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A Social Justice Framework for Application of Critical Research Methodologies


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Title: A Social Justice Framework for Application of Critical Research Methodologies

A Social Justice Framework for Application of
Critical Research Methodologies
  • Bharat Mehra
  • School of Information Sciences, University of
  • E-mail bmehra_at_utk.edu
  • URL http//www.sis.utk.edu/people/faculty/mehra
  • Date 2 April, 2007

  • Select Critical Research Considerations
  • Past Research
  • A Social Justice Framework
  • One Current Research Project Community Action on
    Behalf of LBGTQ Populations
  • Team activity Your application of the social
    justice framework to a topic/project of your

Critical Research
  • Assumes that social reality is historically
    constituted and that it is produced and
    reproduced by people
  • Recognizes that peoples ability to consciously
    act to change their social and economic
    circumstances is constrained by various forms of
    social, cultural and political domination
  • Acknowledges that the main task of research is
    one of social critique, whereby the restrictive
    and alienating conditions of the status quo are
    brought to light, questioned, and changed
  • Jurgen Habermas of the Frankfurt School

Critical Research Considerations
  • Working with underserved populations Critical
    theory recognizes perspectives of all
    stakeholders in different situations and this
    includes points of view of the under-represented
    in order to do justice to a diversity of
    socially defined perspectives while providing a
    grounding for the evaluation of controversial
    problems (Endres, 1996, 24).
  • Reflective process to question traditional
    understandings and scrutinize existing values,
    practices, ideological frameworks, and processes
    (Kellner, 1989 Habermas, 1993 Froomkin, 2003).

Past Research
Under-represented Population Research Context Information Context Method of Research
Minority residents East St. Louis Building geographic information systems Mapping citys cultural and physical fabric Use of IT in community technology centers Participatory design Service learning Action research Community networking
Low-income individuals Small Business Owners Prairienet Community Network in East-Central Illinois Technology training Building culturally relevant online content Action research Community networking
Local African-American women SisterNet, a group of activist Black women Health information and services Participatory action research Community networking
Sexual minorities Urbana-Champaign, Illinois Computer-mediated communication and use of online resources for action-oriented change in their everyday lives Content analysis Socially grounded methods
Puerto Rican community Chicagos Paseo Boricua neighborhood Development of a community library as a symbol of cultural identity Service learning Action research Community networking
International teaching assistants UIUC Glocal use of the Internet to fulfill their diasporic needs Mixed quantitative and qualitative methods
International doctoral students GSLIS, UIUC Building a model of their experiences for internationalizing implications in LIS education Qualitative methods Participant observation Content analysis
Critical Research Considerations
  • Change agency and empowerment Elicit suggestions
    for improvements to make peoples experiences
    better Bring a change in socio-economic and
    sociopolitical realties by helping people help
    themselves (Mehra, 2006a)

Methods Participatory Action Research
  • Challenge traditional definitions of knowledge
    Democratization of the knowledge process in which
    the people who are usually considered research
    subjects become part of the research process as
    researchers analyzing their own experiences
    (Mehra, 2006b)
  • Emphasis on social justice and social equity via
    action to change imbalances in distribution of
    resources, information, and power (Stoecker
    Bonacich, 1992)

Qualitative Research Methods Action Research
  • AR aims to contribute both to the practical
    concerns of people in an immediate problematic
    situation and to the goals of social science by
    joint collaboration within a mutually acceptable
    ethical framework (Rapoport, 1970, p. 499)
  • AR is a valid research method in applied fields,
    provides outcome-based results, and suggests
    direction for change (Kemmis McTaggart, 1988)
  • AR is closely ties to interpretive inquiry hence
    traditional criteria to evaluate rigor in
    experimental researchobjectivity, reliability,
    validity, and generalizabilityare inappropriate,
    and AR researchers may establish trustworthiness
    of their study by reporting on credibility,
    transferability, dependability, and
    confirmability (Stringer, 1999).

Critical Research Considerations
  • Democratic and participative ideologies
  • Equal participation of disenfranchised users
  • Learning in collaboration
  • Community inquiry into participants everyday
  • Online-offline convergences
  • Use of mixed methods
  • Situated nature of applications and concrete
  • Promoting inclusiveness Outreach in planning and
    policy implementation

Social Justice Considerations 
  • Mehra, B., Albright, K. S., Rioux, K. (2006).
    A Practical Framework for Social Justice Research
    in the Information Professions. Proceedings of
    the 69th Annual Meeting of the American Society
    for Information Science Technology 2006
    Information Realities Shaping the Digital Future
    For All. Volume 43. poster/short paper
  • Recognize traditionally identified marginalized
    as equals who are experts in knowing their own
  • Develop equitable partnerships in LIS to empower
    people to make changes in their everyday
  • Discard labels that minimize peoples experiences
    and identify all project participants as
    community researchers

Social Justice Goal in LIS Research
  • Contextualize LIS work in the everyday
    experiences of society's "marginalized" in ways
    that make a difference in their socio-economic
    and socio-political experiences of
  • Recognize the diverse potential of LIS work for
    bringing real change in people's lives
  • Begin to re-examine LIS scholarship, practice,
    and relevance to emerging social contexts of the
    21st century
  • Identify and explore a range of "how to" methods
    and approaches in LIS that may build upon the
    existing and perhaps limited measures of social
    justice outcomes and impacts.

Key Social Justice Elements
  • An underserved population Identifies which group
    (or individuals) we are working with.
  • The information (communication) need Presents an
    asset-based approach that recognizes the
    strengths of various stakeholders (including the
    identified marginalized) it goes beyond a
    deficit approach traditionally adopted in LIS
    research and helps to develop a service plan that
    taps into existing strengths embedded in the
  • Methodologies Examines research approaches used
    in the process of engaging with the study
  • Outcomes What are the tangible and intangible
    changes that have occurred in the lives of the
    targeted individuals before and after getting
    involved in the project?
  • Assessment and evaluation Did the original need
    that motivated the interaction get addressed? How
    effective were the strategies that were adopted
    to address the original issue?
  • Others Identify others that may be specific to
    particular projects.

RESEARCH QUESTION How can information and
communication professionals bring about social
change that transforms marginalized peoples
lives and makes a difference in their experiences?
Key Social Justice Elements in LIS  
Element Illustrative Study 1 Illustrative Study 2 Illustrative Study 3
Population Uganda organizations Population in rural Pennsylvania with low library access use levels Sexual minorities (LGBTQ individuals) in East Tennessee
Information need HIV/AIDS info Basic health information about diseases (cancer, diabetes) and local health services Information support services for individual, social, legal/political representation
Research methodology Interviews Survey research Grounded theory methods (i.e., interviews) Participatory action research Qualitative interviews Community mobilization
Achievement of outcomes (in progress) Catalog of information types Changes in levels of knowledge, attitudes, behaviors regarding health local health resources services Changes in policies, information seeking opportunities, safety, provision of culturally relevant materials, health support facilities, curriculum planning, traditional library information services
Assessment Correlation between organization type information that is disseminated On-going On-going
Theoretical Principles
  • Fairness and equity in social relationships Do
    the projects reflect upon making various
    experiences more equitable for specific
    underserved individuals or populations?
  • Empowerment How is the interaction changing the
    ways social conditions were before and after the
    interaction for different individuals involved in
    the project? How is their perception about their
    role in determining the course of their lives
    changed as a result of their project
  • Economic, political, social, cultural, and
    environmental impacts How is the interaction
    changing the ways things are at these levels
    before and after the interaction?

Theoretical Principles
  • Community building and community development
    Building equitable partnerships and
    collaborations within and across the academy with
    local, national and international communities to
    promote social equity and social justice for
    individual, social, and community empowerment of
    the disenfranchised.
  • Diversity, multiplicity, and democracy Varied
    and participative involvement in decision-making.
  • Everyday information needs How does the project
    change how everyday information needs of the
    disenfranchised get met?
  • Community informatics Exploring the role and the
    application of information and communication
    technologies (ICTs) to empower and enable local
    and global communities to meet their goals and

Social Justice Principles in Illustraive Studies
  SJ Principles   Illustrative Study 1   Illustrative Study 2   Illustrative Study 3
Fairness/equity in social relationships Serving those infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS Outreach to underserved populations in a rural environment Individual, social, legal/political representation for sexual minorities
Empowerment Individual Providing individuals with information to prevent or treat HIV/AIDS Informing individuals about health issues local health resources and services Perception of social acceptance availability of information support services
Empowerment Economic, political, social, cultural, environmental impacts Goal to reduce the prevalence of HIV/AIDS Goal to contribute in improving healthcare in the community Equitable policy development, formalized recognition/representation, improved information support services
Community building Within the academy Collaboration between government, NGOs, community-based faith-based organizations Collaboration between researchers in IS, public health, nursing, pharmacy, etc. Partnerships between IS professionals other progressive units networking between (earlier isolated) LGBT faculty/student/staff
Social Justice Principles in Illustraive Studies
  SJ Principles Illustrative Study 1   Illustrative Study 2   Illustrative Study 3
Community building Beyond the academy Organizational sharing of HIV/AIDS information Collaboration between citizens, healthcare providers, librarians, support groups, etc. Community LGBT ally groups/individuals across the university/community
Diversity, multiplicity, democracy Coordination of organizations at all levels of public private sector involved in HIV/AIDs information Determination of underserved users needsGoal expanding community participation improving access to information Creating visibility mobilization to propel change in support of LGBT people/issues via building ally networks participative collaborations
Everyday information needs HIV/AIDS information Basic health information Needs related to individual respect, social equality, and adequate representation for sexual minorities
Community informatics Dissemination of HIV/AIDS information using culturally appropriate technologies and formats (e.g., drama, radio) Public library systems use of kiosks in non-library settings to deliver basic health information to a population that does not typically use library resources Development of web campus/community information support services to tackle ignorance provide effective information support services
Current Research
  1. Campus Climate and Community Action for the
    Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and
    Questioning (LGBTQ) Community at the University
    of Tennessee (with Donna Braquet, Librarian, UT
    Hodges Library)
  2. How can the University of Tennessee Improve its
    Information Support Services for African-American
    Students to Increase Enrollment, Retention, and
    Develop Minority Student Leadership? Case
    Perspectives of African-American Graduate
    Students (with Cheryl Ann Lambert, Ph. D.
    Student, UT School of Advertising and Public
  3. Information Support Services for International
    Graduate Students at the University of Tennessee
    (with Dania Bilal, Associate Professor, SIS)

Campus Climate for the GLBTQ Community
  • INTRODUCTION Let us begin with general
    introductions. This is completely optional.
    Please tell us only what you are comfortable
    sharing about yourself and/or your GLBTQ-related
    experiences at the University of Tennessee.
    comfortable are you with the campus climate at
    UTK for sexual minorities? Prompt Why are you
    so comfortable or not so comfortable?.
    What are some areas of development in a
    university policy plan that you may want to
    propose to bring about institutional change of
    support for GLBTQ individuals on campus? Prompt
    Have you been affected by UTK policies or lack of
  • PERSONAL SAFETY How can the university become
    safer for GLBTQ individuals? Prompts What is
    your perception of safety on campus? Describe any
    incidents that you are aware of where personal
    safety of a GLBTQ individual was challenged? How
    can there be improvements in the following
    Response to assaults? Training of officers?
    Information reporting and information awareness
    of campus hate crimes?.

Campus Climate for the GLBTQ Community
    university improve its health and support
    services for GLBTQ individuals on campus?
    Prompts How can the university improve its
    health and support services in areas of
    counseling, health information dissemination,
    student/staff organizations, and safe space
  • CURRICULUM AND PLANNING How can the university
    improve its curriculum and programming for
    support of GLBTQ individuals? Prompts
    integration throughout the curriculum focused
    specialization courses campus sponsored
    programs and support of research initiatives.
    the university improve its institutional
    commitment to promote a positive experience for
    GLBTQ individuals on campus? Prompts
    discrimination coverage of harassment at new
    student/employee orientation equal benefits
    health and housing and campus initiatives such
    as advisory council and task force.

Campus Climate for the GLBTQ Community
  • IMPROVEMENTS Is there anything else that would
    make life for GLBTQ individuals at UT better?
    What can the university do to make life at UT a
    more positive experience for GLBTQ individuals?
    PROCESS Think back to when you came out or
    perhaps a friends experiences of coming out.
    Within a few years, can you state the year when
    you/your friend began the coming out process?
  • During the stage when you were starting to
    recognize that you may not be heterosexual
  • What types of information did you seek?
  • Where did you seek this information? (Internet,
    bookstore, friends, library, support group, etc.)
  • What type of information was most helpful?
  • What type of information would have been helpful?

Campus Climate for the GLBTQ Community
  • When you first started coming out to other
    queers/starting friendships with other queers
  • How did you find other queers?
  • What type of information did you seek?
  • Where did you seek it?
  • What would have been helpful during this time?
  • When you were preparing to come out to close
    friends and family
  • After coming out
  • How could libraries/librarians help during the
    coming out process?

Campus Climate for the GLBTQ Community
  • Awareness of Library Resources
  • How aware are you of the UT Librarys GLBTQ
    related resources (books, films, journals,
  • Resource Use
  • How important do you think having access to GLBTQ
    related library resources is?
  • Have there been any instances where you have
    needed or used GLBTQ library resources? (personal
    use, class use?)
  • How easy or difficult are they to find? What
    types of resources did you use?
  • Evaluation of Library Resources
  • How would you evaluate the Librarys GLBTQ
    related resources?
  • In which GLBTQ related areas do you think the
    Library is most lacking, most adequate?
  • How can the Library improve awareness and use of
    GLBT resources?

Campus Climate for the GLBTQ Community
  • Awareness of Library Reference Service
  • How aware are you of the Library staffs ability
    to help with finding information on GLBTQ related
  • Reference Use
  • Do you think the ability to ask GLBTQ related
    questions at the Library is important? Have there
    been any instances when you asked a GLBTQ related
  • Evaluation of Library Reference Service
  • What has been your experience with asking GLBTQ
    related questions at the Library?
  • How comfortable or uncomfortable would you feel
    asking a GLBTQ-related question? If you havent
    asked a question, how do you think GLBTQ related
    questions would be handled by library staff?
  • What would make you feel more comfortable? How
    would you feel most comfortable asking GLBTQ
    related questions (in person, by phone, via chat
    or e-mail)?
  • How can the UT Library improve services for GLBTQ
    individuals? What can the UT Libraries do to
    improve the standing of GLBTQ individuals on

Campus Climate for the GLBTQ Community
  • Mehra, B., Braquet, D. (2007).
    Information-Seeking Behaviors during Queer
    Youth Coming Out Experiences. In M. K. Chelton
    C. Cool (eds.), Youth Information Seeking
    Behaviors Contexts, Theories, Models and Issues
    (pp. 93-131). Toronto, Canada Scarecrow Press.
  • Mehra, B., Braquet, D. (2006). A Queer
    Manifesto of Interventions for Libraries to Come
    Out of the Closet! A Study of Queer Youth
    Experiences during the Coming Out Process,
    Library and Information Science Research
    Electronic Journal, Volume 16, Issue 1 (March
  • Braquet, D., Mehra, B. (2006). Contextualizing
    Internet Use Practices of the Cyber-Queer
    Empowering Information Realities in Everyday
    Life. Proceedings of the 69th Annual Meeting of
    the American Society for Information Science
    Technology 2006 Information Realities Shaping
    the Digital Future For All. Volume 43.
    poster/short paper.
  • Mehra, B., Braquet, D. (in press). Library and
    Information Science Professionals as Community
    Action Researchers in an Academic Setting Top
    Ten Directions to Further Institutional Change
    for People of Diverse Sexual Orientations and
    Gender Identities, Library Trends.
  • Mehra, B., Albright, K. S., Rioux, K. (2006). A
    Practical Framework for Social Justice Research
    in the Information Professions. Proceedings of
    the 69th Annual Meeting of the American Society
    for Information Science Technology 2006
    Information Realities Shaping the Digital Future
    For All. Volume 43. poster/short paper.
    (secondary focus).
  • Mehra, B., Srinivasan, R. (under review). The
    Library-Community Convergence Framework for
    Community Action A New Role of the Library as a
    Catalyst of Social Change, Libri International
    Journal of Libraries and Information Services.
    (secondary focus).

Community Action Research Agenda
  • Findings from qualitative studies and action
    research include
  • Typical barriers/challenges faced by local LGBTQ
    individuals towards self-fulfillment and social
  • Top ten prioritized community actions of what we
    need to do and how do we do it for furthering
    acceptance of LGBTQ people
  • Current directions of progress made in the UTK
    academic environment over a period of 2 years

  • What efforts can be made to promote progressive
    institutional changes on behalf of LGBTQ people?

Top Ten Actions for Institutional Change
No. Barriers/Challenges What We Need To Do
1. Social isolation and lack of awareness of LGBTQ people Use social and digital technologies to build connections between LGBTQ people
2. No formalized support and institutional protection Gain institutional commitment for legal and political/social protection
3. Lack of political representation Active participation in political lobbying and building political support networks
4. Conservative climate breeds hatred and contempt Develop safe space programs and sensitivity training in various areas
Top Ten Actions for Institutional Change
No. Barriers/Challenges What We Need To Do
5. Cloak of invisibility surrounding LGBTQ concerns and negative stereotyping Create visibility and awareness of LGBT issues via active programming, hosting of events, and activity planning
6. Inadequate information support services and no awareness of existing resources Develop accurate and fair LGBTQ information resources and collections and promote visibility by proactive advertising
7. Lack of coverage of LGBT materials in courses and curriculum Create specialized courses that specifically focus on LGBTQ materials and cover LGBTQ issues in all relevant courses
Top Ten Actions for Institutional Change
No. Barriers/Challenges What We Need To Do
8. Lack of provision of adequate and fair services to LGBTQ needs Create formalized channels of communication and information flow between LGBTQ individuals and the administration
9. Perceived negative backlash or repercussions in academic setting Take actions against discrimination to project signals that any sort of prejudice will not be tolerated
10. Isolated disconnected efforts in LGBT advocacy Coordinate between isolated LGBT advocacy efforts
What are the specific actions we are taking as
LIS community action researchers in the
University of Tennessee?
Using social/digital technologies to build
connections between LGBTQ and allies
  • Informal/formal networking has helped us develop
    contacts, communicate, and collaborate with
    allies and support agencies. These include
  • UT LGBT faculty, staff, and students members of
    local LGBT community-based groups and social
    justice agencies and members of the UTs Office
    of Equity and Diversity (OED) and Diversity
  • We created a listserv LGBTANet in August 2005
    that has helped in information sharing,
    communication exchange, and building
    institutional memory for LGBTQ individuals and
    allies (URL http//listserv.utk.edu/archives/lgbt

Seeking institutional commitment for legal,
political, and social protection
  • Chancellor Crabtrees encouraging response during
    our first meeting in December 2005 and his e-mail
    confirmation (received on December 8, 2005) that
    UT President John Petersen had authorized the
    inclusion of sexual orientation in a welcoming
    statement attached to the UT non-discrimination
  • Our involvement in procedural steps following
    administrative protocols
  • Reaching a consensus amongst local LGBTQ
    members/allies in identifying a new name
    Commission for LGBT representative of current
    national trends
  • Developing initial Bylaws of the Commission for
    LGBT People in consultation with members of the
    UTs Diversity Council
  • Creating a volunteer list of 16 UT LGBT people
    who were willing to serve on the board of the
    future Commission for LGBT People
  • Participating in the first organizational meeting
    of the Commission on 12 December 2006, and
    meeting with the Chancellor on 9 January 2007

Participating in political lobbying and building
political support networks
We collaborated with LGBTQ allies in preparing
pro-LGBTQ resolution statements and refining
vocabulary constructs representing sexual
minorities in a city ordinance non-discrimination
clause that were presented and discussed during
focus group and individual meetings in fall 2005
with local Councilmen Bob Becker and Chris

Developing safe space programs and sensitivity
  • In OEDs Diversity Experience Workshop (DEW)
    Advisory Group, we have partnered with
    faculty/staff/students across campus to identify
    appropriate content on LGBTQ needs
  • We developed information for the workshops that
    focus on LGBTQ as special populations as well
    as represent LGBTQ issues in general workshops on
  • Workshop components are being delivered during
    various events on campus (new student/faculty
    orientations, forums in fraternities/sororities,
    and departmental diversity evaluation sessions)


Creating awareness of LGBTQ issues via active
programming and hosting of events
We planned and participated in a workshop (18
April, 2006) sponsored by the community-based
GLBTQ Task Force Against Domestic Violence on
educational training for service providers in
public agencies such as the police force, health
services, counseling centers, and social work
agencies to provide effective services to meet
the needs of LGBTQ people

Developing accurate and fair LGBTQ information
  • The Diversity News Channel
  • (http//www.lib.utk.edu/news/diversity/archives/g
    lbt/), hosted on the UTK library server,
    presents current information about LGBTQ
    happenings and programs
  • The UTK librarys Cultural Corner (offline and
    online) (http//www.lib.utk.edu/diversity/culturec
    orner/springlist-06.html) is an effort to
    demarcate a visible physical and virtual space
    on LBGTQ issues of contemporary relevance
  • The recent compilation of the Gay, Lesbian,
    Bisexual, Transgender Resource Guide
  • online access to local LGBTQ resources and

Teaching IS 592 titled Race, Gender, and
Sexuality in the Information Professions during
spring 2005 provided me opportunities for
understanding the campus climate on issues
related to sexual orientation from a deeper
perspectiveDuring the 2007 spring semester,
students in the course are partnering with the
East Tennessee LGBT Youth Project to assess and
evaluate child welfare and juvenile justice
programs, library and social support service
providers, and secondary school systems based on
discussions with LGBT youth
Creating specialized courses that specifically
focus on LGBTQ materials
Thank you for your attention.
  • Questions and Comments?
  • Team activity Your application of the social
    justice framework to a topic/project of your
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