More Is Required of Us: Complicating an Ontology of Experience at the Heart of Community-Based Research

The Pluralist 18 (1):81-94 (2023)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:More Is Required of Us: Complicating an Ontology of Experience at the Heart of Community-Based ResearchJerry Rosiekit is both unsurprising and reassuring that the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy would host an invited lecture on community-university research collaborations. One of the most distinctive features of the tradition of philosophy on this continent has been the insistence that lived experience is the ultimate source of knowledge, and, more importantly, amelioration of individual and collective community experience is the ultimate criterion for validation of knowledge relations. Dr. Ira Harkavy and the Netter Center at which he works represent a version of that ideal made institutionally manifest.In his 2022 Coss Lecture, Harkavy offers a vision for how the ideal of knowledge generation grounded in community experience and serving community priorities could be institutionalized in major US research universities. Furthermore, he makes the case that this transformation of research universities would revitalize our collective commitment to democratic citizenship and governance. It is an appealing vision, earnestly offered. In what follows, I celebrate the merits of this vision but raise concerns that it does not adequately consider questions about the ontology of experience. I review some of those questions and offer suggestions about what an updated ontology of experience, one that could revitalize democracy in the manner Harkavy says is needed, would look like.Experiential Basis for My ResponseA short personal introduction will provide context for (and perhaps lend credibility to) my response comments. I am a Professor of Education at the University of Oregon with affiliate appointments in the Department of Philosophy and in the Department of Ethnic Studies. My empirical research [End Page 81] focuses on how we prepare anti-racist educators to work in public schools (Pratt and Rosiek; Rosiek, “School Segregation”; Mitchell and Rosiek; Sconiers and Rosiek). My area of theoretical specialization is the development of new qualitative methodologies for research on educational equity. The latter involves working out the implications of different epistemologies and ontologies for educational inquiry and practice. Specifically, I have spent most of my career looking at the way teachers’ classroom experiences can be a valid source of general knowledge about educational practice and policy (Rosiek and Atkinson; Rosiek and Gleason).Both branches of my scholarship exist in a dialectic with my community activism around educational equity issues. My largest project to date was a ten-year study of the racial resegregation of a public school district, looking at how students and teachers navigated its aftermath (Rosiek and Kinslow). My most recent project involved two years of working with teachers all over the world to identify the ways they addressed equity challenges during the pandemic and to identify the institutional conditions that helped or hindered such work (DeRosia et al.). In a less academic context, I have worked with local educational activist organizations in my home community to support the needs of immigrant families and students, to create safer spaces for LGBTQIA students, and to get more equity-minded school board members elected.I share all of this just to clarify that I am familiar with the challenge of putting university expertise in the service of community improvement and, more specifically, promoting equity in educational institutions. I am familiar with approaching research in a manner that respects practitioners and non-academic community members as sources of knowledge, not just objects of knowledge.Praise for the Work at the Netter CenterFrom the vantage point that experience provides me, I want to offer energetic praise for the work that Harkavy and the Netter Center have been doing these last three decades. We should all recognize the difficulty of integrating the university’s knowledge-producing role with local education and service work (Brewer; Harkavy et al.). It is even more difficult to do so when aspiring to the ideal of collaborative knowledge production with the community in a manner that genuinely commits to epistemic egalitarianism. Service learning can be trivialized and can become the exploitative enlistment of unpaid labor in the service of an agenda exogenous to both the participants and the community (Santiago-Ortiz; Stoecker). [End Page 82]Sharing the power of designing the focus and means of service projects...



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