Publish or Perish versus Community Engagement and Activism

I found this unpublished gem today. Now that I am on the other side of tenure, I figured I would share some of my (previously unpublished) thoughts…   ****** I am in my third year on the tenure track as an assistant professor. I have had a fair number successes, a few failures, and some major obstacles. As I have highlighted elsewhere, I have been successful in the area of publishing my work–I have co-edited three books and written book chapters and journal articles. I have two books on the way and a slew of working papers. I am proud of all of it all. Yet, I am struggling to feel completely fulfilled. With my roots in activism, organizing, and community engagement, I long to be more deeply connected with my communities– be they my neighborhood, region, university, or identity group. I have tried to attend local meet-ups and meetings; I have presented a different community events. Yet, it is not enough. *****   For reference, I am now in my 5th...

Gratitude to the ‘The Folks of Flint’

I had the privilege of working on a project of Dan White’s, The Folks of Flint, in 2017. I was introduced to Dan through the Jan Worth-Nelson, the editor-in-chief of East Village Magazine. After wrapping up fieldwork for my book Power, Participation, and Protest in Flint, Michigan. I spent the next month interviewing Flint residents about their life stories and their relationship to the city. I recently learned of the passing of Norm Mercier, who I interviewed that summer. We sat on his porch for more than an hour talking about what Flint meant to him. Many of the stories I collected for the project have stuck with me, especially Norm’s. I am grateful for the time I spent with Norm. I am grateful to the people of Flint who welcomed me into their homes and trusted me to share their stories. I hope that in all of my work, whether short-form narratives or long-form book, I continue to uplift the stories and experiences of Flint residents and community members in meaningful and authentic...

[Personal] Reflection on Identifying as a “Critical Scholar”

Originally Prepared for: ARNOVA Conference, Austin, TX, November, 2018   My entrance into critical nonprofit and voluntary action studies was winding and non-linear. This reflection essay highlights my journey to identifying as a critical scholar, how I see this identify in relation to my identities as a scholar-activist and feminist, how critical perspectives have shaped my approach to both teaching and research. While it may be perceived as academic navel-gazing, the goal of this essay is to highlight that critical scholarship is not an exclusive club, but a broad umbrella under which a range of critical perspectives are valued. I was not trained in big “C” Critical Theory, but instead stumbled into it. My undergraduate degree was in psychology, and I minored in women and gender studies. My graduate degree was in public (and nonprofit) administration. With a few notable exceptions, my course work emphasized professionalism and a neo-managerialist approach to in public and nonprofit management, rather than public service and social equity (for a discussion of these two conflicting paradigms see Eikenberry & Kluver 2004; Denhardt and Denhardt, 2015; Rivera & Nickels, 2018). So I sought out course work in macro-social work, reading and discussing Freire (1970); I independently read and tried to find ways to apply feminist theory to my nonprofit (and public admin) coursework. For a long time, I did not know that there were scholars that merged these areas of research and practice under the broad mantle of critical nonprofit (and critical PA) studies. In fact, I was often conflicted in classes, frustrated that activist, organizing, and social movement voices/ theories were not represented in course syllabi....

Three co-edited books!

This last year has been a whirlwind. I am wrapping up my second year on the tenure-track with some successes and some failures. For today, I am focusing on the successes! Between May 2017 and April 2018, I published three co-edited books. Each of the books is very different. Two are academic books and the other a collection of essays, poetry, and personal narratives. Two of the books focus on urban and community-based issues and the other on feminist approaches to teaching and learning. All of the books, to some extent, focus on power and oppression. And, all three of the books explore the ways in which individuals and organizations navigate and/ or respond to structures of inequality, paying close attention to strategies for creating social change. All of the books are available for purchase: Feminist Pedagogy, Practice, and Activism: Routledge or Amazon Grand Rapids Grassroots: Belt, SchulerBooks (support a local book store!), or Amazon Community Development and Public Administration Theory:...

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.