‘Being useful’ after the Ivory Tower: combining research and activism with the Brixton Pound


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This article draws on research and activism with a local currency group, the Brixton Pound, in order to extend discussions of scholar-activism to encompass broad and inclusive notions of activism. As broad and inclusive notions of activism dislodge the boundaries between academia and activism, they have enabled scholars to challenge the idea that it is necessary to keep activism separate from research and to explore why and how activism and research might be combined. Despite this, however, the academic literature on scholar-activism is presently dominated by ‘capital A’ activism and activists, suggesting there is more to do to embed inclusive notions of activism within it. This article makes a contribution to such efforts, positioning involvement in a local currency group, the Brixton Pound, as combining activism with research, in order to provide motivation and resources to a more diverse audience, particularly those who may not have previously combined research with activism or who may be ‘put off’ by narrow notions of ‘capital A’ activism. In light of the continued centrality of concerns about the usefulness of academics in debates about activism and the academy, I choose ‘being useful’ as a rubric through which to organise this article. My involvement with the Brixton Pound suggests that the loss of the privileged position of critique atop the ‘Ivory Tower’ opens up a range of other contributions extending across boundaries between activism and research and between theory and method. I identify three ways of ‘being useful’, including practising ethics of reciprocity, developing embedded research projects through engagement and building more generative critical (geographical) scholarship. Together, these ways of being useful make a contribution towards transforming critical geography into a more hopeful, generative (sub-)discipline, more closely connected with issues of practical significance to (broadly understood) activism.