Revealing critical alternatives

Our blog was formally launched yesterday during our “Making a Difference: Generating Impact from your Research” seminar. The day was based around a discussion of impact, which revealed the tensions between a neoliberal view of the commodification of research driven by metrics and the demands for quantitative proof, and longer-term, participatory engagement within and across communities.

The discussion of tensions highlighted a complex set of positions and questions.

  1. For whom and what are we measuring impact? How does it increase citizen participation versus technocratic control of initiatives and lives? How do we trace impact in a way that respects our emergent social relationships?
  2. How do researchers engage with communities that are alien to them, in an inclusive and democratic way? In this, what roles are revealed or necessitated?
  3. Does the discourse of academic research, its languages, methodologies and cultures, threaten community engagement or participation in tracing impact or catalysing transformation?
  4. Where participative methodologies are deployed, what is the impact of the researcher’s role and social relationships on outcomes?
  5. How do we balance the pragmatism needed to meet the needs of project or programme funding, with the ideals of academic activism in developing a critical analysis of hegemonic positions? In a space of constant interaction with communities and policy-makers, and as academics living in the world, how do we balance our responsibilities? In recognition that we are part of the on-going crisis of capitalism, how do we ruthlessly criticise its manifestations, in order to offer alternatives that are beyond it?
  6. How do we reconcile our work within established groups and networks, as well as in informal communities of practice, in order to challenge dominant positions?
  7. Within the marketisation/privatisation of higher education, is the dichotomy of research/teaching universities meaningful? If not, then how does DMU define itself and its practices in diverse communities? Do the austerity measures of the coalition government offer us the threat of the further monetisation of our work and commodification/disenfranchisement of ourselves? Or do they offer the re-politicisation of estranged communities in the context of developing alternatives? If the latter then what is the role of the academic activist in the critique of policy and practice?
  8. How do we engage students-as-producers of critical research, and in reimagining and reproducing alternatives in policy and practice?

What emerged from the seminar was a sense of the dynamic, relational nature of impact, against a functional reading of it. This dynamism was described in terms of academic-community engagement, and the responsibility of developing trusted, participative encounters with diverse groups and individuals. It is important that we ask in whose name are we doing our research? What are our positions, agendas and roles, and how do those impact our work? We hope that this blog will help develop conversations in these spaces.

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