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Situated Solidarity, Scholar-Activism and the Images in Our Heads

By Imagining America | September 13, 2017

By Eric Goldfischer, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Geography, Environment and Society at the University of Minnesota, and a 2017-2018 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. 12-14, 2017, in Davis, California.

When I think about the work done by public scholarship, I inevitably return to a powerful quote by Gloria Anzaldua (1987): “Nothing happens in the real world unless it first happens in the images in our heads.” One of the roles of public scholarship, to me, relates intimately to creating those images. But this is not work to be done in isolation, despite the long-held (and not always false) imaginary of academics operating in ivory towers, creating images in their heads based on removal, rather than proximity, to the material impacts of such ideas.

I recently attended a gathering for scholars, activists, and scholar-activists at a large public midwestern University (not my own). For three days, we gathered to talk about our work for housing justice from so many angles and positions: within a university, inside a volunteer-driven organization, and from urban spaces which produce conditions of both oppression and liberation. Our institutions–not just academic, but organizational as well–are inextricably a part of this landscape. The inspiration generated through this gathering came not from armchair theorizing–imagining a more just future without any grounding in the struggles which will get us there–but from acts of what we called “constructed solidarities.” In this process of trying to understand the various barr, we tried explicitly to position ourselves outside of our typical roles–not scholars trying to understand movements, or activists trying to theorize using the tools that scholars present to them. Instead, we complicated social locations in our gathering by explicitly imagining our own shared responsibility in all of our movements–both those which take place through words on a page and those which take place in the streets.

This experience, for me, illustrates one practice of public scholarship intertwined with scholar-activism. Richa Nagar and Susan Geiger (2007) term this process “situated solidarities,” a practice which leans heavily on a politics of resourcefulness (Routledge and Derickson 2015). Academics can resource the communities with which they work not only by more traditional methods of “knowledge production” such as writing, sharing information, and facilitating political education sessions, but also through a quite literal idea of resourcefulness: sharing the resources of the academy, our bodies, and ourselves as part of a daily praxis. In my own work with Picture the Homeless in New York City, that means I often find myself writing notes, or giving rides, or checking out books from a library. But no matter the activity, the goal remains the same: moving the proverbial needle towards justice by altering our collective images in our heads, so that we may all live more freely together.

Works Cited

Anzaldua, G. 1987. Borderlands/La Frontera. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books

Nagar R, Geiger S, 2007, “Reflexivity and positionality in feminist fieldwork revisited” in Politics and Practice in Economic Geography (Sage, London) pp 267–278

Routledge, P. & Derickson, K.D., 2015. Situated solidarities and the practice of scholar-activism. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 33(3), pp.391–407.