About

As researchers, we often want to make material and social changes through our work. Regardless of our institutional affiliations and disciplines, there are concrete ways to achieve this, many of which are not taught in traditional university methods courses where many (though not all) of us are trained. This bibliography is a resource for thinking about how we can make material and social change during our research, through methods and methodologies, rather than after data has been collected. We call these action-based methodologies. Some are explicitly activist, while others might be about making more ethical collaborations. It does not matter if you think of yourself as activist, advocacy-based, or if you just want to think about doing good with your research. The navigation on the right, as well as the menu items above, will organize the bibliography based on key terms.

This bibliography is limited to articles and texts with concrete guides for how to conduct a method or methodology on the ground, rather than texts that theorize methodologies generally. While we found there were a lot of texts talking about ethics and methods, there were few that told us how to do ethical and action-based methods. If there is a text you’d like to add, please leave a citation and annotation/description in the comment field below. This is an annotated bibliography; we only post texts with annotations.

This bibliography was created by graduate students in an Activist Research Methods class at Memorial University of Newfoundland, and is now maintained by Max Liboiron. Contact: mliboiron (at) mun.ca

A glossary

Activist Research: Activist research is about using or doing research so that it changes material conditions for people or places. It is different than cultural critique, where texts are written with political conviction, but no concrete changes are made on the ground. A good reading for this is: Hale, C. R. (2001). What is activist researchSocial Science Research Council, 2(1-2), 13-15.

Advocacy: Advocacy research is primarily persuasive. It is carried out with the intention of providing evidence and arguments that can be used to support a particular cause or position.

Citizen Science: Citizen science is science carried out by non-accredited researchers, meaning people without science degrees. There is a wide range of what counts as citizen science, from accredited scientists using laypeople to gather measurements but not otherwise influencing research, to participatory citizen science where communities are in charge of forming their own research questions, research designs, and analyzing data.

Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR): CBPR is a partnership approach to research that involves, for example, community members, organizational representatives, and researchers in all aspects of the research process and in which all partners contribute expertise and share decision making and ownership. It is often associated with health research.

Decolonizing Research: What counts as legitimate research within policy, academia, industry, and the public sphere is determined by colonial institutions. Decolonizing methodologies means developing Indigenous and non-western ways of doing research and knowing the world within a research context.

Ethics: While university research requires institutional ethics (in the United States, they are called the IRB), activist and action-based research methods require an additional set of value-based guidelines to help us carry out our relations with collaborators, research subjects, and the local context in which we work. Industry and corporations also engage in action-based research methods–for example, market research, customer surveys, counter studies–but these have fundamentally different ideas of what the highest good is that all research must align with.

Evaluation: Action-based research is about making change. So how do we tell if we’ve made that change? Most research stops after findings have been disseminated, but action-based research must continue after dissemination to see if the project worked. An example of a evaluation checklist is Daniel Stufflebeam/Social Impact’s Program Evaluation Summary MetaEvaluation Checklist.

Feminist Methodologies: Feminist methodologies are varied, but tend to have a few common aims or characteristics, including seeking to overcome biases in research, bringing about social change, including diversity, and acknowledging the position of the researcher. Often, though not always, feminist methods are used when research is about women, but they are applicable to any content.

Methods: For our purposes, a method is the “how to” of research. They describe the specific actions a researcher takes to gain, adjudicate, analyze, or evaluate knowledge. For example, interviewing is a method.

Methodologies: For our purposes, methodologies refer to the overarching values and systems that guide methods. For example, feminist research is a methodology and would guide how interviewing (a method) is done.

Militant Research: Militant research is about doing research with or for a social movement or revolution. A good introductory reading on the principles of militant research is: Situaciones, C. (2003). On the researcher-militant. trans. Sebastian Touza, in Utopian Pedagogy.

Reflexivity: Reflexivity is the process of examining both oneself as researcher and the relationship between researcher and research subject (or collaborator). It involves examining one’s “conceptual baggage,” biases, assumptions, and preconceptions, and how these affect research decisions.

Refusal: Refusal is a practice by which researchers and research participants together decide not to make particular information available for use within the academy. Its purpose is not to bury information, but to ensure that communities are able to respond to issues on their own terms. An ethnographic refusal is intended to redirect academic analysis away from harmful pain-based narratives that obscure slow violence, and towards the structures and institutions that engender those narratives. It is a method centrally concerned with a community’s right to self-representation. For an overview of the method, see Zahara, A. (2016). “Refusal as Research Method in Discard Studies,” Discard Studies.

Participation: Participation is a form of collaboration where “everyday” people are involved in research, design, or planning processes, and has become mainstream in a wide range of situations. It is thought to be a way to involve users or stakeholders in a meaningful way, and is considered an inherent good. However, the practice has also been heavily critiqued because the range of activities activities described as “participatory” can also be colonial, extracting value from the periphery to return it to the center of power. See Cooke, B., & Kothari, U. (2001). Participation: The new tyranny?. Zed Books.

Participatory Action Research (PAR): The main characteristic of PAR is that research questions, design, data collection, analysis, and dissemination are done with communities in control. Rather than research subjects, people in PAR become full collaborators. This means that research is usually done to address a local problem, and is designed for action. For an overview of PAR, see Brydon-Miller, M., Greenwood, D., & Maguire, P. (2003). Why action research?. Action research, 1(1), 9-28.

Participatory Development: Participatory development seeks to engage local populations in development projects; it is considered more “bottom up” rather than the “top down” processes usually employed in development work. Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) is one method within this larger methodology. Note that the World Bank and other neoliberal institutions have begun using participatory development methods in the global south since the advent of the methodology in the 1970s.

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6 comments

  1. This site is so incredible. What an amazing resource. THANK YOU so much to all who made this possible and contributed. I didn’t see Virginia Eubanks “Double-Bound: Putting the Power Back into Participatory Research” from Frontiers (2009, 30.1) but maybe I missed it! Her book, Digital Dead End is also one of the best books written using activist research! (http://digitaldeadend.com/)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much for making this site! I have a few professors and advisors that are sympathetic to activism in academia, but the department, nor the greater university, has any structure for guiding those with a pasion. Thank you again!

    Like

  3. This has very helpful thinking and resources. We created a task force process in Oakland, California during which 800 people participated in 41 task forces to research, report and act on policies from land use to public safety to education. About 2/3 of the recommendations were carried out by the Mayor and staff, and some became movements for diversifying the teaching force and strengthening local hire. I am an academic and an activist. I was worked in the office of Oakland’s then-progressive Mayor at the time and wrote a book about it “Organizing to Change a City” (2012) Peter Lang.

    Like

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