Beyond activism/academia: militant research and the radical climate and climate justice movement(s)

Russell, B. (2015), Beyond activism/academia: militant research and the radical climate and climate justice movement(s). Area, 47: 222–229

This paper looks at the problems that arise between activism and the academia and how researchers can move beyond these problems in terms of knowledge production and operations. The author introduces the article by looking at how to define knowledge production that is based on struggle. A researcher engaging in militant research must find a way to link their intellectual and their political concerns. The author argues that militant research as an approach rejects the whole problem of the academic/activist and holds the academic component as irrelevant because militant research does not take the university as referent. The author thus makes a distinction of militant research as an orientation and as a process. The approach refutes the perspective that activism and research are opposed and stresses that the most important principle for academics committed to social change is to make strategic interventions collectively with the social movements they belong to.

Abstract: The problematic of the activist/academic relationship has been a source of sustained concern for radical Geographers over the past 15 years. Drawing on my personal experience within the radical climate movement(s), this paper looks to develop on the commitments of militant research, contribute to the development of militant ethnography as a research approach and consider the subsequent implications for thinking through the activist/academic problematic. Elaborating on the epistemological distinction between ‘truth relaying’ and ‘knowledge production’, it is contended that militant research is an orientation and process synonymous with the disavowal of positivist knowledge and the construction of situated partisan knowledge(s). Rather than the (social) science of transmitting truth, research thus becomes the art of producing tools you can fight with. From this perspective, the activist/academic problematic is not a ‘neutral’ problem but a product of a certain way of knowing associated with the academy. The paper concludes that our concern should not be to navigate between (and thus reiterate) the fields of ‘activism’ and ‘academy’, but to surpass the problematic altogether. We are tasked not with reproducing the university in its current form, but reimagining it as a machine for the production of other worlds.

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