A Move Towards Scholar-Activism

Robin Boylorn's picture

There is a relationship and kinship between the academy and social justice movements, especially when we think about feminist and progressive interventions and the myriad ways academics and activists, and academic activists have historically worked together to instigate and sustain change in our local, regional and global communities.  The relationship, however, needs to be egalitarian and not hierarchical.  Oftentimes the ivory tower heralds itself as “above it all” and situates itself as a place that stands above the everyday issues that plague the lives of everyday people.  For those of us who are truly committed to social justice, we need not be invested in the labels and limitations that assume formalized education trumps formalized movement work, or that the academy cannot be used to foster and bridge movement work.

As a formal educator, who also identifies as a scholar-activist, I see the opportunities available for digital humanities work to intervene and assist with movement work, but as a reciprocal dialogue not a one-sided or top-down exchange.  When I participate in movement work I don’t center my credentials because they are not relevant.  I believe the digital humanities should aspire to work with social justice or hashtag movements as participants.  We learn by doing and in the digital humanities there needs to be clear distinctions between scholarly work and community work, which I believe will ensure ethical engagement and accountability so that an academic’s perspective is not privileged over the point of view of someone who is on the ground (or on the internet) doing “the work.”  We can all work together to help create, curate and disseminate information. 

It is imperative that we don’t get caught up on theorizing movements so much that we don’t impact them.  Scholars have particular privileges and platforms that can be used to help forward movements, including social media activist movements, but it is important to understand that not everything needs to be theorized, and if theorizing prevents you from engaging in the movement in the moment, it becomes a hindrance, not a help.