• Academia and Identity -

    when research meets activism

    Workshop and Lectures, 16-03- 2015, Leuven, Belgium

  • Academia and Identity - when Research meets Activism.

    Experiences, opinions, insights and outlooks.

    At times, it proves to be difficult to find a balance between trying to build an

    academic career and conforming to existing evaluation criteria while also

    confronting and tackling hegemonic and institutionalized ideas of what constitutes good research. It’s a delicate exercise where the challenge to play the game while simultaneously trying to change the rules of the game, often leads to ethical, methodological and strategic dilemmas. Being involved in research on identity and a commitment in identity politics shapes, questions, challenges, and redefines our own identity and touches upon the researcher’s body. Consequently, our personal and professional lives are intrinsically linked and the motivation to shape or change academic and political debates only grows stronger.


    The workshop "Academia and identity - when research meets activism" held in March 2015 in Leuven, aimed to create a space to discuss these complex issues. This magazine collects the stories and reflections of the workshop’s participants and provides insight into their balance between academic work at the one hand, and the commitment to the politics of identity on the other – in all its messiness and potential failure.

  • Contact and E-book

    Questions and remarks? We are happy to hear from you!

    You can also download our magazine in e-book format.

    marion.wasserbauer@uantwerpen.be valerie.decraene@ees.kuleuven.be

    e-book available for free here



    In a diverse society, the formation of identities and groups is subject to a continuing political struggle within public sphere. Identity serves as a source of political commitment, as a catalyst for political mobilisation, and/or as a subject of political conflicts. Identity creates shared interests, and as such makes them tangible. It is also a source of solidarity networks and cooperation, while the boundaries of what constitutes an identity continues to create an ongoing struggle of who belongs and who doesn’t. “The politics of identity” is therefore personal.


    Also for scholars belonging to an (ethnical, cultural, sexual,...) minority, identity is a source of commitment. It inspires their research, it often becomes the subject of their research, but it also drives their political commitment. The intrinsic personal and political characteristics of such a research usually demands for a closer involvement by the researcher, not only to the research topic but also to the research subjects. Because of this involvement, it is not surprising that many scholars are (also) involved in political action.


    Yet, politics don’t stop at the borders of universities and other academic institutions; they are an integral part of society and therefore universities. As such, identity politics also influence research policy, applications and promotions. Influenced by evolutions and debates within the larger society, universities and university colleges develop gender action plans, diversity plans and non-discrimination policies. These policy measures are of great personal importance to and have a large influence on the career opportunities of scholars belonging to a minority group. Especially for them, participating in these evolutions and debates is even more important, often leading to an even stronger commitment.


    However, the tension between an academic career and societal commitment increases, as academic careers are built on research outputs measured by sophisticated bibliometrics. Education and especially societal commitment are barely taken into account within evaluation procedures and promotions.


    For this workshop, we want to bring together scholars and activists from different (disciplinary) backgrounds, minority groups and/or countries to discuss the balance between academic work at the one hand, and political commitment on the politics of identity on the other. As such, we would like to exchange:

    -   experiences: which problems and difficulties do academics experience when combining academic work and political commitment? Which impact does it have on their career opportunities?

    -      personal and collective strategies: how do academics cope with this tension, which personal balance do they look for, which alliances are developed, and which strategies and tactics are used to achieve this balance?

    -     analyses of diverse societal contexts: public culture, policy and law towards minorities differ strongly from one country to another. As such, this might influence the personal and collective strategies that academics could use.





    This workshop wants to contribute to the broader societal debate on the combination of scientific research with political commitment by exchanging experiences and strategies between a diversity of people. As such, we hope to create a platform where people with different backgrounds could meet and get in touch.

    The workshop therefore targets all researchers and/or activists, in Flanders/Belgium and abroad, who are dealing with the politics of identity in one way or another. More specifically, we would like to attract young researchers (PhD students, post-docs, ...) as to reflect on the influence of their political commitment on their (academic) career, and vice versa. Not only could this advance knowledge on diversity issues, it could foster further critical reflections on the own university culture, and the place of a (young) researcher within this system.




    Working language will be English, but we invite everyone to use their language of preference as to avoid language barriers as much as possible.


  • Participate - Submissions closed

    Call for participation: short stories on identity, research and activism

    For the afternoon sessions, we cordially invite you to share your own experiences as a researcher, activist and individual. You are encouraged to send us a page in which you briefly introduce your own background concerning academia/political/activist commitment, together with an idea you would like to present. Based on this, the submission will be divided into two thematic sessions. Within these sessions, each presenter will have ten minutes to present an idea. This can be anything: good or bad experiences (or one specific experience), in personal or professional life (or the overlap between the two), a theoretical consideration, a personal reflection, suggestions for 'good practices', or urgent questions that one might struggle with, ...


    These are some questions you could (but are not obliged to) consider for your short story:

    • Which experiences did you have in which academia and political commitment seemed to intertwine? How did you try to solve it?
    • Are there any good practices could you advise?
    • What theoretical, conceptual or empirical reflections do you have on academia and identity?
    • How do you include your political or activist commitment within your research?
    • What can activism and research learn from each other?
    • Work in progress: stumbling blocks and benefits


    Everyone is warmly encouraged to share their thoughts and reflections, no matter how many years of experience you have, or what disciplinary background.



    Monday, 16-03-2015, STUK Leuven

    - Verbeeckzaal -

    09.30 – 10.00 Arrival – coffee

    10.00 – 10.15 Welcome

    10.15 – 11.30 Plenary lecture by Ico Maly and discussion: theoretical overview to introduce the workshop

    11.30 – 13.00 Session 1: ‘Short stories’ + discussion


    Lunch – Sandwiches


    14.00 – 15.30 Session 2: ‘Short stories’ + discussion

    Coffee break

    16.00 – 17.30 Session 3: ‘Short stories’ + discussion


    Dinner (not provided)

    - auditorium -

    20h00 – 21h30 Lecture + ‘round table debate’: Prof. Dr. Janice Irvine, with commentaries by Bart Eeckhout, Noëmi Willemen and Nadia Fadil


    Drinks at STUK café



    More information about our speakers


    Ico Maly

    Ico works at the University of Tilburg, he is a guest lecturer in Culture and Politics at RITS (Erasmus hogeschool Brussels). For five years he was the coordinator of Kif Kif. In this lecture, he will talk about the artificial split between the "academic researcher" and the "intellectual activist". More specifically, he wonders why experts from academia are represented as 'objective' and 'neutral' and are expected to communicate ‘neutral’ within societal debate, and are no longer supposed to take up political commitment, and what the consequences of this dichotomy are for academics, but also for activists, practitioners, and the societal debate in general. What about those academics combining their research with political commitment? Based on own experiences, as well as examples from recent Belgian history, he will explore how academia and activism can work for and against each other.

    Janice Irvine


    Janice is professor sociology at the University of Massachusetts. One of her research interests deals with the perception of sexuality studies as a discipline. In a recent article, she argues how sex research can be perceived as 'dirty work'. This stigma influences the discipline in general, but also has severe consequences for everyone who is involved within 'sex work': researchers of sexuality, practicioners, activists, academics from a sexual minority, etc.


    A round table discussion will follow this lecture, in which various discussants will reflect on similarities and differences within their own field of research.


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  • Sponsors

    This event is kindly sponsored by: