How to integrate academic scholarship
Why integrate academic scholarship?
The CCE values integrating rigorous academic scholarship into community-based work in ways that transform and strengthen both in the process. Understanding what the literature has to say about your work and the social problem it addresses can help you answer questions such as the following:
- What factors contribute to this problem?
- How might issues of power, oppression and injustice play into this problem?
- Are there effective ways of addressing/mitigating/preventing this problem?
- Are there ways of attempting to address this problem that have proven ineffective or actually harmful?
- How have the humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences tackled this problem?
- What are the holes or gaps in our understanding of this problem?
- What pitfalls should I watch out for in my work? What roadblocks might I encounter, and what can I do about them?
- What might I experience psychologically or emotionally if I engage in this work? How can I mitigate any negative psychological or emotional risks?
- How can I best communicate to others why I do this work?
How do I connect with relevant scholarship?
When beginning to integrate academic scholarship with the community-based work of your organization, the following tips may be useful:
1. Call on the disciplines. Be open to seeing the social problem your group addresses from multiple perspectives. In group discussions and individual reflection, ask, “How would a historian think about this problem? What would a sociologist ask? What methods would a psychologist use to examine this question? How would a statistician, a novelist, an artist look at this issue?” This kind of exercise gets you thinking about which disciplines seem to lend themselves best to the issues you are exploring, offers a diverse set of tools and explanatory frameworks, and helps you develop a creative, innovative, authentic approach to your work.
2. Work the World Wide Web. You would be surprised how much you can learn with a crafty keyword search. A good way to start locating academic scholarship is just to google exactly what you want to know. For example, type, “effects of arts education on student retention,” or “effective arts education curricula.” Play creatively with the kinds of words you use, and see what pops up. You will always get a bunch of hits that aren’t the least bit relevant, or the least bit rigorous, but many will be. It is also really useful to google authors whose work you admire; they often have really rich websites packed with resources.
3. Use the Tutt Library homepage search engine liberally. Despite the breadth and reach afforded by Google and other search engines, the gold standard in academic scholarship remains a search for peer-reviewed articles and books. Although there are many excellent disciplinary academic search engines, a really easy place to start is the Tutt Library home page. A search using this engine takes two clicks. First, scroll down to the bottom of the CC homepage and click, “Tutt Library.” In the center of the screen is an academic search box. Here, you can enter an author’s name, a keyword, a book title, etc. Type in something particular to your work, such as, “Resilience in trafficked children.” See what pops up. Click on an article you find interesting, and read the abstract. If the abstract seems relevant, see if you can download the PDF or read a hard copy at the library. If not, google the article; you can often find PDFs of journal articles on the internet even though they aren’t available in the CC database. If all that fails, try interlibrary loan.
4. Reverse engineer your understanding. When you have found a compelling peer-reviewed resource, head to the reference list, and see what and who that piece is citing. Track down those cited pieces that seem most relevant to your work, and then check out their reference lists. By doing this iteratively, you can work backwards through an interconnected web of research and scholarship about your topic. This will give you a good sense of the history of scholarship in this area, and possibly open your eyes to new questions, methodologies, and conceptual frameworks.
5. Subscribe. Consider subscribing to relevant academic listservs, email updates, journals, facebook groups, etc. This gives you a steady stream of new information in the field, which helps you stay on top of your game.
6. Consult CC faculty. Drop by the office hours of a CC faculty member (or two) whose research and/or teaching interests are related to your work. Tell them about your organization and its mission. Ask for suggestions of people to read, websites to visit, conferences to attend. They will often be delighted to help you, and can point you in new and innovative directions.
7. Make personal connections. When you find a scholar whose work seems particularly compelling, consider actually dropping them an email or giving them a call to. Most people are really excited to help a student who shows initiative and has read their work. Contacting a scholar personally can be useful when you want to gain insight into the most current, cutting-edge work being done, or if you want to master a method, or get an insider’s perspective on the field.