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The Dynamism of Public Scholarship and Public Scholars

By Imagining America | September 13, 2016

michael-aguirreBy Michael Aguirre, a Doctoral student in History at the University of Washington, Seattle and a 2016–2017 Publicly Active Graduate Education (PAGE) Fellow. This PAGE Blog Salon explores themes of intersectionality and public scholarship, important topics of the upcoming Imagining America national conference, Oct. 6-8, 2016, in Milwaukee, WI.

My public scholarship, praxis, and continuous intellectual development involves dialogues between numerous communities. Each of these communities—especially academic and beyond the academe—demonstrate the complex interactions and collaboration that compose public scholarship. From the scholar’s standpoint, succeeding in public engagement requires honesty and active listening with these publics.

Succeeding in public scholarship, like public engagement, means that a group an academic is writing on and about is part of the knowledge-making process. The scholar acts in collaboration with the group rather than in seclusion from the group. While the scholar does have professional responsibilities in their writing—such as the use of jargon and theory—they must also make their work accessible to non-academic audiences. There is a balance that public scholars must strive for between producing scholarship for the academe and communicating with groups beyond the university. In my own work, I assure members of groups that they have the final word on anything I produce. After all, it is their lives and their life’s work that I write about and they have trusted me to be a part of. Reciprocating this trust is a relationship that exists far beyond recognition of the academe and is also more valuable.

Failing as a public scholar can take many forms, yet one example stands out as emblematic: the failure to engage publics. Indeed, I am struggling with how to engage publics outside of academic conferences with my current dissertation topic. This is an intellectual barrier that PAGE members will undoubtedly help dismantle.

Working with feminists of color and non-university groups has produced an enriching dynamic filled with challenges and creative growth beyond what I could have ever foreseen. As was explained to me in a feminist theory course, I was about to struggle with un-learning certain privileges, especially as a heterosexual cisgender Chicano. It was a trying time, both personally and professionally. Nevertheless, I was able to learn and begin a process of practicing women of color feminism. This transformation opened me to new ideas and redefined what I understood as scholarship, publics, and knowledges. While the personal is political, it is also professional since neither of these facets is divorced from each other.

I negotiate my educational, gender, and sexuality privileges by engaging peoples not as specimens for/of public scholarship, but as people that I am eager to learn from and plan together. Mindful of my privileges as a heterosexual cisgender Chicano, I attempt to understand issues and/or goals whether I wholly agree them or not. It is not my position to use my privilege as a method of silencing other standpoints or experiences. Yet, as a Chicano, I do understand how assumptions ascribed to social markers function to delegitimize a person’s concerns or organization’s planning. It is at this intersection that I work with members of a group to counter dismissive views through collaborative writing and presentation of information. As was taught to me by a local organization, no one person can do everything to achieve social change. It is a collective endeavor that requires years of struggle.