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...

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

This post was originally published in FNU’s Our Community, Our Voice newspaper. It is reprinted here with permission.  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. My research has examined how community members respond when their voices are silenced or discredited by local and state leaders. In Flint, this included the elimination of citizen advisory councils and local ombudsman’s offices (among other things) under municipal takeover. When confronted with disproportionate policy burdens (perceived or actual), these community members sought out alternative forms of engagement. They organized coalitions of activists and community residents. They led recall petitions. They organized demonstrations, protests, and actions at the local, state, and national levels. When pathways for participation were eliminated, community activists found alternative means of making their voices heard. Should this be necessary? This is outside the scope of this article. But the message is important: people want to be involved and there should be mechanisms for meaningful engagement. What then is the alternative to this scenario? What might a program that fosters participation and raises up the voices of residents look like? There is a lot written about participatory governance in both theoretical and practical terms. Here, I will focus on a one practical model, participatory budgeting, that may be relevant in Flint,...

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). Today–March 8, 2017– is also that day that the Women’s March on Washington organizers called for a general strike: “a day without a woman.” Thus, today I am striking. I will not be going into the office, I have arranged to Skype in for an important meeting. I will wear red for the call/ meeting. I will not buy anything today, but I will organize the massive amount of Girl Scout cookies that will be dispersed to my troop tomorrow. I will cook. I will read to my kids at night (maybe from their new book: Rad American Women A-Z) I will use this time to write letters to my elected officials. I finish a paper on feminist activism (ok, this is working…). I will make a donation. I will use my privilege on this day to call attention to the important, yet undervalued, role of women in our economy and in our society through my absence, my spending choices, and my writing. I will use my privilege to challenge systems that perpetuate my privilege. But, as many have noted, striking looks different to different people. Some women–including women business owners–have vowed to work today at their women-owned places of employment open as their own form of protest. Some women work in...

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. This is not to say that traditional academics do not care about the public; its that they see the impact of their work as emerging through more traditional pathways: publishing in peer-reviewed journals and debating theory and method with “experts” in their field. The question typically is, “will my work have an impact on the field”? Don’t get me wrong, I care about these issues too! (check out my CV!).  In fact, I enjoy conducting research, writing, and debating the nuances of an issue with other scholars. However, I am also committed to breaking down the ivory tower of academia in whatever ways I can. Brick by brick. Project by project. I am committed to making my research, teaching, and service meaningful to those in the communities where I live and work. It was this commitment to community engagement that led me to writing this blog. I am a member of the Scholars Strategy Network. I have written short articles for trade publications and local newspapers. I will continue to be active in with these ways and through those media. However, this blog offers something more: It offers a way for me to process my ideas and refine my arguments in a publicly accessible manner. I anticipate that the blog will challenge me to refine my writing– making sure that my work is...