Academic journal article Communication Studies

Problems of Exclusionary Research Criteria: The Case against the "Usable Knowledge" Litmus Test for Social Justice Communication Research

Academic journal article Communication Studies

Problems of Exclusionary Research Criteria: The Case against the "Usable Knowledge" Litmus Test for Social Justice Communication Research

Article excerpt

In 1996 five Loyola University faculty members proposed limiting the term "social justice communication research" exclusively to studies whose designs focused on "usable knowledge. " For them, that criterion necessitates that a legitimate social justice research project entail immediate action recommendations and direct researcher intervention in the interests of immediate study participants. This essay contends that such a litmus test restricts acceptable research to short-term case studies aimed at immediately measurable outcomes produced by the researcher him- or herself, qualities that do not necessarily match the complex nature of problems of social injustice) or exclusively yield the type of research outcomes that most powerfully address such problems. Widespread acceptance of their criterion: 1) limits scholarly influence to those few sites of struggle where a researcher's location and finite schedule allow extended personal engagement; 2) encourages counter-productive dependence by lay social justice advocates on Communication researchers; 3) works against discovering and integrating broader, long-term systemic solutions or effectively empowering advocates in other social justice struggles; 4) discourages the innovation of "the scholarship of discovery" with respect to social (in) justice issues in favor of the safer, predictable strategies of responsible scholarship of application" (and vice versa) by necessitating the combination of conflicting objectives in a single scholarly project," and 5) promotes dysfunctional isolation and territoriality within the Communication discipline.

In a 1996 Communication Studies' dialogue section, five Loyola University faculty led by Lawrence R. Frey (1) initiated a discussion on "social justice" research and its role in the Communication discipline (Frey, Pearce, Pollock, Artz, & Murphy, 1996; Pollock, Artz, Frey, Pearce, & Murphy, 1996). As they hoped, their position provoked a lively exchange that included critiques by other social justice scholars including Julia T. Wood (1996) and Josina M. Makau (1996). This essay accepts the Loyola group's closing invitation to extend that discussion (Pollock et al., 1996, p. 151), especially given one member's subsequent claim that presumption has shifted to favor their parameters for identifying and publishing social justice communication research (Pearce, 1998, p. 273).

With seven years' additional perspective and practice, this essay analyzes how drawing such exclusionary boundaries in research is unhelpful, even counter-productive, to the Loyola group's own self-stated goals: (a) promoting interventions that "act as effectively as we can to do something about structurally sustained inequalities," that "must engage and transform social structures," (Frey et al., 1996, p. 111) and that "lead to actions that alleviate social injustices" (Pollock et al., 1996, p. 151); as well as (b) facilitating "a more coherent and systematic approach to [the Communication discipline's] theory, research, and pedagogy about social justice" (Frey et al., 1996, p. 110). Intentionally or not, when applied to research projects in the manner argued by the Loyola group, the group's recommendations are "systematic" in their exclusivity: they confer legitimacy on a single approach to "social justice communication research" and openly reject arguments for more inclusive uses of the label (see Pollack et al.'s 1996 response to Wood, 1996), even when those more inclusive interpretations seem more likely to serve the Loyola group's twin goals for Communication scholars of "doling] good in society while expanding and transforming the theories, methods, and pedagogical practices of those who theorize, research, and teach about it" (Frey et al., 1996, p. 110).

The problem with the Loyola group's perspective is that it advocates not for an additional avenue by which to pursue social justice through Communication research, which would be reasonable, but presents its research model as exclusively and officially what the field should recognize as "social justice communication research. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.