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.
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.
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.