English Research Practice

Lessons from a call-out and a shout-out

Doing activist research is very rewarding, but also very challenging. Collaborative efforts – especially as individuals in a neoliberal society – can be highly emotional and conflicting. Experiencing a call-out and a shout-out in the past weeks taught me about the importance of being upfront and promoting mutual support in academia and activism.

I learned what a call-out is the hard way. In February, some activists I know called out “brown organizations” for not showing support for trans representation. That included ARMA Alliance, which I co-coordinate. Emotions took over me. First, puzzlement (Why are people with whom we collaborate calling us out?). Then, anxiety (What have we (not) done?). Then, anger (Why didn’t they talk directly to us before or instead of calling us out?). Then, rationality (How to react critically, but respectfully?).

We ultimately responded, but the emotions remained. I’ve been angry and frustrated. Not because of the criticism. It is valid. So, I’m reminding myself not to hold grudges and avoid collaborating with those who called us out.

The problem, for me, was the method. I know I work a lot for the collective despite the individual need to build a career and the competitivity of the funding system. Some people who called us out know that too. Then, why calling out people supportive of your cause (even if not on social media) to whom you have direct access? Wouldn’t “calling in” – or opening an upfront dialogue – be more fair? Isn’t constructive feedback a better method to build allyship than agressive/sarcastic public criticism?

If nothing else, at least this experience has taught me how not to treat others who are also committed to progressive changes in society.

Fortunately, conviviality in research and activism can also be positive and reassuring. Yesterday, I learned another important lesson. I noticed someone had tagged ARMA Alliance on Facebook. The Anti-Racist Forum, a sister initiative in Finland, used the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination as an opportunity to “give a shout-out to some of the organisations and collectives doing crucial work in the field“. ARMA Alliance was there. It felt amazing. Not in the sense of making me fee full of myself, but of feeling energized to keep going in the often rocky path of solidarity and collective action. A shout-out can be an important display of empathy, recognition and respect.

After all, we all need mutual support. In that sense, it became clear to me that call-ins and shout-outs are way more effective methods to maintain healthy collective action than call-outs. When individualism and competition already threat to distract all of us from solidarity, being respectfully critical and empathetic can make the struggle less painful for all of us.

RECOMMENDED READING: The text “Lessons from the 60s“, by the brilliant writer and activist Audre Lorde, helped me put the feelings that led to this reflection into historical perspective.

English Research Practice

Dealing with Feelings in Social Sciences

The more I listen to scholars and activists who write about coloniality and structural racism in society and academia, the more I understand the origins of the intense feelings I feel as a researcher and learn how to deal with them.

Since I started my university life in 2003, I don’t remember having a single day without shifting from heart-pounding excitement (ex.: figuring out theories that explain how race and inequality work) to depressing frustration (ex.: wondering if I’m good enough to be a ‘proper’ scholar) and suffocating anger (ex.: identifying how some scholars build successful careers by ignoring and/or benefiting from inequalities).

The problem is that the Westernized university doesn’t usually help us deal with the emotional aspect of doing research. By emotional aspect I am not referring here to mental health and well-being (which is important and to which support is also lacking), but how feelings affect our creative production as researchers. For example, I’ve come to realize that of the texts I have written as a researcher, my favorite ones are those in which I didn’t pretend to be objective, even if remaining self-critical and scientifically rigorous. I can feel my love, my joy, my uncertainties and/or my anger in them.

The problem is that the default expectation in academia is that scientific validity requires a researcher to be objective. And even though I know as a fact that social scientists are never fully objective, this requirement still affects my mindset especially when I sit to write. In my mind, for example, preparing articles for peer-reviewed journals leads me to a spiral of inner-conflict between intellectual honesty and pretense of objectivity that often leads me to leaving many articles unfinished.

That’s why listening to academic and activist voices about coloniality and racism in society and academia has been so important to me. Especially if those who speak belong to marginalized social groups. Without any pretense of objectivity, they denounce structural inequalities in knowledge production while contesting inequalities and acting to dismantle them. In addition to what they say, what they do also serve as politically engaged academic practices to be followed. For example, how scholars construct networks for practical action together with activists while not neglecting their intellectual and pedagogical duties as professionals in academia.

In a way, listening and reading to engaged scholarship provides powerful lessons for us to deal with the feelings that our research work cause and, most importantly, to use them – the excitement, joy, frustration and anger – as fuel to our intellectual, pedagogical and society-changing contributions.