Improvisatory Activist Scholarship

Dance practice as metaphor for participatory action research

Journal: ACME

Authors:Paul Rogé

Date accepted: 2018-01-17

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I define improvisatory activist scholarship as attempts to disrupt commonly-held meanings in research through the skilled negotiation of unexpected circumstances and through attention to the circulation of power among collaborators. Metaphors from the dancing of contact improvisation serve as a bridge to highlight improvisational aspects of participatory action research (PAR). I also trace movement between PAR and engaged ethnography in my research with CEDICAM, a farmer-to-farmer training network in Oaxaca, Mexico. Improvisation is the creative negotiation of an encounter with the unknown or unexpected, sometimes due to a lack of options. In iterative cycles of PAR, improvisational skill increases receptivity to emerging pathways for investigation when unexpected circumstances arise. This is important in transdisciplinary fields like agroecology that closely interface with the complex realities of land-based livelihoods. Extending awareness from the individual to the group and to society at large helps identify effective leverage points for analysis and action. Finally, recognition of the privilege embodied by the activist scholar may encourage power to circulate more equitably in multiple directions to stimulate horizontal communication between actors. These are some of the practical suggestions presented for how an embodied scholarship may embrace improvisation as par for the course.

Keywords: activist scholarship, agroecology, engaged ethnography, improvisation, Mexico, participatory action research