nothing and watched the city grow poorer and poorer? No!

That does not, however, mean that municipal takeover policies should go unquestioned. The impact of these policies are real—and deserve scrutiny.

What I learned while studying Flint’s Municipal Takeover, Pt. 2

My research found that despite politicians’ claims to the contrary, municipal takeovers are in fact political, and have significant political consequences at the local level. By taking an in-depth, policy-focused look at the municipal takeovers in Flint, I found that the state’s intervention not only suspended the authority of local elected officials in the short-term, but reshaped the local political landscape for the long term.

What I learned while studying Flint’s Municipal Takeover, Pt. 1

In the summer of 2015, months before the city of Flint made national, rather international, headlines for the water crisis, I began my fieldwork in Flint. I was there to conduct research on the state’s takeover of Flint, under the now infamous “PA 4”. I wanted to understand the political impact of the takeover. At the time, I was a PhD candidate at Rutgers University in Camden, New Jersey studying public policy and administration with a focus on community development and urban politics.

A Day Without a Woman: International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day. It is a day dedicate to celebrate the successes and achievement of women and gender non-conforming people. It is a day dedicated to action. (It also happens to be a day with a long history, with roots in the 1908 women’s march in NYC and official designation as International Women’s Day by the UN in 1975).

Blogging and Community Engagement

I am one of those academics. You know, the kind that labels themselves with buzzwords like: a scholar-activist or publicly engaged scholar. These are common terms used to differentiate traditional academics from the more applied, participatory academics. Both of these identities–scholar-activist and public engaged scholar–emphasize the relationship that the scholar has with the broader public.