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This essay outlines approaches to analysing and managing relations between rural activists and academic researchers. It suggests (a) that contemporary social movements engage in knowledge production practices much like those of academic and NGO-affiliated researchers and (b) that the boundaries between activists and researchers are not always as sharp as is sometimes claimed. These blurred boundaries and shared practices can create synergies in activist– academic relations. The essay then examines tensions in the relationship, including activists’ expectation that academic research will be immediately applicable to their struggles and researchers’ expectation that movement participants will accommodate their needs. The final section discusses the pros and cons, from the perspective of each side, of several models of activist– researcher relations, ranging from ‘militant’ or ‘engaged’ research to the contractual agreement between a movement and those involved in research on it. It argues that one of the most useful contributions of academic researchers to social movements may be reporting patterns in the testimony of people in the movement’s targeted constituency who are sympathetic to movement objectives but who feel alienated or marginalised by one or another aspect of movement discourse or practice.


This work was originally published in the Journal of Peasant Studies.



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