Published online by Cambridge University Press: 01 September 2022
Working alongside 30 individual contributors, the authors are two researchers working in research-intensive higher education institutions in the UK. We are long-standing collaborators whose research interests convene around the politics, policies and practices of participation, particularly at the neighbourhood or local level. The scholarship of individuals such as C. Wright Mills, Harold Lasswell and J.K. Gibson-Graham inspires us in claiming a role for research in building public value and generating new democratic potentialities. We see ourselves as engaged scholars, who want to promote democratic and progressive values through our work, particularly through our collaboration beyond the academy with policy makers, practitioners, activists and ordinary citizens. Our work is informed and, we would argue, strengthened by recognising the value of different forms of expertise and by actively seeking to contribute and have appeal and resonance outside of academia.
We are conscious of – and indeed, have sympathy with – the accusation of a ‘relevance gap’ (British Academy, 2008) which is oft made regarding academic research. We recognise that the ways that research is weighted and valued within the academic community can serve to perpetuate a particular hierarchical ordering that disincentivises collaborative, transdisciplinary and applied work (Dowling, 2008). This ordering speaks to a wider debate in the social sciences and humanities about the purpose and value of research. Research that involves collaboration outside academia, that is problem centred and seeks to address real-life concerns is too often dismissed or devalued within the academy. Such work is perceived as simply fulfilling a technocratic demand for ‘evidence’ for policy making or as a naïve co-option or collusion with a wider neoliberal project. The work of Gibson-Graham presents a more hopeful position. Drawing from theories of performativity, Julie Graham and Kathleen Gibson assert the constitutive possibilities of research in shaping ‘worlds that exist and in bringing new worlds into being’ through collaboration inside and outside of the academy. We share their questioning of how as academic researchers we may ‘become open to possibility rather than limits on the possible?’ (Gibson-Graham, 2008, p. 614).
So, what have we learnt from the experiences of authoring this book? The book continues our critical reflection about the participatory nature of our own practice (Durose et al, 2011; Beebeejaun et al, 2013, 2014; Richardson, 2014).
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