POLLEN20 Call for workshop participants & input – Bridging environmental research and activism

Third Biennial Conference of the Political Ecology Network (POLLEN 20)
Contested Natures: Power, Possibility, Prefiguration
Brighton, United Kingdom
24-26 June 2020

Workshop organizers

Eszter Kovacs at eszter.kovacs@geog.cam.ac.uk, Leverhulme Fellow the Department of Geography at the University of Cambridge, and Jessica Hope, Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fellow at the University of Bristol, at jessica.Hope@bristol.ac.uk.

Please do get in touch by email if you would like to be involved, either in a presentation capacity, or to share your experiences and thoughts in this area.

Workshop description

As researchers at a time of unprecedented levels of environmental, climatic, social and political change, many of us feel that the conventional research objectives, requirements and outputs of formal institutions are insufficient and inadequate. New skills, forms of expression and ways of engaging with our “research worlds” are necessary, or implied, when we undertake the work of “giving voice” to those on the underbelly and on the frontlines of environment/development trade-offs. Yet these more engaged or ‘activist’ undertakings stretch and strain the structural and temporal expectations and requirements of universities and formally funded research projects.

These societal changes demand a re-think to the roles of universities and of us as researchers. However, these demands are occurring at the same time as unprecedented restructuring within universities, which bring long-term precarity to the sector, as well as multiple (& unrealistic) demands on us as researchers. We find that there are demands placed on early-career teachers and researchers to contribute and extend the ‘impact’ of our work in new and creative ways, to develop communication and output strategies to access and ‘reach’ hugely different audiences (niche audiences and the general public), in easily measurable units of ‘output’. How to manage these varying demands and rationales for our work is hard and informs questions about the extent and depth of our political activism, as well as the purpose and impacts of what we do.

At POLLEN, we propose a workshop (3 hours) to consider the following questions:

  • How do we mobilise effectively as academics, to support the local groups and campaigns of which we are a part, in ways that do not compromise research? What are the trade-offs with this approach?
  • How do we choose when & how to communicate to broader audiences (policy/ publics)? How do communication strategies and intent intersect with (and even potentially compromise) research?
  • What changes can we enact, as researchers, to address the structural confines of the ‘neoliberal’ university? (collectives/ group work/ academic co-ops/ action retreats/journal take-over /manifestos?)

In this workshop, we will do 3 things:

  1. Canvass the challenges faced by workshop participants within their own research contexts for how they currently navigate academia and activism. We are asking people to share what they do and how, as well as what they find challenging about being ‘active/ist’ whilst being an academic.
  2. We will have two ‘external’ speakers (TBC), who are established academics and effective public writers/engagers to speak through their experiences around engagement ‘outside’ of the academy. These presentations and open conversations will specifically focus on
    • Research that attempts to inform policy.
    • Writing for publics in different formats.
    • The question of ‘mobilising’ in environmental or political movements through direct participation, and how to contribute.
  3. Discuss how to organise as academics, in collective & radical ways in order to challenge current directions of change within our university institutions; canvassing of extant practices and initiatives.


In these final planning stages of our workshop, we invite interested participants to send us:

  • Provocations and examples from people about how to navigate promised research “impact agendas” to benefit and engage the wider community/community worked alongside.
  • Examples of types of engagement and writing that “breaks the mould” and goes beyond academic audiences and metrics.
  • Encountered difficulties and challenges around maintaining engagement with ‘researched’ communities in the long-term.
  • Attempts to change research institutions’ incentives from within and ideas for collective organising, for example for how to build more inclusive formal research environments.

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