Dorian Warren on Engaged Scholarship
At ISPS’s second meeting of its newly inaugurated workshop, Dorian Warren, an associate professor at Columbia University and former Yale graduate student, addressed the promises and challenges of pursuing “engaged scholarship.” For Warren, social scientists can produce such scholarship in at least three ways:
1. Asking questions that address real world problems;
2. Advocating for their policy-relevant findings; and
3. Drawing evidence from and sharing findings with people on the ground.
Having dedicated his career to producing engaged scholarship, including three years embedded in a Chicago hotel workers union, Warren admitted to being well aware of the costs associated with his type of work. Not only is it time consuming, but it can make scholars the targets of those with opposing views. Indeed, scholars even risk offending the very groups they work with when their findings contradict those groups’ positions.
But these costs, Warren argued, are well worth the benefits of engaged scholarship. His approach has allowed him to bring rigorous empirical work to bear on important policy debates; opened up new data and research opportunities (publicity around his work on Wal-Mart led the company to offer access he might not have gotten without commenting publicly on the company’s alleged Mexican bribery scandal); and led him to ask important questions that he might not otherwise have been able to identify.
Thus, engaged scholarship, according to Warren, represents not only a contribution to the public discourse about politics and policy, but is just as importantly a way of generating great questions and discovering new sources of data. It’s an important point for all scholars to consider as they develop their research agendas.