New book offers guidance for making research more community-focused

When doing research in vulnerable communities, do academics seek to improve the lives of residents or are they focused on their own publication goals or getting tenure? Too often, according to a new book edited by an SF State scholar, researchers don't work with communities in mutually productive ways -- and that needs to change.

"In research we don't always respect the different forms of knowledge that exist," said Andrew Jolivette, chair and professor of American Indian studies. "I want to change the way we look at research from this top-down model to a model in which we let the community drive the research. Scholars should think of community members as the true experts." 

Associate Professor of American Indian Studies Andrew Jolivette

Professor and Chair of American Indian Studies
Andrew Jolivette

"Research Justice: Methodologies for Social Change," edited by Jolivette and to be released this month, is the first book to explore the topic and offer best practices for researchers to collaborate with communities and empower people to make change.

"This book looks at strategies people are using to privilege forms of knowledge that are not necessarily mainstream and how that leads to community self-determination where political goals and policy reform are guided by the people themselves and not by outside observers," Jolivette said.

"Research Justice" also chronicles situations in which a researcher is investigating a community that he or she also belongs to. One chapter, for example, highlights a research project about undocumented immigrants, conducted in part by researchers who are themselves undocumented, describing the challenges of this scenario and proposing best practices.

Jolivette acknowledges that the kind of community-based participatory research he advocates has increased in recent years, but said there is more work to be done.

"I hope that this book pushes us even further to thinking about research as a radical act of love," he said. "That means opening ourselves to be vulnerable, even as researchers, and considering that while one goal may be publishing articles or getting tenured, it's really the process and relationships that are important."

"Research Justice: Methodologies for Social Change," edited by Andrew Jolivette, will be published by Policy Press at the University of Bristol and distributed in North America by University of Chicago Press.