In this issue

The wisdom borne in the “mixed” (methods) marriage of SQIP and Div. 5

Coming together in difficult times.

By Michelle Fine, PhD

I was honored to be nominated for, and to receive, the Award for Distinguished Contributions in Qualitative Inquiry Award from Div. 5. Let me say first, this is a collective recognition of all the projects housed at The Public Science Project (PSP), at the Graduate Center CUNY where Maria Elena Torre, PhD, is director; a university-community “lab” where former and current graduate students and community researchers design participatory policy research. At The Graduate Center, we have dedicated ourselves to building a research institute for public, participatory science, where academics join with policy makers, students, lawyers, advocates and youth to design quantitative and qualitative research on issues of social injustice and policy alternatives. As I argue in my forthcoming book, “Just Research: Widening the Methodological Imagination in Contentious Times” (Teachers College Press, 2017) participatory “public science,” like public broadcasting, is central to sustaining and engaging our diverse, participatory democracy.

It seems particularly timely, and indeed urgent, that those of us engaged in serious thought about research, knowledge, methods, epistemology and ethics come together in a division enriched by the distinct ways we approach science.

In this brief article, I want to look back as well look forward, and remember that since the late 1800s, social scientists and psychologists in particular have been centrally engaged in the relatively eclipsed history of community policy research, undertaken by racially and economically diverse collectives of researchers, activists, community members, educators, students, and sometimes musicians/artists, alongside communities in crisis, to advance the common good.

In the late 1890s, in Philadelphia, the great scholar W. E. B. Du Bois, who had worked with William James at Harvard, was asked by Philadelphia's Susan Wharton to investigate “the Negro problem.” Understanding that the invitation was framed in a way that focused problematically on the black community as the source of concern, Du Bois nevertheless took up the challenge and proceeded, with community members, to systematically map the housing, health, education and financial conditions in which poor blacks were managing difficult lives. He meticulously documented how problems that showed up in the black community - the Negro problem - could be traced back to history, structures and policies of exclusion and discrimination. Du Bois produced scholarly documents, including the groundbreaking sociological text, “The Philadelphia Negro” (1899) and also wrote policy documents, newspaper articles, published a novel, “The Quest of the Silver Fleece” (1911/2008); and produced an extravagant pageant, “The Star of Ethiopia,” to educate the African-American public in the north and the south about their history and sociology.

Equally committed to community-based research, and in the same historic era, in 1889 in Chicago, sociologist Jane Addams and her partner Ellen Starr established Hull House as the first settlement house in the United States for recently arrived immigrants, living collectively with Addams's and Starr's elite friends. In the Hull House center for research, study and debate conducted across class and life stations, residents of Hull House and the professional researchers working with them collaboratively investigated truancy, typhoid, midwifery, housing, garbage collection and cocaine use. Hull House initiated the research with/by residents, including elite women and poor immigrants, publishing again scholarly articles, popular education materials, writing essays for newspapers, and like Du Bois, launched a drama club and theater group for “dissemination.”

Post World War I, across the Atlantic, in Marienthal, Austria, when the looms in the textile factory stopped in 1930, Maria Jahoda and colleagues from the Institute of Psychology at the University of Vienna joined with community members to document the material and embodied consequences of massive unemployment on community life. Like Du Bois and Addams before them, they published popular and academic texts, including the brilliant text Marienthal, they translated the research into materials for political organizers, and circulated the materials on a socialist radio program, after which Jahoda was briefly imprisoned (Jahoda, Lazarsfeld, & Zeisel, 2001).

In Appalachia in the 1960s, Myles Horton, director of the Highlander Folk School/Research and Education Center in Tennessee, collaborated with sociologist Helen Lewis, director of Appalachian Research at Berea College. At the initiative of white, coal mining housewives who were already collecting incidence records of fathers, husbands and sons with black lung disease, Highlander brought citizen science together with disabled miners, black lung physicians, leaders of the United Mine Workers and musicians, to document, in epidemiology and song, the embodied consequences of the coal mining industry. The Highlander School was attacked by the Ku Klux Klan and padlocked shut by the FBI, only to reopen shortly thereafter, having received a bank loan from one of the few black bankers in the Knoxville region.

In 1982, social psychologist and Jesuit priest Ignacio Martín-Baró returned from graduate school at the University of Chicago to El Salvador to initiate a series of “the people's research projects” at Universidad Centroamericana, where he was the director of the University Institute for Public Opinion. “Nacho,” as he was called, argued that participatory research, of and by “the people,” was essential to “challenge the official lies” of the dictatorship. In his short career, Martín-Baró seeded and launched a line of liberation psychology, by and for the people. He and five colleagues were murdered by a counterinsurgency unit of the Salvadoran government elite in November of 1989.

While Martin-Baro was committed to publishing only in Spanish for his Latin American communities, in the 1990s a set of Boston-based psychologists organized to translate his brilliant and inspiring writings on critical participatory research, available in “Writings for a Liberation Psychology: Ignacio Martín-Baró” (1994).

During this same era, in the late 1980s, the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions coalesced within the Greenhaven Think Tank, at Greenhaven prison in New York State. A research team of men in the prison, led by former Black Panther Eddie Ellis, was dedicated to investigating and preventing the rising numbers of black and Latino men consigned to the New York state prison system. Under the direction of Ellis, who was imprisoned for 23 years, and with the help of psychologist Kenneth Clark, the men of the center—all incarcerated “street penologists”—designed a study that systematically determined that 85 percent of the New York state prisoners were black and Latino, and 75 pecent of them originated in seven neighborhoods downstate. Members of the Blacks' Resurrection study group and the Latino-based group Conciencia integrated the seven neighborhood results into a Greenhaven Think Tank (1997) policy document. They urged a nontraditional policy analysis of the seven “symbiotic” neighborhoods—Lower East Side, South Bronx, Harlem, Brownsville, Bedford–Stuyvesant, East New York and South Jamaica—to the then 62 state prisons. The policy document recommended a nontraditional vision: That these men, while in prison, should be trained in community development, mentorship and adult education, and once paroled back to those communities, should be funded to help rebuild the community through internships, mentoring and community programs. The men even detailed their vision for a prisoner-run model prison. While Ellis has since passed away, the center survives in Brooklyn, and the soul of the center, like much of the leadership in the seven neighborhoods, can be found in cohorts of men and women formerly involved in what they call the “criminal punishment” system.

In the mid-1990s, just after Pell Grants were pulled out of prisons, and most of the 350 college in prison programs in the country closed, leaving only eight in 1995, a small group of women prisoners at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility gathered to “resurrect” college in the prison. When they decided that they wanted an evaluation, Maria Elena Torre and I, along with Kathy Boudin, Iris Bowen, Judy Clark, Donna Hylton, Migdalia Martinez, Missy Wilkins, Melissa Rivera, Rosemarie Roberts, Pam Smart and Debora Upegui (seven women from Bedford together with five of us from CUNY) collaborated for four years gathering data from the women, the State Department of Corrections, from corrections officers, faculty, and children of incarcerated women, to document the impact of college in prison. Together we published a statistical and narrative analysis of the multi-faceted impact of the college program on the women, their children, recidivism rates, and “peace” in the prison. We co-authored a chapter in the APA Handbook of Qualitative Methods (see Fine, et al, 2003), we distributed copies of “Changing Minds: The Impact of College in a Women's Maximum Security Prison” to every governor in the country and state legislator in New York and since that time we have collaborated on research projects with children of incarcerated women and men; statistical and narrative analyses of “long termers” (published in the Journal of Social Issues ) and now recently, a chapter on formerly incarcerated adults enrolling in college.

In 2012, a group of mothers and grandmothers in the South Bronx, working with a public interest lawyer, contacted social psychologists Brett Stoudt, Maria Elena Torre and others at the Public Science Project (PSP) at The Graduate Center, CUNY (Stoudt & Torre, 2014). For years the women had been gathering evidence—videotaping with their phones, out their windows—of the brutal interactions of the New York City Police Department (NYPD) with their sons; trading views from varied floors in their apartment buildings; archiving and analyzing the patterns; following their friends to the police station to prove their boys' innocence. Now they were asking for help to develop a more systematic community-wide survey. The Morris Justice Project, a deeply rooted community survey of aggressive policing in a 40-square-block area of the Bronx, gathered empirical evidence from more than 1,000 residents on over-policing and the consequences for children, community safety and democracy. The findings were introduced as legal evidence into the stop-and-frisk Floyd v. City of New York case, have been shared with the Coalition for Fair Policing, and have been replicated by young people in the community group Make the Road in Brooklyn. The research team of mothers, grandmothers, community members, and researchers from the Graduate Center has presented their findings at the White House conference on citizen science, to police departments in Toronto and Paris, and at a variety of academic meetings. They shared their work throughout the Bronx and Brooklyn, with the mayor's office, and in advocacy campaigns. As a team they facilitate Stats 'N Action workshops at the Yankee Tavern for community people to get familiar with local policing statistics, hold Know Your Rights sessions, and distribute cleverly designed fliers of their findings at Yankee Stadium. The T-shirts they distribute are tagged with open-ended survey responses that read, “It's not a crime to be who I am” or “Why do I always fit the description?” The shirt is most sobering in child's size small.

Across all the projects just described, we can trace a deep strain and long history of critical social scientists working with everyday people gathering data on how they have been discriminated against, exposed to environmental toxins, imprisoned and aggressively policed, with the goals of informing policy, organizing communities, making films and music, and rebuilding active democratic communities across borders (for a fantastic contemporary set of essays on critical community based research see Sean Massey and Ricardo Barreras Journal of Social Issues on Impact Validity as a Framework for Advocacy Based Research, December 2013, 69, 4).

In this legacy, I accept with pride and humility the Lifetime Achievement award from Div. 5. I look forward to collaborating with so many in and out of Div. 5, across the seemingly spiky but really porous borders of method, to think together about research for the common good.


Du Bois, W. E. B. (1899). The Philadelphia negro: A social study. Philadelphia, PA: Ginn.

Du Bois, W. E. B. (2008) The quest of the silver fleece. New York, NY: Dover Publishers. (Original work published 1911)

Fine, M. (2017) Just research: Widening the methodological imagination in contentious times.New York: Teachers College Press.

Fine, M., Torre, M. E, Boudin, K., Bowen, I., Clark, J., Hylton, D., Martinez, M., Missy, Smart, P., Rivera, M., Roberts, R. and Upegui, D. (2003). Participatory action research: Within and beyond bars. In P. Camic, J. E. Rhodes, & L. Yardley (Eds.), Qualitative research in psychology: Expanding perspectives in methodology and design (pp. 173–198) . Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Greenhaven Think Tank. (1997). The non-traditional approach to criminal and social justice. New York, N.Y.: Center for NuLeadership, Resurrecction Study Group.

Jahoda, M., Lazarsfeld, P., & Zeisel, H. (2001). Marienthal: The sociography of an unemployed community. London, England: Transaction Publications.

Martín-Baró, I. (1994). Writings for a liberation psychology . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Massey, S. and Barreras, R. (2013) Impact validity as a framework for advocacy based research. Journal of Social Issues , 69, 4, 615-632.

Stoudt, B. G., & Torre, M. E. (2014). The Morris Justice Project. In P. Brindle (Ed.), SAGE Cases in Methodology. http: //dx.doi/org/10.4135/978144627305014535358.[] Sage.