Academic scholars contribute to progressive social change in a variety of ways. Some, like other workers, are involved with unions and advocacy addressing exploitation, exclusion and discrimination in the workplace. Others take part in campaigns and movements unconnected to their paid work. Some undertake research which feeds into policy formation and, along with teaching, provokes discussion and debate among students, academics, and other audiences regarding issues and solutions. There are also scholars whose work specifically researches and seeks to understand social and labour movement activism, some of whom work closely with movement members to identify and address educational, training, strategic and campaigning needs.
In December 2022 Commons Librarian Iain McIntyre facilitated a panel concerning Learning in Movements: Bridging the Scholar-Activist Divide. It was held as part of the Environmental and Sustainable Peace, Social Justice and Creative Activism: Celebrating 40 Years of Peace Studies conference at the University of New England. During the session Dr Ruchira Talukdar (Sapna South Asian Climate Solidarity), Assistant Professor Jennifer Richter (Arizona State University), and Associate Professor Lesley Wood (York University) discussed the challenges associated with scholar-activism as well as practices and examples that demonstrate how it can support and benefit movements.
Dr Ruchira Talukdar
Dr Ruchira Talukdar’s research focuses on the comparative aspects of environmental and climate justice activism between the global North and South. She has worked within the environment movement in India and Australia for nearly two decades. Her PhD thesis compared coal conflicts and protest movements in India and Australia, with an emphasis on the intersections between grassroots and Indigenous people’s movements and mainstream environmental activism. She co-founded Sapna South Asian Climate Solidarity, an Australia-based South Asian environmental network, to link South Asian migrant experiences of climate change in Australia and South Asia, and mentor the next generation of South Asian climate activists in Australia. She is the author of the Why North-South Intersectionality Matters in Climate Justice: Perspectives of South Asian Australian Youth Climate Activists report.
Jennifer Richter is an assistant professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University. She is also a senior Global Futures Scholar with the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory. Her research interests are at the intersections of science, environment, and society, and she teaches courses on environmental justice, science and society, and energy policy. She is also co-director of a local student activist organization called Local to Global Justice, which brings together local activists with students to organize an annual Forum and Festival to highlight community activism locally and internationally.
Lesley Wood is Associate Professor of Sociology at York University in Toronto, Canada. She is interested in how ideas travel, how power operates, how institutions change, how conversations influence practices, how people resist and how conflict starts, transforms and ends. Her books include Crisis and Control (Pluto, 2014), Direct Action, Deliberation and Diffusion (2012) and co-author of the third edition of Social Movements 1768-2012 (Pluto, 2012). She is on the editorial board of Interface: A Journal For and About Social Movements.
Conference Program and Sessions