Soon, you will find here our Engaged Vocabularies. On this page, we theorize a set of critical concepts that are central to our project. Our aim is to unsettle and demystify taken for granted terminology, and contribute new critical vocabularies, which centre refugee experiences and connect existing academic, practitioner, and community knowledges. As well, we define a set of contextual vocabularies, which, while particular to the Netherlands, South Africa, and/or the United States, may resonate widely and help to enrich understandings, approaches, and practices elsewhere.
The engaged vocabularies included in this list so far are:
- (Critically) Engaged scholarship
- Democratic research methodologies
- Capacity building (Infrastructure)
- Sociological imagination
Scholars that identify as ‘engaged’ generally have a social justice orientation. This means that they shape their research in relation to identified community needs, address existing societal problems and use academic knowledge and resources to produce sustainable, beneficial, valuable and relevant outcomes for both communities and universities. Engaged scholars often unsettle existing boundaries, not only between academia and society but also within academia itself. They take for example multi-inter-transdisciplinary approaches or integrate teaching, research, and service (Beaulieu et al., 2018).
Our project investigates challenges and opportunities of a specific kind of engaged scholarship, namely ‘critically’ engaged scholarship. Critically engaged scholars argue that transformative research requires critical reflection on and transformation of dominant exclusive structures that permeate not only society, but also academia, knowledge production and research relationships as such. In other words, critical engagement necessitates researchers to, first, reflect on the historical development of their own thinking and, second, to stay open to and dialogically engage with ideas that emerge from communities themselves (Meekosha et al., 2013).
Thus, societal transformation as well as co-creation of various sources of knowledge, combining intellectually committed grassroots scholarship with theoretical explorations, are the core pillars of critically engaged scholarship. The assumption is that this type of scholarship can play a role in unsettling normalized structures of societal exclusion. In the combination of their critical engagement and co-creation with societal stakeholders and their access to academic knowledge, these scholars have the capacity to make invisible power structures visible and specify new conditions for change, as well as to share responsibility in the process of change (Medina 2014).
Beaulieu, M., Breton, M., & Brousselle, A. (2018). Conceptualizing 20 years of engaged scholarship: A scoping review. PloS one, 13(2), e0193201.
Medina, J. (2014). Communicative Democracy and Solidarity Across Racial and Sexual Differences. In U. M. Vieten (Ed.), Revisiting Iris Marion Young on Normalisation, Inclusion and Democracy (pp. 33–48). https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137440976_3
Meekosha, H., Shuttleworth, R., & Soldatic, K. (2013). Disability and Critical Sociology: Expanding the Boundaries of Critical Social Inquiry. Critical Sociology, 39(3): 319–323.
‘Democratic research methodologies’ refers to research designs that aim to democratize knowledge production. Democratization in the context of research essentially necessitates the use of democratic research methods, such as participatory or co-creative methods (see the entry ‘co-creation’). However, considering subtle, invisible and taken-for-granted forms of exclusion, ‘real’ democratization in the context of research furthermore entails a thorough critical reflection on power during knowledge production. This requires scholars to reflect on (among others) how their own positionality, power relations between themselves and participants, as well as the research approach affect knowledge production (Caretta and Riaño, 2016; Edwards and Brannelly, 2017; Kajner, 2013; Saltmarsh et al., 2009).
Democratic research methodologies then can be used as an umbrella term referring to research designs that advocate for radical changes to traditional research ontologies, epistemologies, methodologies and knowledge use (Edwards and Brannelly, 2017). Examples can be found in inclusive, participatory, collaborative, co-creative, co-productive, dialogic, indigenous, critical race, decolonial, postcolonial and feminist research. The assumption is that such a democratic approach disrupt ‘both the academy and the wider social system because it challenges the binary logic underlying exclusionary and oppressive practices’ (Kajner, 2013: 9). This, arguably, enables the production of knowledge that has more transformative potential to challenge and unsettle dominant exclusive structures (Caretta and Riaño, 2016; Edwards and Brannelly, 2017; Kajner, 2013; Saltmarsh et al., 2009).
Caretta, MA and Riaño, Y (2016) Feminist participatory methodologies in geography: creating spaces of inclusion. Qualitative Research, 16(3): 258–266.
Edwards, R and Brannelly, T (2017) Approaches to democratising qualitative research methods. Qualitative Research, 17(3): 271–277.
Kajner, T. (2013). Beyond the binary: Scholarship, Engagement, and Social Transformation. In: Shultz, L and Kajner, T (eds.) Engaged Scholarship: The Politics of Engagement and Disengagement. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers, pp. 9–20.
Engaging in knowledge co-creation involves cultivating knowledge through the inclusion of multiple sources of knowledge (including experiential knowledges/lived experiences, professional knowledges, and academic knowledges), while also reflecting on how these different types of knowledges interact. Following the tradition of participatory action research (Greenwood & Levin 2006) and interactive research (Svensson et al., 2007), co-creative methods involve people from the social phenomena under study to participate actively in research that envisions social change. Participants take part in the process of knowledge production in ways that increase their agency, include their understanding of their own experience, and strengthen their ability to reflect on the relevance of the knowledge produced for their lives. In this way, not only the outcome but also the process of knowledge production contributes to social change, because the collaborative nature of the process deepens the impact of engaged scholarship in the lives of participants. Participants might contribute to the research project in various ways, for instance by becoming co-researchers, by producing written narratives as research products, or by reflecting on the relevance of specific theoretical constructs to capture their experiences. In our project, the use of co-creation builds on the assumption that the social sciences have a role in enlarging the societal and academic imagination by connecting local, historical, and analytical knowledge to enable actual inclusion of disadvantaged groups (see the entry ‘sociological imagination’). Co-creative processes have the potential to impact the lives of refugee participants, but also to enhance the reflection of stakeholders that are in positions of power. The research process provides a reflective space to transform inclusionary intentions towards practices that make a real difference in the lives of refugees. Narratives of change (see entry ‘narratives of change’) have an important role in prompting this reflection.
Greenwood, D. J., & Levin, M. (2006). Introduction to action research: Social research for social change: SAGE publications.
Svensson, L., Ellström, P.-E., & Brulin, G. (2007). Introduction–on interactive research. International Journal of Action Research, 3(3), 233-249.
Corazonar (Arias, 2012; Santos, 2018) is a wordplay between the Spanish words pensar (think), corazón (heart) and corazonada (hunch), and thus, can be translated as ‘thinking with the heart’. Originally coined by Gustavo Esteva, and deeply connected with the idea of sentipensar (feeling-thinking) coined by Orlando Fals Borda, the concept is present in several indigenous and Afro-descendent communities in the Americas. Corazonar connects the intellectual labour of academia with emotions, such as bravery and empathy, that motivate the researcher to address injustice. From this perspective, emotions do not involve a lack of control or direction, instead, they provide energy and inspiration to leave behind passivity to favour engagement with the social struggle of those we aim to understand as researchers. Opposite to the idea of the university as an ivory tower, where the production of knowledge is somehow separated or disconnected from society, corazonar embodies a way of being-with members of society through reciprocity, sharing and communion.
Arias, P. G. (2010). Corazonar el sentido de las epistemologías dominantes desde las sabidurías insurgentes para construir sentidos otros de la existencia. Calle 14: Revista de investigación en el campo del arte, 4(5), 80-95.
de Sousa Santos, B. (2018). 5. Bodies, Knowledges, and Corazonar. In The End of the Cognitive Empire (pp. 87-104). Duke University Press.
Capacity building as a concept has dominantly been used in development work focused on the empowerment of marginalized communities and individuals. Our definition of capacity building is a critique of this dominant approach and refers instead to a capacity that facilitates questioning of the status quo. This means building necessary reflection and inclusive competence for all stakeholders involved with social justice. It is essential that stakeholders reflect on the taken-for-granted assumptions about marginalized groups to make the inclusionary efforts of policies and organizations effective in practice. There is often a lack of connection between societal initiatives, governmental actors, academic research and the lived experiences of individuals in the margins of society, which risks the ineffective repetition of actions and endeavors in both practice and research. It is therefore vital to give shape to infrastructures that can connect societal actions, research and lived experiences. Such horizontal learning/reflective infrastructure will connect existing knowledge and perspectives from a variety of positions. This kind of capacity building toward inclusion thus refers to the urgent need to improve the reflective capacity of relevant stakeholders with the resources to make a difference (including academia) by connecting them with the perspectives of the groups in the margins.
An example is the co-creation infrastructure (Refugee Academy) we initiated in 2017 at the VU in the Netherlands to enable such learning/reflective spaces that include a variety of societal stakeholders, academics and refugees themselves. Most existing academic research and societal initiatives fail to grasp the subtle yet sustainable forms of exclusion that exist side-by-side with inclusive efforts. Such studies lack the experimental and innovative spirit to go beyond the obvious and produce groundbreaking trajectories of inclusion. Documenting and analyzing refugees’ narratives about their struggles along their path of inclusion is the first essential step. But engaging with those narratives within capacity-building initiatives such as the Refugee Academy is the next crucial step to including stakeholders in identifying sources of exclusion in organizations and to stipulating conditions for change toward inclusion (see entry ‘narrative of change’). Engaging with refugees’ narratives is essential to bring the policies, the research and the initiatives for change closer to the life-worlds of refugees and to co-generate sustainable structures of resistance toward the normalizing power of exclusion. This process necessitates not simply centering the voices and experiences of refugees but centering refugee leadership. Capacity-building networks include academia, community organizations, relevant societal stakeholders and refugees themselves.
The social sciences could have more impact in increasing reflective capacities in society and academia by contributing more innovatively to the quest for increased inclusiveness. As early as 1959, C. Wright Mills (reprint 2000, p. 6) argued for sociology to live up to its promise and moral imperative as a social analysis that is of direct relevance to urgent public issues and insistent human troubles. He called for “the Sociological Imagination” that “enables us to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society.” This imagination is then needed as a quality of mind to connect everyday personal realities with larger social realities (Mills 2000, p. 15). In a world overloaded with information, Mills argues, a sociology that only provides information is unable to perform this challenging task. There is a need for narratives and sociological imagination to make a difference in the quality of the human condition (Jacobsen & Tester 2014, p. 11). In the same vein, Fassin (2013) argues for a critical and public ethnography beyond disciplines that allows for a “presence both involved and detached, inscribed in the instant and over time, allowing precise descriptions and multiple perspectives, thus providing a distinctive understanding of the world that deserves to be shared” (2013, p. 642; see also Abu-Lughod 2016). Inspired by these scholars, critically engaged scholars must take up the challenge of “illuminating the unknown” and “interrogating the obvious” (Fassin 2013, p. 642) in academia and society through reflective journeys in rethinking the conditions of actual inclusion.
Abu-Lughod, L. (2016). The cross-publics of ethnography: the case of “the Muslimwomen”. American Ethnologist, 43(4), 595-608.
Fassin, D. (2013). Why Ethnography Matters: on Anthropology and its Publics. Cultural Anthropology, 28(4), 621-646.
Jacobsen & Tester (2014) M.H. Jacobsen & Tester, ‘Inleiding.’ In: Wat is het nut van sociologie?: gesprekken met Michael Hviid Jacobsen en Keith Tester. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2014, pp. 9-14.
Mills, C. W. (2000).  The sociological imagination. New York: Oxford University Press.