Activist Research

The question – Where are you from? –  seems innocent. I  have been asked this question many times. And I always answer by saying:  the name of the rural town. The next question I always get asked is: No where are you really from?  I am stubborn, so I persist with my answer and repeat the name of the rural town. Why? Because I grew up in a small rural town in far north Queensland, Australia in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  I was not born there, but I grew up there. It was the place where I went to primary and secondary school.  The small rural town was centred around a sugar mill. It had one main street. There was one bakery, one doctor, one general grocery shop, one chemist, one newspaper shop, two primary schools (one state, one catholic), and one secondary school. The town has changed a lot since my school days. Many of the young folk have left to find work in the larger cities.

So what of the question – where are you from? It  is a question about place and belonging, who is considered to belong and who is not. I left the rural town to work as a primary school teacher and then teacher educator in a university. But the question – where are you from – still haunts me today. It goes to the very core of my being, a being around racial, gendered identities in rural Australia. The question also goes to the very heart of education, and the role of education in the lives of teachers, students, and parents that make up a small rural community.

These issues of place, belonging, not-belonging, being an outsider inside a small rural community are also discussed in Sherilyn Lennon’s new book: Lennon, S. (2015) Unsettling research: Using critical praxis and activism to create uncomfortable spaces. New York, NY: Peter Lang.

The book is about the construction of masculine identities in a rural community.  A number of research studies  have shown that a high percentage of boys in rural communities often perform poorly at some school subjects such as subject English. Is there a connection between the social construction of masculine identities and academic achievement in subject English? 

Sherilyn Lennon  decided to investigate this issue by taking it outside of the school gates and into the wider community. Using the local newspaper as a platform for initiating a whole-of-community discussion, she set about exposing and disrupting narrow constructions of masculinity.  Her activist approach was responsible for polarising and unsettling many in the community – including Sherilyn. What at first seemed like an innocent question around the choice of a logo for a local community function, named the Bachelor and Spinisters’ Ball, quickly became the most talked about topic in town.

What happens when a seemingly innocent question triggers debate, questioning, and divisions in the local community? What does it mean for the everyday work of the secondary school English teacher in the only school in the community, and what does it mean for her everyday interactions with neighbours, shop-keepers, friends?  These questions around the deeply emotional attachments to work, family, and friends as a community insider traverses the journey to outsider within are discussed in this must read book. To find out more about Sherilyn visit click here:

The synopsis of Sherilyn’s book is below:

Unsettling Research investigates what can be learned from the journey of an insider activist researcher seeking social transformations around issues of gender in an isolated rural Australian community. Unique and risky in its undertaking, the research evolves to create a new discourse in qualitative research. A seamless bricolage of autobiography /ethnography, narrative, feminist theory, critical theory, media literacy, critical pedagogy, and social theory, this work takes qualitative research to the next level. It enacts the notion of social justice, while creating a new lens through which to view action via research … research via action. The author allows the personal to establish positionality, and then works from within her position to create a meta-perspective on dialogue, action, and community manifestations of power. The analytic component of the research couples an ongoing process of coming-to-know with a need to address a community issue. By developing a conceptual framework and a process for disclosing and dislocating ideological hegemony and its associated power imbalances, the research adds to knowledge in the fields of gender and education, social justice, and nascent activist pedagogies. Whilst the particulars are located in Australia, the book creates a global lens for qualitative activist research.  Find out more about the book by visiting:

 

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