Monday, January 24, 2011

The academic outsider always takes

"The academic outsider always comes into our communities and takes." This is a sentiment that I have often heard articulated throughout my fieldwork, and beyond that, have also felt as a community member looking at many interventions that have been carried out by clueless academic experts. Later in life, as I grew into becoming a scholar within those very ranks of academe that seemed so impervious and out-of-touch, I used the term "academic tourism" to describe projects that went in and came out without really doing something meaningful for the community.

This is why I hope that any project that steps out into the community begins with a clear delineation of its community-specific goals that demonstrate in tangible ways how it would first and foremost meet the needs of community members. More so, I am encouraged by examples in communities that have developed specific guidelines and measurement criteria for evaluating the meaningfulness of proposed projects. When communities are in charge of evaluating project relevance, and ask the question, "What is in this for us?", it gives researchers a chance to reflect upon the actual contributions we make. Hopefully, it also gives us a chance to step outside of our comfort zones or at least start questioning the legitimacy of our knowledge claims which are often developed in complete ignorance of the struggles, priorities, and creative capacities of local communities.

No comments: