Social research skills and local activism

I would have commented on this Savage Minds post, but the thoughts I have on it are a bit off topic and so probably belong here.

The post describes how Matt Thompson undertook a small bit of research in order to help advocate at a council meeting for a service in his local area. The conclusion he draws in his post is that it was a great idea and he suggests anthropologists more generally use their skills in such a way as to ‘make a modest contribution where you live.’

I’m not an anthropologist, but as part of my PhD research I spend a lot of time going to local council meetings of one of the Victorian Local Government Areas (LGA). I often see residents drawing on their training and professional skills in their submissions. At one meeting I would have even seen something of an Australian celebrity talk on an agenda item, except he went to the wrong venue so did not make the meeting.

Where I am doing my research I certainly have not heard anything about cutting funding for libraries, so there’s no similar case to what was discussed in Matt Thompson’s post for me to provide an outsider’s view on. Also, consultation seems to be quite a big deal in the LGA the suburb I am looking at is in, so the reports often include stories and statistics. Whether this then means any anthropologist residents are not needed in the same way, or whether their job would be harder because they would have to argue against council’s data if they disagree with the findings, I am not sure. What I do know is that mobilisation around issues involves a lot of time and effort.

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