Operating principles for collective scholar-activism

Early insights from the Agroecology Research-Action Collective





Scholar-Activism, Agroecology, Participatory Action Research, Community-Based Research, Food Systems, Food Sovereignty


Scholar-activism is attractive to researchers who want not just to learn about the world, but about how to change that world. Agri-food studies have experienced a surge in the past two decades in researchers who see closer ties to social move­ments as key to food systems change. Yet to date, much scholar-activism depends on individually negotiated researcher-movement relationships, which may or may not be sustained long term and where knowledge can remain siloed. The Agro­ecology Research-Action Collective (ARC) seeks something different. Born of a desire to subordi­nate scholarship for scholarship’s sake to the needs and exigencies of movements, ARC envisages collective processes, horizontal non-exploitative learning among ourselves and with movements, and mechanisms for multidirectional accounta­bility. This reflective essay is the story of how ARC set out to “get our house in order”: to organize ourselves as scholars committed to systematizing more accountable and reciprocal relationships with frontline communities and grassroots movements. We first share the Principles & Protocols that guide our actions and the process through which we developed them. We then discuss two intercon­nected arenas in which ARC is developing a com­munity of practice guided by the Principles & Protocols. The first arena is through integrating participatory education into our everyday teaching and mentoring. The second arena is working to achieve broader social and institutional change by sharing methods and strategies for mobilizing resources and legitimating knowledge, both old and new.


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Author Biographies

Maywa Montenegro de Wit, University of California Santa Cruz

At the time of the research, Dr. Montenegro de Wit was University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Human Ecology, University of California, Davis. Montenegro de Wit is now Assistant Professor, Department of Environmental Studies, University of California Santa Cruz.

Annie Shattuck, University of Indiana, Bloomington

Assistant Professor, Department of Geography

Alastair Iles, University of California, Berkeley

Associate Professor, Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management

Garrett Graddy-Lovelace, American University

Associate Professor, School of International Service

M. Jahi Chappell, Southeastern African American Farmers’ Organic Network (SAAFON)

Executive Director



How to Cite

Montenegro de Wit, M., Shattuck, A., Iles, A., Graddy-Lovelace, G., Roman-Alcalá, A., & Chappell, M. J. (2021). Operating principles for collective scholar-activism: Early insights from the Agroecology Research-Action Collective. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 10(2), 319–337. https://doi.org/10.5304/jafscd.2021.102.022