Out of the Tower and Into the Field: Fieldwork as Public Scholarship in the Face of Social Injustice
I argue for a new model of public scholarship in the field of communication—one that defines public-ness not in terms of publicity but in terms of the public good. Synthesizing work on public scholarship in communication and sociology with participatory action research frameworks, I narrate my experiences of fieldwork in the U.S. transgender rights movement. In doing so, I demonstrate the reciprocal benefits of fieldwork for both scholars and the publics served by social justice organizations. I further discuss the depths of public engagement permitted and achieved via fieldwork relative to publicity-centered scholarship. Finally, I address the ideal role of public engagement as scholars: contributing specialized skills and knowledge toward the mitigation of social problems. Ultimately, I argue, if a scholar publicly engages in issues of social justice without orienting their public work toward alleviating injustice, then they are actively sustaining the systems of oppression they benefit from researching.