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Talking about Appadurai, "The Right to Research"

Talking about Appadurai, "The Right to Research"

Anne Dalke's picture

From 12-1 pm EDT on Thursday, July 31, eight of us (Akusoa, Alice, Anne, Cynthia, Kebokile, Lisa, Liz, and
—just as we were finishing—also Alex!) gathered for an Adobe Connect conversation intended to
1) get us comfortable with the platform
2) introduce our selves and what we are excited to be working on this summer
3) discuss Appadurai’s article
4) plan next steps in our online conversation.

Alice hosted the meeting with real grace, encouraging each of us to participate however we could (listening, typing, talking…). Various challenges to hearing, seeing and talking (echoing and resonating!) in different formats bedeviled this first attempt of ours to meet on-line, to “hold a space” that might “enhance what we can do together, which we can’t do alone.”  As Alice observed, working with platforms like Adobe Connect means that we need to put aside any pretense of appearing to know what we are doing…and to go forth anyway!

Alice shared the private Serendip site that will host our asynchronous conversations, and archive our synchronous ones; an account has been created for each of us to participate there.

She then opened our discussion of the Appadurai reading by asking what we thought about his proposal for “demystifying research,”
pushing on the barrier separating training and teaching, realizing some new collaborations by “de-parochializing our classrooms,” giving “more respect and response to the variety of experiences that academia has ignored and rationalized in some destructive ways.” “The capacity to do research is necessary for any citizen”; “all humans are curious, want to know, and should have the right to pursue strategic knowledge in a growing global world.”

There seemed general approval of Appadurai’s description of critical inquiry as an entre into research, not a project open only to the elite, but necessary for mobility in professional and personal life…

But we also noted the history, and critiqued the valence, of the word “research,” which is so embedded in academic life, and carries the connotations of that domain. “Who determines what is ‘strategic knowledge’”? Some claims to be liberatory can divide people rather than create solidarity among them. We need to beware of claims of “doing research for…”

As an alternative to conventional forms of research, Appadurai offers some an example of “documentation as intervention,” (creating a document raises questions, which motivates research and action) but he doesn’t tell academics how they might open up such opportunities, enabling activist work, if we ourselves are not the researchers…How indeed conduct a “systematic search for what is not known”? Is a central goal bridging what happens in our courses to communities outside them? How much should our workshop wrestle with that issue?


If classrooms are activist spaces, we are obliged to think of them as populated by people who are not only students, but who have identities that connect with what happens outside. Let us also not forget that many of our classes are themselves international in composition. Let’s not erase the diversity of the environments in which we are already located.

We agreed to try and meet electronically three times during the upcoming semester, to continue this conversation and learn to listen to and better know one another; Liz will send around another doodle poll with in the month to schedule these meetings. When we next gather, Cynthia will lead a conversation about Chandra Mohanty’s 2002 essay, Under Western Eyes Revisited: Feminist Solidarity through Anticapitalist Struggles. Signs 28, 2: 499-535.

PDF icon AppaduraiRighttoResearch.pdf430.4 KB




now i'm testing out the possibility of disagreeing with myself and others..




juxtaposing his essay with one by Chandra Mohanty, Under Western Eyes Revisited...