Militant Ethnography with the Anti-Austerity Movement: Co-Producing Radical Discourses on the Crisis

Monday, 11 July 2016: 09:48
Location: Hörsaal 21 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Joshua BLAMIRE, University of Liverpool, United Kingdom
The problematic of ably and appropriately coupling research with committed activism has plagued radical scholars in the academy over the past few decades (see Routledge, 1996; Fuller, 1999; Autonomous Geographies Collective, 2010). Amidst this broader ‘participatory turn’ within geography, scholars have wondered both; how does one navigate the dual positionalities of activist-academic, and, how can activist research co-exist within the neoliberal university (cf. Halvorsen, 2015; Russell, 2014)? Routledge’s (1996: 400) seminal text suggested creating a ‘thirdspace’ between academia and activism, whereby “neither site […] holds sway, where one continually subverts the meaning of the other”. Juris (2007: 165), instead, has advocated militant ethnography, whereby the researcher deploys collaboratively produced ethnographic methods, which aims to dissolve the chasm between research and practice by co-producing knowledge as an active participant within the movement milieu and by facilitating “ongoing activist (self-)reflection regarding movement goals, tactics, strategies and organisational forms” (cf. Russell, 2014). The method of militant ethnography, therefore, represents the identification of some problematic or contradiction inherent within a social movement and then “striving to understand and contribute to the collective surpassing of this paradox” (Russell, 2014: 225). Reflecting upon my experience as a doctoral student and activist within the anti-austerity movement in Liverpool, I consider some of the methodological contradictions inherent in these approaches. The research constituted eighteen-months of politically-engaged ethnographic research, and represented something that was epistemologically-sensitive to militant research, but perhaps could be characterised as existing ‘in-between’ these ‘third-space’ and militant ethnographic methods. In this case, the movement problematic concerned the necessity to develop more radical conceptions of crisis, and to imagine and (re)produce a more affirmative, future-orientated discourse of economic alternatives. This paper encourages renewed theoretical thinking about emerging methodological techniques approaching social movement research, and implores us to move beyond the current tendency to fetishise participatory research.