Session: Centering Social Justice in the Social Work Research Process: Reflections from Doctoral Student's Participatory Action Research Initiatives in Southern California (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

All live presentations are in Eastern time zone.

70 Centering Social Justice in the Social Work Research Process: Reflections from Doctoral Student's Participatory Action Research Initiatives in Southern California

Wednesday, January 20, 2021: 5:15 PM-6:15 PM
Cluster: Research Design and Measurement
Symposium Organizer:
Melanie Sonsteng-Person, MSW, University of California, Los Angeles
Amy Ritterbusch, PhD, University of California, Los Angeles
Social work researchers must consider how their research approach aligns with larger ethical commitments and actionable goals for achieving social justice. Without adequate reflection on the social justice implications of research methods and approaches, social work researchers run the risk of extractive approaches. Participatory action research (PAR) - an approach that seeks to democratize knowledge building processes and contribute to transformative social change - has received limited attention in the field of Social Work. To address this, the symposium brings together social work researchers working on four distinct PAR projects in southern California.

Each project offers unique insight into how research approaches can be crafted to support social justice. This includes best practices for building and maintaining research collectives, for defining the area of inquiry and disseminating findings, working in alignment with community organizing practices and agendas, and collectively influencing policies and programs. Taken together, scholars will discuss differing approaches, methods, and lessons learned with a focus on how PAR can be used to advance social justice research.

Dominique, a Black scholar focused on the eradication of state violence against families of color, argues that the PAR process should consist of community building without agenda. Prior to creating a research question or purpose the collective should intentionally build community, regardless of outcome. The researcher then provides examples of community building practice which include, demonstration of commitment to collective social justice efforts, participation in collective care, and participation in collective dreaming.

Next, Melanie, a White female scholar whose work centers on healing justice, will focus on what it means to play a supportive role in the research process and the significance of the collective taking on a role of power and authority over a research project. This paper focuses specifically on using PhotoVoice in the framework of PAR to create shared knowledge and influence policies and programs.

Sid, a trans scholar and antiviolence organizer, considers PAR as a strategy for building political power and researcher accountability during a period of expanding funding for transgender health research. This paper draws on outcomes from a self-reflection and strategy phase of an ongoing trans-led PAR project created to expand community control over data and assess values and ethics in future research engagements.

Lastly, Kristen, a white racial justice organizing scholar, will focus on the process of PAR as part of a politicized organizing project on decarceration in Los Angeles. Specifically, the paper reflects on tensions that arise in working with white people to address structural racism. Discussion focuses on decision-making when organizing and research interests had competing interests; when election-focused outcomes were at odds with longer-term transformative goals; and when the white-led sector had differences of opinion with the broader multiracial Black-led movement.

Building on the reflections of scholars who are actively involved in four unique PAR projects, this symposium aims to generate advancements in social work PAR practice with a focus on achieving effective relationships for collaborative knowledge production and social justice action.

* noted as presenting author
Cab Fatigue Is Real!: Building Power in Social Movements for Trans Justice through Participatory Action Research
Sid Jordan, JD, University of California, Los Angeles; Ezak Perez, Gender Justice LA; H├ęctor Plascencia-Juarez, Gender Justice LA; Cydney Brown, Claremont Graduate University
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