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AN ACADEMIC IN AN ACTIVIST COALITION: RECOGNIZING AND BRIDGING ROLE CONFLICTS

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Abstract

On the basis of participant-observation in an immigrant human rights coalition, this contribution offers reflections on the opportunities and challenges of being an academic in a politically active coalition. It first examines the ways in which university scholars can encounter rich fields for social scientific learning by engagement with coalitions in the communities that surround them, offering an alternative to the ivory tower model of anthropology done in distant fields. It then explores the challenges of coalition involvement through the theme of role expectations and conflicts. Among the topics examined through participant-observation are role expectations conflicts, time or schedule conflicts, resource tensions, legal and bureaucratic limits, social status inequalities, reduction of name visibility and ego gratification, and complex negotiations and compromises. It finishes with observations on commitment and objectivity, and proposes that coalitions shape particular forms of knowledge creating and communicating processes. These are real issues, but not insurmountable ones, and an honest accounting of them will result in more effective and rewarding coalitions between activists and academics.

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