In a new paper, distinguished researcher and faculty at The City University of New York, Dr. Michelle Fine, explores the relationship between science and justice, a relationship she describes as “fragile, fraught, and essential.” As a founding member of the critical participatory action research field, she advocates for research that is conducted “with (not on or for) communities most affected.”
She asserts that studying the experience of injustice through the lenses of those most marginalized lends to the possibility of re-imagining what alternatives could be. In turn, such research, inspired by the radical and liberatory work of people such as W.E.B. DuBois, Marie Jahoda, John Dollard, Kenneth and Mamie Clark, and Ignacio Martín-Baró, has the potential to shift public policy toward more just practices. She describes her role as a critical psychology researcher:
“I typically enter these varied sites of inquiry from the bottom or the margin, through a tear in the fabric of the nation, to reveal with statistical and narrative evidence the consequences of inequity and lift up for analysis social policies that might be more just.” She continues, “As I argue in my new book, participatory public science, like public broadcasting, is central to sustaining and engaging diverse, participatory democracy, and to aligning psychological inquiry within human-rights struggles.”
In this recent paper, Fine introduces one project in particular: the 4-year multimethod evaluation project titled Changing Minds. A team of researchers including eight women in prison and five women from the Graduate Center aimed to investigate the impact of providing college programs in prison to women. This project serves as an example of a critical participatory action research project that was successfully harnessed to influence state and national policy.
The findings demonstrated the following:
- “Attending college in prison significantly reduces reincarceration rates and saves taxpayers’ money.”
- “College in prison improves the sense of safety within the prison environment.”
- “Attending college in prison transforms the lives of students and their children and promotes lasting transitions out of prison.”
These results were widely disseminated. Over 25 years later, and legislators continue to refer to the Changing Minds report. Fine shares:
“…Democrats and Republicans are increasingly calling us, downloading the Changing Minds report, and asking us to consult on their education in and after prison plans. A national coalition of foundations, led by the Ford Foundation working with the Obama administration’s U.S. Department of Education, raised private funds to support higher education in and after prison. A broad-based coalition of advocacy organizations and universities has mobilized to restore Pell Grants, launching private and public-private initiatives for college-in-prison programs, bolstered in part by the Changing Minds report.”
Fine discusses this project alongside epistemological and ethical implications that may guide an exploration of the relationship between science, public policy, and justice. For example, she highlights how participation and collaboration enhance validity, that dissemination should be strategic, the importance of patience and humility throughout the process, and the value in employing multiple methods to strengthen the evidence.
“Energized by the rising movements of young people, educators, workers, women, and individuals cultivating wisdom and movements at the margins, we have tithed social science on behalf of social justice so that we might contribute, humbly, to a different tomorrow.”
To hear more about Michelle Fine’s work and on Critical Participatory Action Research, you can access this podcast through the Society for Qualitative Inquiry in Psychology (SQIP) website: http://sqip.org/sqip-podcast-series/podcast-1-fine/
Fine, M. (2019). Science and Justice: A Fragile, Fraught, and Essential Relationship. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 14(1), 85-90. (Link)