Researcher and Advocate: Using Research to Promote Social Justice Change: Leisure Research Symposium

Article excerpt

"Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other's welfare, social justice can never be attained."

--Helen Keller

The "so what" research question is sometimes the most difficult to answer. At a time of increasing academic pressures associated with the need to publish and generate external research funding we rarely step back and ponder what effect our work will have beyond the realm of an academic environment. How many lives will be affected and hopefully changed for the better based on what we do? Although the concept of translational research is becoming more valued in academic circles, many leisure and recreation departments struggle with how to recognize and incentivize this type of scholarship. Moreover, research that promotes social justice is often produced and disseminated in ways that are less than optimal to the goal of making a difference in the lives of individuals and communities we study (Moodie, 2009; Witt 2000). Despite these challenges, we argue that leisure scholars are in a unique position to generate new knowledge that can be used for advocacy and to promote social change.

Based on his extensive experience with the City Project, a nonprofit legal and policy advocacy organization, we chose Robert Garcia to deliver the 2012 Butler Lecture. Garcia has a strong track record of helping minority communities create urban parks and preserve public access to beaches and trails in Southern California. He has also helped diversify support for and access to state resource bonds, with unprecedented levels of support among minority and low-income communities and billions of dollars for urban parks. Throughout much of this work, Garcia has relied extensively on research to help advocate for change. Garcia's talk, published in this special issue, describes ways in which research can be most useful for those working to promote social justice. The topic seemed particularly relevant this year as issues of social justice seemed to permeate the 2012 Leisure Research Symposium on many levels. From Robert Garcia's Butler Lecture titled Social justice and leisure: The usefulness and uselessness of research to the special panel session on Leisure research for social justice, the growing emphasis on this concept in our field has been highlighted.

Stewart (2012) claimed that social justice research describes injustice and marginalization, explains dominance and oppression, and transforms participants and communities. In his call for a social justice agenda, Dustin (2011) argued:

   We should neither shy away from speaking up and speaking out for
   people at the margins who are oppressed by social, cultural,
   political, and other injustices, nor should we shy away from
   speaking up and speaking out for the environment that is the ground
   of our being (...) It is time we adopt a more caring and connected
   attitude toward the world around us. It is time to replace our
   hubris with the humility that comes with acknowledging multiple
   ways of making sense out of life and multiple ways of believing,
   behaving, and being. (p. v)

The distinct but interrelated lines of inquiry that bring attention to the issues of power, inequality and privilege, and espouse social change for marginalized populations have been developing in the field of leisure research and allied disciplines. Such research has mainly focused on health disparities, growing minority populations, access to quality parks and other recreation environments, and quality of life among people of various age groups, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, and ability levels (e.g., Allison, 2000; Arai & Kivel, 2009; Floyd & Johnson, 2002; Frisby, Crawford, & Dorer, 1997; Johnson & Delgado-Romero, 2012; Parry, 2012; Taylor, Floyd, Whitt-Glover, & Brooks, 2007; Trussell & Mair, 2010). These lines of inquiry are beginning to find a common voice under the umbrella of the social justice movement which has asserted a strong voice in the field of leisure research. …