The anthropology of Alice Goffman is in the news.

The anthropology of Alice Goffman is in the news.  Her work is “crossover” territory.  As a PhD student living in the inner city near U. Penn, a pretty elite university, she wrote a thesis with a novelistic quality. She speaks in the first person about getting to know the “underclass” she writes about as real people.  It’s a “crossover” from anthropology, which is fairly conventional (understanding oriented) work, because she wants her work to make a difference (i.e., be action research!).  Technically she is not an action researcher but her concern for making a difference along with her relational stance puts her right on our welcoming border. She is in the news ironically, for getting too close to her “subjects” (and possibly having committed a crime). I wonder if what makes the work noteworthy is that it wants to make a difference, she seems to really care about justice and all the ways in which it is denied African American men, to many of whom are incarcerated and worse:

So what would real action research for justice look like? How does AR participation fit in? How does community organizing and action learning make things better? How does research make a difference? Here is one answer that offers a nice complement: Participatory Defense is a community organizing model for families and communities to impact the outcome of cases of their loved ones and change the balance of power in the courts:  At the core of their work is convening meetings for people who need them: “We starting holding weekly meetings for families who’s loved ones faced charges. Families would come, share the status of the case, and then the group would come up collectively with tangible ways family and community support could impact the outcome of the case. Every week, families would engage in a range of activities to help their loved one such as – dissecting police reports, securing investigatory material, producing social biography packets and videos that could be used for sentence or charge reduction, and having a presence in the courtroom so prosecutors, juries, and judges knew they’re actions were being watched and held to account.”

I also just learned of Bruce Levitt at The Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts (Cornell University) who brings participative theatre as a way to help prisoners in a local prison work with their issues.  I hope we will learn more about this work here on AR+. What are other examples of how action research/participative approaches make a difference? By creating the groundwork for a very different approach – an approach that may well be useful as failures in our current systems call for alternatives?

 AR+ exists to connect people and promulgate good projects. I believe, as Bjorn Gustavsen suggests, that a project moves to larger scale by influencing new social networks and moving learning from one project to another through that social network. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to build some momentum around justice enhancing projects…