Academic journal article Human Organization

Engaged Universities, Community Based Research Organizations and Third Sector Science in a Global System

Academic journal article Human Organization

Engaged Universities, Community Based Research Organizations and Third Sector Science in a Global System

Article excerpt

2010 Malinowski Award

Over the past three decades, since the civil rights era of the late 1960s and 70s, public science funding has shifted to support for military and industrial purposes and the health sciences. Most universities are now heavily subsidized through private sources, shifting the emphasis in research away from civic society engagement. Engaged scholarship and research conducted by, with and for communities are approaches that together have the potential to reinstate an emphasis on public scholarship that addresses structural inequities and social, health and cultural disparities. This paper argues that among various approaches to engaged social science, Action Research, endorsed by four generations of anthropologists in the United States, Canada and Latin America has the greatest potential to create knowledge that can be used to address social injustices at the local, national and international levels. Subsuming Action Research conducted by university centers, community based research organizations and other community partners under the rubric of Third Sector Science, the paper links third sector anthropologists with other national and global movements promoting action research to transform the nature of science and scientific knowledge production. It concludes with suggestions for new science and communication technology that can link people in communities with global social movements and the construction of new knowledge "from the ground up."

Key words: action research, science, community engagement, community based research, technology

I begin by paying tribute to the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowsky after whom this award is named, who saw things whole, who taught us to consider all of the dimensions of the local community and who represented embodied learning through language, experience and the teachings of local knowledge bearers, a process we call participant observation. I also want to thank Mexico, the great country that embraced me, taught me local culture, put up with my efforts to interview in bad Spanish and showed me how to understand the changing rural education situation in the context of global industrialization and its failures with respect to local workers and students. Thanks to anthropologist Larissa Lomnitz and colleagues, my first book on schooling and industrial development appeared in a publication series of the Mexican government Sep-Setenta specifically to disseminate research findings to the public (Schensul 1976).

This paper represents an ethnography of sorts, a journey as a social scientist through the university, various communities, across disciplines, across the United States, across national borders and around the globe. It is an attempt to situate the Institute for Community Research, a Community-Based Research Organization (CBRO), and organizations like it that produce scientific knowledge emerging from the communities and people who experience the consequences of structural inequities and are trying to bring about changes in their lives.

In their article seeking the revitalization of applied anthropology, Rylko-Bauer, Singer, and Van Willigen (2008) conclude with the following:

If pragmatic engagement becomes the realized goal of anthropology, then relevance will surely follow. But this requires a willingness to take stands on pressing human issues, to be ethically and politically subjective while methodologically objective, and to accept advocacy (however it is being defined) as part of a disciplinary framework that already values theory and research excellence. Finally, pragmatic engagement requires a willingness to not only shape public discourse but also offer evidence-based solutions to social problems.

I move from this article, a solid contemporary overview of applied anthropology in the first decade of the new millennium, to consider the structure of scientific knowledge production, and to seek for spaces where value based advocacy oriented research focused on addressing inequitable distribution of power and resources can join to create a local/global force for new knowledge, in partnership with marginalized voices. …

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