Activists and the Politics of Activism

Activists and the Politics of Activism

Nicholas Goldberg: Can scientists moonlight as activists — or does that violate an important ethical code?

The first sentence of this essay has a number of problems. First, I would have to agree that not all scientists moonlight as activists. Not all of us have personal commitments that limit their participation in this arena. I would argue that the first paragraph, however, does not do justice to what I think is a valid definition of “activism” in any area of public life.

For me, “activism” must be defined as a collective response or participation in one’s social context, a response that involves protest, social action and a sense of ethical commitment to an issue. It must be a response to a violation of a person’s or a group’s rights or dignity. But it must also be an expression of solidarity with a person or group at risk. I think people often misunderstand what “activism” means in these terms. I will give some examples to give a sense of the issues:

“Activist” groups and individuals who are engaged in protest and social action in their communities — perhaps even a “protest” or “social action” group like SEIU, a labor union. I can find examples of these kinds of actions listed on my blog.

Activists who protest a decision that is unjust or unfair, or even that is against the “rules” of the group they are a member of.

Activists who protest in their communities at the risk of losing their jobs or benefits, or having their homes destroyed or destroyed by violent rioting.

Activists who organize marches or demonstrations as part of their activities and are involved in the preparation of materials.

Activists who are involved in the production of videos or posters with information about their protest.

Activist scientists who engage in social activism by writing about their work while being paid to do it.

I’m not saying these are the only forms of activism, or that all activities or actions that are political should be included. This isn’t a complete list of what I mean by activism. It’s a sampling. It’s also not intended to be a complete list of all the kinds of activism that one could engage in. I’ve been thinking about how to define “activism” for some time, and I

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