PhD student Miguel Abad presented his research at the 117th American Anthropological Association (AAA) Annual Meeting in San Jose, November 14-18. The 2018 conference theme was Change in the Anthropological Imagination: Resistance, Resilience, and Adaptation. The title of Abad's presentation was "Revisiting The Lessons from the Damned: Youth Theory, Critical Bifocality and the Political Economy of PAR."
Participatory action research (PAR) has become an increasingly popular methodology of choice for scholars and educators who desire to interrupt dominant knowledge politics and pursue what Michelle Fine has described as “public science”. Despite its radical origins, PAR has become increasingly vulnerable to commodification within the academic marketplace, and rearticulation for the interests of the neoliberal university. To preserve its transformative potential, I offer a reminder for PAR oriented researchers and educators to design and pursue projects with their collaborators that substantively incorporate critical bifocality within their methodological agendas. Critical bifocality encourages all collaborators to attend to the historical, political, racialized, gendered and economic projects that come to shape even the most localized problems that PAR is often deployed to address. I draw from the works of The Black Women’s Liberation Group, a radical Black feminist collective situated in New Rochelle/Mt. Vernon, New York during the 1960s and 1970s. The group facilitated the creation of a multigenerational, independently published theoretical text known as The Lessons from the Damned. I offer this text as blueprint to imagine how attention to critical bifocality can expand the intellectual depth and rigor of collaborations among university and community-based researchers. This blueprint is concerned not only with providing young people with the means to be producers of knowledge, but to also develop more sophisticated analyses of the interconnections between localized issues and the structures that animate all social problems.