collaborative research paper

colist at colist at
Wed Mar 24 09:36:59 CST 2004

[ed:  the announcement of James' paper is forwarded with permission 
and thanks to him for the kind words.]

From:           	James Whelan <james.whelan at>

Hello Randy

I need to suspend my subscription to Comm-Org until December.
I'll be leaving the confines of the university to step back out
into the world of environmental campaigning and feel the need to
minimise email traffic during this time. Comm-Org is my favourite
list, though, so I'll look forward to getting back to it.

Late last year, I wrote and presented a paper on collaborative,
community-based research. The title was inspired by your 1999
paper "Are academics irrelevant" - with acknowledgement and link
to the Comm-Org website (I must be the most active Comm-Org
ambassadors in this hemisphere). I'd appreciate the abstract
being sent around the list sometime - with the link to where it's
available online.

keep up the excellent networking!


Are academics  irrelevant? Case studies of collaborative research
with community-based environmental advocates

Whelan, J. (2003)  Proceedings, Inside Out Conference ‘Charting
Uncertainty: Capital, Community and Citizenship’, July 2003,
Ipswich Online

Academics are irrelevant, concluded American union organiser Saul
Alinsky (1969). The higher education sector has been urged to
demonstrate community relevance by engaging with community
problem-solving and action for social justice (Boyer, 1990) and
by acting as ‘significant allies’ of the community advocacy
sector (Stone, 1997). Despite these urgings, most academics
remain strangely silent on social and environmental issues.
Although universities may not overtly discourage speaking out,
the pressures to publish, teach and keep pace with administrivia
inevitably mitigate against many academics’ active engagement
in civil society. More significant obstacles include
conservatism, careerism, ignorance and the threat of political

A variety of factors isolate civil society groups and social
scientists from each other. Academics encounter research-funding
arrangements that increasingly reflect industry priorities.
University reward structures offer little if any recognition for
civil engagement. Activists seeking short-term support from
universities often experience frustration and disappointment. The
cultures of the tertiary and community sectors entail different
values, timeframes and hierarchies.

Griffith University’s Australian School of Environmental
Studies has recently established several partnership initiatives
with the region’s environment movement. In 2003, the School
sponsored a series of workshops for engaged and experienced
environmental and social justice advocates. These workshops offer
personal and professional development in a sector predisposed
primarily toward action rather than reflection. Newcomers to the
environment movement rarely receive education or training to
equip them for the demands of effective advocacy.

In conjunction with this workshop series, the School has
introduced a new Environmental Advocacy elective for postgraduate
students. The course emerged from a three-year collaborative
action research project (Whelan 2002). Its six-month curriculum
entails a significant service-learning element during which
students undertake an internship with an environmental advocacy
organisation in their region. This first-hand experience helps
students develop a critical appraisal of particular environmental
campaigns and foster action learning within the activist

This paper discusses the challenges of establishing these
initiatives within the university environment and presents
feedback from postgraduate and activist participants in both the
course and workshops.

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