Academic Research and Social Activism

Academic Research and Social Activism: Partnership or Isolation? 16 December 2012, School of Social Work, Mount Scopus Campus,Hebrew University, Jerusalem

Professors Shdaimah and Schram led the workshop, which took place at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s School of Social Work and Social Welfare. The topic was “Academic Research and Social Change Activism: Contact or Failure?” The workshop brought together some 50 participants – faculty and students from the Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, the Technion, Haifa University, and others, along with welfare workers and activists from human rights and social change organizations such as Amnesty International and Gisha. The faculty members came from various disciplines, among them social work, law, sociology, anthropology and criminology. Most of the students were participants in engaged courses, such as the Hebrew University’s “Human Rights and Israeli Society” or graduate/postgraduate students doing socially engaged research. 

The workshop addressed the complexity of reciprocal relations between researchers and social activists, examining the relevance of academic research to furthering the goals of social struggles and vice versa. Professors Schram and Shdaimah presented innovative methods and tools for creating partnerships between academics and activists, stressing the potential and the challenges that inhere in such partnerships. They analyzed approaches, strategies and research methodologies that might foster collaboration between the academy and social change organizations. The workshop exposed the participants to current knowledge with regard to models and practices of academy-community partnership in the world and to the integration of academic knowledge with that acquired in the field. It provided them with an opportunity to discuss and reflect on partnerships from the perspective of all the participants in the process. 

The main points made by Professors Schram and Shdaimah were as follows: 

Professor Schram discussed the problem of relations between social workers and the subjects of research in the sculpting of social policy; this confronts most, if not all, social workers conducting research in the field. His book provides theories regarding how to research issues that are of importance to both community and researcher. Professor Schram encourages the use of the “bottom-up” method according to which the community members are those who actually implement the change that social workers or researchers want to see in the community, and not mere objects of observation. The social worker should consider the role they wish to play and how they can utilize the knowledge of the community members successfully in their research by posing the simple question: What is the relationship between thought and action, or theory and policy? Schram also described the importance of problem-driven research in communities that call on social workers to help resolve their social issues. Researchers (social workers especially), should not fear the technical application of research and should push the boundaries of their discipline and use multiple methods. 

Professor Shdaimah explained the moral and ethical stance social workers might take towards the research being done in juxtaposition to their obligations as social workers or researchers. Social work today may be driven by individual legitimacy and academic status rather than the problems facing the community. In order to achieve the goals that the researcher has set, the knowledge and skills of both sides (researcher and community member) must be used and retained rather than compromised in order to reach middle ground. Professor Shdaimah described the research methods employed in the homelessness prevention project and also in the criminal justice department’s attempts to create a solution for prostitution. Social workers’ ethics compel them not to ignore findings that are disagreeable, but rather to understand the findings and interpret the knowledge for the benefit of the community. 

Conference in Haifa




(Right to Left) Prof. Johnny Gal, Dean of the School of Social Work and Social Welfare at the Hebrew University, Prof. Sanford Schram and Prof. Corey Shdaimah