Reflections on Different Approaches to Socially-Engaged Research in the Social Sciences

As a scholar-activist whose advocacy and research goals involve understanding the complexities of Filipino migrants’ lives, I have oftentimes contemplated how to advance socially engaged research projects that enable academic theorizing and social justice. As a member of the Filipino diaspora, I am an “insider” researcher. I am inspired by projects that synthesize research and community agendas. Although I do not think that researchers have to be insiders to undertake socially engaged research, my personal stakes in these projects are higher because I can see that such projects have the potential to improve the situations of underrepresented communities – in this case, Filipino migrant communities.

In this article, I reflect on two previous collaborative projects with Filipino migrant organizations in Canada. By comparing both projects, my goal is show two vastly different approaches to socially engaged research, ultimately arguing that different understandings of social engagement led to disparate outcomes. The first project best exemplifies the use of socially engaged research as a tool for social justice whereas the second project highlights a hierarchical approach where academic knowledge-creation was prioritized above community needs. When comparing the two, project one offers a better model for socially engaged research that equally prioritizes academic and community priorities compared to project two. In the ensuing discussion, I provide a brief review of previous socially engaged research on diasporic Filipina migrant communities. Then, I compare two projects where my collaborators and I used socially engaged research as the basis for a short discussion of possible best practices.