Improvisatory Activist Scholarship
Dance Practice as Metaphor for Participatory Action Research
I define improvisatory activist scholarship as attempts to disrupt commonly-held meanings in research through the skilled negotiation of unexpected circumstances and through attention to the circulation of power among collaborators. Metaphors from the dancing of contact improvisation (CI) serve as a bridge to highlight improvisational aspects of participatory action research (PAR). I also trace movement between PAR and engaged ethnography in my research with CEDICAM, a farmer-to-farmer training network in Oaxaca, Mexico. Improvisation is the creative negotiation of an encounter with the unknown or unexpected, sometimes due to a lack of options. In iterative cycles of PAR, improvisational skill increases receptivity to emerging pathways for investigation when unexpected circumstances arise. This is important in transdisciplinary fields like agroecology that closely interface with the complex realities of land-based livelihoods. Extending awareness from the individual to the group and to society at large helps identify effective leverage points for analysis and action. Finally, recognition of the privilege embodied by the activist scholar may encourage power to circulate more equitably in multiple directions to stimulate horizontal communication between actors. These are some of the practical suggestions presented for how an embodied scholarship may embrace improvisation as par for the course.
Alvarez-Salas, Lizeth Marelly, Diana Nayibe Polanco-Echeverry, and Leonardo Ríos-Osorio. 2014. “Reflexiones Acerca de Los Aspectos Epistemológicos de La Agroecología.” Cuadernos de Desarrollo Rural 11 (74):20. https://doi.org/10.11144/Javeriana.CRD11-74.raea.
Anes, José, André Astier, Jeanne Bastien, René Berger, Francois Bianchi, Gérard BLUMEN, Lais P. BRANDINI, et al. 1994. “Carta de La Transdisciplinariedad.” In Convento de Arrábida. Portugal.
Baker, Houston A. 2001. Turning South Again. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Beckwith, Dean, Cecilia Fontanesi, Javaka Steptoe, and Andrew Suseno. 2016. “PARCON.” CQ Contact Improvisation Newsletter 41 (2). https://contactquarterly.com/contact-improvisation/newsletter/view/parcon.
Broad, Garrett. 2016. “Introduction: Food Justice and Community Change.” In More Than Just Food: Food Justice and Community Change, 1–15. University of California Press.
Calhoun, Craig. 2008. “Forward.” In Engaging Contradictions, edited by Charles R. Hale, xiii–xxvi. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Chambers, Robert. 1994. “The Origins and Practice of Participatory Rural Appraisal.” World Development 22 (7):953–69. https://doi.org/10.1016/0305-750X(94)90141-4.
Collier, John. 1945. “United States Indian Administration as a Laboratory of Ethnic Relations.” Social Research 12 (3):265–303. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40982119.
Cuéllar-Padilla, Mamen, and Ángel Calle-Collado. 2011. “Can We Find Solutions with People? Participatory Action Research with Small Organic Producers in Andalusia.” Journal of Rural Studies 27 (4):372–83. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrurstud.2011.08.004.
Curtis, Bruce. 2003. “Exposed to Gravity.” In Taken by Surprise: A Dance Improvisation Reader, edited by Ann Cooper Albright and David Gere, 13–20. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press.
De Spain, Kent. 2014. Landscape of the Now: A Topography of Movement Improvisation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Dewey, John. 1966. Logic: The Theory of Inquiry. New York: Holt, Rinehart; Winston.
Dewey, John. 2012. School and Society & the Child and the Curriculum. Dover Publications.
Dewey, John, and Evelyn Dewey. 1915. Schools of to-Morrow. New York: Dutton. http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001117418.
Foster, Susan Leigh. 1992. “Dancing Culture.” American Ethnologist 19 (2):362–66. http://www.jstor.org/stable/645041.
Foster, Susan Leigh. 2002. Dances That Describe Themselves: The Improvised Choreography of Richard Bull. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press.
Foster, Susan Leigh. 2003. “Taken by Surprise: Improvisation in Dance and Mind.” In Taken by Surprise: A Dance Improvisation Reader, edited by Ann Cooper Albright and David Gere, 3–10. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press.
Francis, C., G. Lieblein, S. Gliessman, T.A. Breland, N. Creamer, R. Harwood, L. Salomonsson, et al. 2003. “Agroecology: The Ecology of Food Systems.” Journal of Sustainable Agriculture 22 (3):99–118. https://doi.org/10.1300/J064v22n03_10.
Francis, Charles, Tor Arvid Breland, Edvin Østergaard, Geir Lieblein, and Suzanne Morse. 2013. “Phenomenon-Based Learning in Agroecology: A Prerequisite for Transdisciplinarity and Responsible Action.” Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems 37 (1):60–75. https://doi.org/10.1080/10440046.2012.717905.
Freire, Paulo. 1970. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Herder and Herder.
Gere, David. 2003. “Intoduction.” In Taken by Surprise: A Dance Improvisation Reader, edited by Ann Cooper Albright and David Gere, xii–xxi. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press.
Giguere, Miriam. 2015. “Dance Education Action Research: A Twin Study.” Research in Dance Education 16 (1):16–32. https://doi.org/10.1080/14647893.2014.971231.
Goldman, Danielle. 2010. I Want to Be Ready: Improvised Dance as a Practice of Freedom. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Guzmán, Gloria I., Daniel López, Lara Román, and Antonio M. Alonso. 2013. “Participatory Action Research in Agroecology: Building Local Organic Food Networks in Spain.” Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems 37 (1):127–46. https://doi.org/10.1080/10440046.2012.718997.
Janes, Julia E. 2016. “Democratic Encounters? Epistemic Privilege, Power, and Community-Based Participatory Action Research.” Action Research 14 (1):72–87. https://doi.org/10.1177/1476750315579129.
Kerawalla, Lucinda, Karen Littleton, Eileen Scanlon, Trevor Collins, Mark Gaved, Paul Mulholland, Ann Jones, Gill Clough, and Canan Blake. 2012. “Doing Geography: A Multimodal Analysis of Students’ Situated Improvisational Interpretation During Fieldtrips.” Learning, Culture and Social Interaction 1 (2):78–89. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lcsi.2012.05.001.
Kindon, Sara Louise, Rachel Pain, and Mike Kesby. 2007. “Participatory Action Research: Origins, Approaches and Methods.” In Participatory Action Research Approaches and Methods. New York: Routledge.
Lakoff, George, and Mark R.D. Johnson. 1980. Metaphors We Live by. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
León Santos, Jesús. 2011. “Personal Interview.” Asunción Nochixtlan, Oaxaca, Mexico.
Levidow, Les, Michel Pimbert, and Gaetan Vanloqueren. 2014. “Agroecological Research: Conforming or Transforming the Dominant Agro-Food Regime?” Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems 38 (10):1127–55. https://doi.org/10.1080/21683565.2014.951459.
Lewin, Kurt. 1946. “Action Research and Minority Problems.” Journal of Social Issues 2 (4):34–46. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-4560.1946.tb02295.x.
Lippert, Ingmar, Franz Krause, and Niklas Klaus Hartmann. 2015. “Environmental Management as Situated Practice.” Geoforum 66 (Supplement C):107–14. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2015.09.006.
Méndez, V. Ernesto, Christopher M. Bacon, and Roseann Cohen. 2013. “Agroecology as a Transdisciplinary, Participatory, and Action-Oriented Approach.” Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems 37 (1):3–18. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10440046.2012.736926.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 2001. Phénoménologie de La Perception. 4. Paris: Gallimard.
Mezirow, Jack. 2000. Learning as Transformation: Critical Perspectives on a Theory in Progress. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Novack, Cynthia Jean. 1990. Sharing the Dance: Contact Improvisation and American Culture. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press.
Patel, Raj, Rachel Bezner Kerr, Lizzie Shumba, and Laifolo Dakishoni. 2015. “Cook, Eat, Man, Woman: Understanding the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, Nutritionism and Its Alternatives from Malawi.” The Journal of Peasant Studies 42 (1):21–44. https://doi.org/10.1080/03066150.2014.971767.
Paxton, Steve, and Nancy Stark Smith. 1972. Chute. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FeSDsmIeHA.
Putnam, Heather, Wendy Godek, Susanne Kissmann, Jean Luckson Pierre, Santos Humberto Alvarado Dzul, Hector Calix de Dios, and Stephen Richard Gliessman. 2014. “Coupling Agroecology and PAR to Identify Appropriate Food Security and Sovereignty Strategies in Indigenous Communities.” Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems 38 (2):165–98. https://doi.org/10.1080/21683565.2013.837422.
Reason, Peter, and Hilary Bradbury, eds. 2008. The SAGE Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice. 2nd ed. Los Angeles: SAGE.
Rogé, Paul, and Marta Astier. 2015. “Changes in Climate, Crops, and Tradition: Cajete Maize and the Rainfed Farming Systems of Oaxaca, Mexico.” Human Ecology 43 (5):639–53. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-015-9780-y.
Rogé, Paul, Andrew R. Friedman, Marta Astier, and Miguel A. Altieri. 2014. “Farmer Strategies for Dealing with Climatic Variability: A Case Study from the Mixteca Alta Region of Oaxaca, Mexico.” Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems 38 (7):786–811. https://doi.org/10.1080/21683565.2014.900842.
Rogé, Paul, Aida C. Ríos, Silvia V. Ruiz, Patricio Sánchez, Francisco Mora, Miguel A. Altieri, and Marta Astier. 2016. “Manejo de Agroambientes Para La Resiliencia Agroecológica Al Cambio Climático: Los Sistemas Maíz Cajete Y Maíz de Temporal En San Miguel Huautla Nochixtlán Oaxaca.” Agroecología 11 (2). https://paulroge.net/sites/default/files/publications/roge-2016-manejo.pdf.
Rosset, Peter Michael, and María Elena Martínez Torres. 2016. “Agroecología, Territorio, Recampesinización Y Movimientos Sociales.” Estudios Sociales 25 (47):275–99. http://foodfirst.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Agroecolog%C3%ADa-territorio-recampesinizaci%C3%B3n-y-movimientos-sociales.pdf.
Schaffman, Karen. 2003. “Weighting Metaphors: A Response to Raymond W. Gibbs and ‘Hilary’.” In Taken by Surprise: A Dance Improvisation Reader, edited by Ann Cooper Albright and David Gere, 245–54. Middletown, Conn: Wesleyan University Press.
Silver, Jonathan. 2014. “Incremental Infrastructures: Material Improvisation and Social Collaboration Across Post-Colonial Accra.” Urban Geography 35 (6):788–804. https://doi.org/10.1080/02723638.2014.933605.
Smith, Nancy Stark. 1979. “Editor Note.” Contact Quarterly 5 (1):2.
Smith, Nancy Stark, and David Koteen. 2008. Caught Falling: The Confluence of Contact Improvisation, Nancy Stark Smith, and Other Moving Ideas. Northampton: Contact Editions.
Stoudt, Brett G., Madeline Fox, and Michelle Fine. 2012. “Contesting Privilege with Critical Participatory Action Research.” Journal of Social Issues 68 (1):178–93. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-4560.2011.01743.x.
Sudbury, Julia, and Margo Okazawa-Rey. 2009. “Introduction: Activist Scholarship and the Neoliberal University.” In Activist Scholarship: Antiracism, Feminism, and Social Change, 1–14. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers.
Tschakert, Petra, Kathleen Dietrich, Ken Tamminga, Esther Prins, Jen Shaffer, Emma Liwenga, and Alex Asiedu. 2014. “Learning and Envisioning Under Climatic Uncertainty: An African Experience.” Environment and Planning A 46 (5):1049–68. https://doi.org/10.1068/a46257.
Tschakert, Petra, Raymond Tutu, and Anna Alcaro. 2013. “Embodied Experiences of Environmental and Climatic Changes in Landscapes of Everyday Life in Ghana.” Emotion, Space and Society 7:13–25. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.emospa.2011.11.001.
Vogl, Christian R., Susanne Kummer, Friedrich Leitgeb, Christoph Schunko, and Magdalena Aigner. 2015. “Keeping the Actors in the Organic System Learning: The Role of Organic Farmers’ Experiments.” Sustainable Agriculture Research 4 (3). https://doi.org/10.5539/sar.v4n3p140.
Walla, Nala. 2008. “The Embodied Activist: Where Permaculture Meets the Arts.” Contact Quarterly 33 (2):28–31.
Wylie, John. 2002. “An Essay on Ascending Glastonbury Tor.” Geoforum 33 (4):441–54. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0016-7185(02)00033-7.
Wylie, John. 2009. “Landscape, Absence and the Geographies of Love.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 34 (3):275–89. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-5661.2009.00351.x.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Authors agree to publish their articles in ACME under the Creative Commons "Attribution/Non-Commercial/No Derivative Works" Canada licence. To read and review the agreement, click here. In line with fair attribution and proper permissions, note any copyrights of materials cited in your paper. Do not use materials that are not fair use without express written consent.