February 2013 Issue • Volume 41 • Issue 2

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Sociologists Help Establish Network to Promote Community Engaged Scholarship

Jose Calderon, Pitzer College, and Mark R. Warren, University of Massachusetts-Boston

A number of sociologists are joining forces to establish an emerging multidisciplinary network called the Urban Research-based Action Network (URBAN) to promote community-based and collaborative forms of research. While many sociologists have long conducted research in collaboration with community-based organizations, most of these scholars work in silos and their work is typically not rewarded or credited within the academy.

URBAN is an emerging network of researchers and community members who have come together in order to identify opportunities for collaborative research and thinking that addresses critical needs facing urban communities. URBAN provides a platform for engaged scholarship where scholars from multiple disciplines and institutions can connect with one another and with members of communities to share ideas and be supported within the academy as they endeavor to pursue community-based, activist-research agendas.

Sociologists involved in URBAN will help to build a national infrastructure to advance this kind of research. They will eventually connect to international networks as well. So far, the network has local nodes in Boston, Los Angeles, New York City, and an emerging chapter in Northern California. Political scientists, geographers, education researchers, urban planners, environmental psychologists, public health researchers, and scholars from other disciplines have become involved as well.

URBAN seeks to build upon the wide array of collaborative research and action initiatives already underway by sociologists. These include campaigns to improve the conditions of day laborers, efforts for equitable community development, strategies for effective community organizing and public education reform, building social movements in the World Social Forum, combating environmental racism, and many others. URBAN offers a platform to connect researchers and activists to strengthen and expand these efforts.

An Introduction in Denver

URBAN was first introduced to sociologists last August at a gathering held during the 2012 ASA Annual Meeting in Denver.  At the meeting, participants explored how URBAN could be most useful for activist/engaged/public sociologists, what arenas of exchange might be created, and the different ways that those who were interested could participate. The meeting drew more than 30 participants and another 40 individuals sent e-mails expressing interest.

Participants responded positively and many volunteered to begin the work of creating a sociology planning team to promote URBAN within ASA and across disciplines. Currently, the planning team seeks to build upon previous initiatives (e.g., the Task Force on Public Sociology) and create a more permanent, ongoing network within sociology and across disciplines—one that is focused on collaborative research with communities to create new knowledge relevant to addressing pressing social justice issues. The team also seeks to find ways to support community-engaged scholars by opening up publication opportunities, mentoring junior scholars, providing training and development opportunities for graduate students, and advancing a discussion of guidelines for awarding credit for this research in tenure and review procedures.

Current Activities

The planning team has moved forward quickly to develop a set of projects. It has been working with Phil Nyden and the Section on Sociological Practice and Public Sociology to develop a set of roundtable sessions at the 2013 Annual Meeting in New York on issues regarding community-based research, educational leadership, and student-centered learning and teaching. URBAN members Dave Overfelt, Rochester Institute of Technology, and Patricia Molina Costa, MIT Community Innovators Lab, will be editing a special issue of Critical Sociology that will examine the theory and practice of community-based research from a multidisciplinary perspective, bringing together high-quality, original, and theoretically driven research that utilizes the community-based approach. 

URBAN will sponsor a meeting that is open to all sociologists at the upcoming ASA Annual Meeting in New York (see the 2013 ASA Annual Meeting preliminary program, which will be available April 30, for dates and time). For those who are interested in learning more about URBAN, the concept paper for URBAN and its fall newsletter can be found at web.mit.edu/colab/work-project-urban.htm.

To join the URBAN email list, send a message to urban_asa@lists.brandeis.edu.

Members of the sociology planning group include Jose Calderon and Mark R. Warren (co-chairs), Phillip Nyden, Gregory Squires, John Diamond, Rogelio Saenz, David Overfelt, Deirdre Tyler, Eric Tesdahl, Susan Ambler, Tom Pineros Shields, Patricia Herzog, William Gamson, Jackie Smith, Tiffany Chenault, and Hilario Molina.

Jose Calderon is Emeritus Professor of Sociology and Chicano Studies at Pitzer College. Mark R. Warren is Associate Professor of Public Policy and Public Affairs at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

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