We have changed a bit too, and as the year draws to a close this feels like the opportune time to share our thinking and learning since the festival. I know that many people weren’t able to make the festival due to the RMT strikes that fell on the same day (the RMT’s dispute is ongoing). You can watch a recording of the talk, but I’ll give the broad brushstrokes here and spend the rest of this short blog discussing our current research projects and how we are working with "formal" academia.
The need for more Black-led research
When thinking about research, the mind cannot help but be focused on the academy. After all, institutes of higher education have as their primary purpose the discovery and dissemination of new (and old I suppose) knowledge. However, to put it mildly, higher ed has a bit of a problem. Academia may be the most racially differentiated profession in Britain.
There are fewer Black professors in the UK (160) than there are universities (213). Many universities use a federated model where individual departments operate somewhat independently. Thus, if we want to know the likelihood that any academic (or student for that matter) would interact with a Black senior peer (i.e. a Black professor), we would have to compare the number of departments with the number of Black senior peers. Conservatively, I’d say there were at least ten departments per university. I’ll leave the reader to determine whether the number of Black professors per department is more or less than 0.05. I know this will be a shock to many people. But it’s just as bad at the PhD, Post-Doc and Early Career stages, not to mention the attainment gap in taught education.
It’s not only a matter of representation though, and as a society, we have recently seen the limitations of a politics of representation. Academic homogeneity creates empirical and theoretical problems too because it narrows the scope of questions and hinders the proper interpretation of data. I won’t elucidate standpoint epistemology and epistemological violence here but suffice it to say, social position matters in relation to the generation of conceptual resources and too often we fail to recognise that data can be interpreted in an endless number of equally plausible ways. Yet the interpretations we don’t get access to are those of the groups to whom data in the social sciences often refer, be they Black people, the working class, women or an array of other marginalised groups hitherto excluded from the knowledge production process.
Partnering for change
What to do about all this? Well, we could wait for academia to get its act together and provide fair access to all. But we have already waited, as did our parents, and here we are still. Our presentation at the CSMH festival tried to sketch out something different – the Black Thrive Research Institute and Observatory. We are still finding our feet and thinking about how we work, but simply, we recognise that the conceptual resources required for Black liberation will only come directly from communities living with and through racism and so we must hold our communities and our needs at the centre. This way of seeing things can, and will, bring us into tension with the needs of academics and their funders to ‘involve’ various people/groups in research because this kind of involvement often comes after the research questions and other substantive matters have already been agreed. We are working through these issues with community partners in Haringey, Birmingham and Lambeth to develop methodologies for community owned data via our thriving futures programme.