Publication by 2009 DPDF Revitalizing Development Studies Fellow Rebecca Tarlau.
In this article I analyze the tensions and difficulties that activist-scholars face in developing collaborative and critical social movement research. Through a series of reflections on my own trajectory into the academy and seventeen months of field research with the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement, I cautiously offer some ways forward for social movement researchers. Contextualizing these reflections in the rich literature on the ethics of social movement research, I argue that activist-scholars should attempt to design research questions that generate movement-relevant theory, leverage our (limited) influence to study powerful actors, move beyond dichotomous understandings of the “researcher” and the “research subject,” and be continually self-reflective about the unresolvable contradictions that come with being an activist-scholar. I end the article by suggesting that no matter how movement-relevant or collaborative our scholarship, this does not replace the “action” part of the action-theory praxis.