Beyond the laboratory: exploring scholar activism and occupational identity during the March for Science and People’s Climate March

Authors: Jeffrey Swofford*, Arizona State University, Sonja Klinsky, Arizona State University
Topics: Higher Education, Global Change, Environment
Keywords: scholar activism, science activism, occupational identity, climate change
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/14/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Napoleon A1, Sheraton, 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Tensions about the possibility and desirability of academic scholars’ traditional role as objective, disinterested knowledge providers in the face of public policy challenges such as climate change have emerged in a range of contexts. Individual and institutional calls for research to extend beyond the laboratory suggest that the social contract for research is changing. Interestingly, despite arguments for and against scholar advocacy, there has been little investigation of the extent to which scholars’ occupational identities are shifting.

Political advocacy from scholars takes multiple forms, but physical participation in public protests is a highly visible embodiment of this. Shortly following Donald Trump’s inauguration, the March for Science and People’s Climate March took place one week apart in Washington DC during April 2017. Using on-the-spot interviews (n=310) and post-march surveys (n=385), this study investigates the extent to which participation in public protests is perceived as part of scholars’ occupational role. Participants were asked questions exploring their rationales for engagement, the extent to which they self-perceive this engagement to be part of their occupation, and their intentions for marching. Nearly two-thirds of respondents believe that scholars should engage in direct political protest or activism. Meanwhile more than one-third of participants—including scholars and non-scholars—indicated that they participated in the march as part of their occupation. These results suggest that while the role of scholars in advocacy may be shifting, examining only scholar-activism may be missing the potential that public policy issues such as climate change have in shifting occupational identities more generally.

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