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Researching Conflict in the Humanities: Challenges, Practices and Methods

Academic Impact and Activism

Tuesday 11 June 2019

Room MAL G16, Malet Street, Birkbeck

Researching Conflict’s fourth session will focus on the relationship between activism and academia, especially when dealing with such highly partisan and politically charged topics as war and conflict, whose study and memory is both shaped by, and shapes, our current political climate. Transitioning from the first three events, which highlighted issues of reflexivity, interdisciplinarity, and feminist methodologies, this session will focus on the implications of producing purposefully engaged research.

In an era in which researchers’ involvement and visibility in academic life is arguably as important as research itself, and in which funding bodies often require evidence of the impact of research, what shape does a researcher’s political implication takes? We previously addressed the question of how one’s political beliefs blend into and influence the very methodologies of research, and to what extent we are able to acknowledge this influence. How, why, and to what effect, are these beliefs then transferred from strictly specialist circles to have an impact upon civil society?

Many researchers today set out with an overt political agenda, and go on to contribute to political discourse and engage in activism, armed with the legitimacy the status of ‘academic’ affords them. What do the diverse modes and intensity of an academic researcher’s activism—from abstaining to participate in political activism through to clicktivism and hashtag activism, open partisan membership and participation in public protests (at times leading to imprisonment or torture)—mean, and what are their ethical and methodological implications? What is the relationship between emotion and activism? Are there circumstances in which political activism distracts from academic freedom? In our era of ‘post-truth’, what exactly may an academic researcher’s political roles be, from remaining in the opposition to established forms of power, to taking on policy advisory roles, to technocracy?

More broadly, this session seeks to re-examine and bring up-to-date the question of the political and moral ‘responsibility of intellectuals’ – over fifty years after Noam Chomsky’s influential article, written in the context of the Vietnam War. Does the researcher, who gains and produces knowledge under the (highly-contested) banner of the so-called 'pursuit of truth', have a responsibility towards society, and who defines what this responsibility is? Or can the researcher herself remain removed from active political life, under the assumption that once one's research is written and presented in the usual mechanisms of academia, it will eventually be picked up by policy makers to inform their decisions? In other words, does academic responsibility and morality simply equate to ‘the pursuit of truth’ or is it inextricably linked with an active engagement towards social progress?

The event will consist of a talk by an established scholar, discussions of assigned readings, and networking, with informal presentation and discussion of your own research.

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Later Event: 12 June
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