The Public Science Project is dedicated to the advancement of participatory action research as a strategy for a more just world. With a deep commitment to democratizing the systematic production of knowledge, we collaborate with communities to design research that examines the impact of policy and structural injustice.
Our work builds on the legacy of participatory and activist research carved out by WEB Du Bois, Kurt Lewin, Claire Selltiz, Margot Wormser, Ignacio Martín-Baró, and Orlando Fals Borda, we have contributed to the field for more than a decade – expanding notions of expertise, creating alliances across communities, and producing critical knowledge for individuals, communities, and the academy.
More specifically, we believe social science can play an important role in the struggle for social justice. Participatory Action Research (PAR) provides a critical framework for making science – systematic inquiry and analysis – a public enterprise. Allied with feminist, critical race, and indigenous theory, PAR is an approach to research that values the significant knowledge people hold about their lives and experiences. PAR positions those most intimately impacted by research as leaders in shaping research questions, framing interpretations, and designing meaningful research products and actions.
what we do
The Public Science Project has grown out of more than a decade’s worth of participatory action research (PAR) at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). First organized as The PAR Collective, we began our work as a coalition of activists, researchers, youth, elders, lawyers, prisoners, and educators, launching projects on educational injustice, lives under surveillance, and the collateral damage of mass incarceration. Most of our projects have been situated in schools and/or community-based organizations struggling for quality education, economic opportunities, and human rights.
Today, the Public Science Project collaborates with academics, community organizations, schools, prisons, and public institutions to design, conduct, and support research and practice aimed at interrupting injustice.
More specifically, we conduct participatory action research projects of our own, and create educational opportunities and partnerships that allow us to consult on projects being developed by others to varying degrees.
The Public Science Project has grown out of more than a decade’s worth of participatory action research (PAR) at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). First organized The PAR Collective, we began our work as a coalition of activists, researchers, youth, elders, lawyers, prisoners, and educators, launching projects on educational injustice, lives under surveillance,
and the collateral damage of mass incarceration. Most of our projects have been situated in schools and/or community-based organizations struggling for quality education, economic opportunities, and human rights. Knowledge-sharing research camps set the stage for most of our research, designed to bring together differently positioned people around a common table to design
and implement the research: youth and educators; young people who have been pushed out of schools and mothers organizing for quality education in communities under siege; prisoners, organizers, and academics. Most projects have vibrant advisory boards of youth, community elders, educators and/or activists to shape the work and hold us accountable to the needs and desires of local communities. Past projects include:
- studying privilege and constructions of “merit” in racially integrated suburban schools.
- investigating the subjectivities and hetero-normative violence of white elite masculinity within exclusive private all-boys schools (see Brett Stoudt);
- documenting the material and psychological consequences of opportunity gaps in wealthy desegregated schools (Echoes of Brown: Youth Documenting and Performing the Legacy of Brown v. Board of Education);
- developing school-based internships in which students in small progressive public schools investigate finance inequity and college access (see Janice Bloom and Lori Chajet)
- collaborating with mothers and youth in varied communities of the Bronx organizing for educational justice (see Family-to-Family: The Guide to the Schools of Hope http://www.lehman.edu/deanedu/thebronxinstitute/Media_And_Publications/ENLACE_Family-to-Family_Guide.pdf)
- mobilizing with youth pushed out of their high schools, researching the politics of the GED, the subjectivities of educational desire and meritocracy (see Eve Tuck, this website)
- facilitating research as queer youth document the sexuality climates and hetero-normativity in schools and beyond (see Darla Linville, this website)
- researching, in a longitudinal design, with urban youth, educators and parents in the midst of school restructuring (see Anne Galletta and Jennifer Ayala, this website)
- developing, with urban youth who are the beneficiaries of the Abbott v. Burke finance equity lawsuit, research projects to document the persistent inequities in their schools and communities and the power and possibilities of state-funded secondary reform (see Jennifer Ayala, Tia Burns, Stan Karp, Yasser Payne)
We have also designed and supported research collectives of young people studying the long arms of Foucault’s Panopticon – the experience of surveillance, stereotyping, comodification and resistance on the streets for youth, men who lead a street life, young women living on the Lower East Side of New York City and, most recently, for Muslim-American women living in post-9/11 and post-Patriot Act New York City.
- The Street Life Project, a systematic historic, quantitative and qualitative analysis of the “streets” as a site of resiliency for young men of African descent (see Yasser Payne, this website)
- The Fed Up Honeys, with young women from the Lower East Side of New York ‘fed up’ with the stereotypes that spew across their neighborhoods (see Caitlin Cahill, this site);
- The Corporate Disease Promotion project, in which youth from elite and neglected communities document the promotion of disease by corporations selling alcohol, tobacco and low-nutrition foods (see Jessica Ruglis and Nick Freudenberg, this site)
- “Anything can happen with the police around” is a quantitative survey, produced, disseminated and interpreted by youth researchers, completed by over 900 young people on the streets of New York City, documenting their experience of police surveillance, including sexual harassment by police (see Fine, Freudenberg, Payne, Smith and Waltzer)
- The “Weight of the Hyphen” is a study of Muslim-American young women living in post-9/11 and post-”homeland security” New York City and negotiating surveillance by the State, media, community, family and self (see Mayida Zaal, Tahani Salah and Michelle Fine).
Projects document, assess and resist the collateral damage provoked by the mass incarceration of people of color and we have designed a series of projects to document, assess and resist the collateral damage provoked by mass incarceration of people of color:
- in a women’s prison in New York State, documenting the impact of college on women in prison, the prison environment and on the women’s post-release outcomes; (see Fine, Boudin, Bowen, Clark, Hylton, Martinez, Missy, Rivera, Roberts, Smart, Torre and Upegui, 2001; www.changingminds.ws)
- with the children of women in prison (see Kathy Boudin; see Sarah Zeller-Berkman, this website)
- with women and men who have served long sentences in prison for violent crimes (see Carla Marquez and the ALUMNI group, this website)
Some of these projects have been designed for geographic and local depth, while others trace the sprawl of domination and resistance across geography and scale (Cahill, 2004; Fine, Tuck & Zeller Berkman, 2006; Katz, 2004). All of these projects dig deep at the fractures of social ideology and oppression, and the reservoirs of human resilience and collective resistance.
the practice of research
In each setting, a series of “methods camps”/seminars are launched so that we can learn, together, the local history of struggle and develop a shared critical language of social theory, feminist theory, critical race theory and methodology. Depending on age, immediate struggles, and the nature of the research, we immerse ourselves in the writings and teachings of social psychology, critical race theory, queer scholarship, critical theory, feminist thought and indigenous knowledges, e.g. of Patricia Hill Collins, Fannie Lou Hamer, Paolo Freire, Orlando Fals-Borda, Sandra Harding, Stuart Hall, Ignacio Martin-Baro, Nancy Hartsock, Morton Deutsch, Linda Thuwai Smith and others, and we listen to hip hop, review magazine and policy representations of youth, study civil rights histories and local campaigns. Together, we craft the research questions, challenge each other to assure that varied standpoints are represented in the original framing of the question, work through the specifics of design, data collection, analysis and products ‘of use.’
With varied methods, including both qualitative and quantitative tools of inquiry, an array of differences at the table, a loose-always-fragile democratic spirit holding us, and an eye on action, we raise up significant challenges to existing structural hierarchies that have been naturalized as if inevitable, and we imagine how to interrupt and re-create conditions toward justice (we draw from and are allied with “sister projects” e.g. Anand, Fine, Surrey and Perkins, 2001; Brydon-Miller, 2001; Cahill, 2004; Cammarota & Ginwright, 2002; Chawla, Clanchet-Cohen, Cosco, Driskell, Kruger, Malone, Moore and Percy-Smith, 2005; Fals-Borda, 1984; Fine, Bloom, Burns, Chajet, Guishard, Payne and Torre, 2005; Freire, 1982; Guhathakurta, 2006; Hart, 1997; NLERAP, see also Pedro Pedraza at El Centro, 2002; Ormond, 2004; Rahman, 1985; Smith, 2005).
Our methods include: Participatory surveys, participant observation, intercept interviews, photo-voice, focus groups, identity maps, individual interviews, list stories, street surveys, archival and historic reviews, policy analyses, slam books, problem identification webs, “cold calls” to institutions, web-based research, and more. A sampling of our IRB forms is available on this website (which represent only a small sliver of how we conceptualize and practice ethical deliberations).
participatory action research (PAR)
A methodological stance rooted in the belief that valid knowledge is produced only in collaboration and in action, PAR recognizes that those “studied” harbor critical social knowledge and must be repositioned as subjects and architects of research (Fals-Borda, 1979; Fine & Torre, 2004; Martin-Baro, 1994; Torre, 2005). Based largely on the theory and practice of Latin American activist scholars, PAR scholars draw from neo-Marxist, feminist, queer and critical race theorists (Anzaldua, 1987; Apple, 2001; Crenshaw, 1995; Weis & Fine, 2004; Lykes, 2001; Matsuda, 1995; Williams, 1998) to articulate methods and ethics that have local integrity and stretch topographically to sight/cite global patterns of domination and resistance (Katz,2004).
participatory action research with, by and for youth
Youth PAR projects typically center around issues of intimate, structural violence: educational justice, access to quality healthcare, the criminalization of youth, gang violence, police brutality, race/gender/sexuality oppression, gentrification and environmental issues. The goals extend from the exposition of local inequities with contextual specificity, to broader coalition-building with similarly situated youth nationally and globally.
Enabling youth to interrogate and denaturalize the conditions of their everyday oppression inspires a process of community and knowledge building. As Paulo Freire (1982) eloquently argued, “the silenced are not just incidental to the curiosity of the researcher but are the masters of inquiry into the underlying causes of the events in their world. In this context research becomes a means of moving them beyond silence into a quest to proclaim the world.” Repositioning youth as researchers rather than the “researched” shifts the practice of researching “on youth” to “with youth”–a position that stands in sharp contrast to the current neo-liberal constructions of youth as dangerous, disengaged, blind consumers who lack any type of connection. Frustrated, alienated and angry survivors of discrimination mature into active policy critics and agents engaged in conversation, confrontation and reform. Legitimating democratic inquiry within institutions as well as outside, PAR excavates knowledge “at the bottom” and “at the margins” (Matsuda, 1995), and signifies youths’ fundamental right to ask, investigate and contest policies that enforce injustice (see ). With this website we offer up the intimate details of the Participation, the Action and the Research, undertaken in difficult social institutions.