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WSF : Activist research, more sessions, and bus reflections

 After spending a surprising two hours on public transportation to travel a short way through lovely Belém to UFPA, I make my way to UNI-Alter's workshop on activist research. The room is filled to the brim with students, most of them Québecois-es, and here, we're talking about how to make the link between social movements and universities. While some ask the question, how can we, as academics, get out of the institution, others stress that universities should be seen as tools.. that as institutions, universities can give us the legitimacy to spread ideas--that it's the mean not the end.  

A Brazilian student tells us about his research in Brazil's favelas with people who collect garbage, which led us to a discussion about what it means to be an insider in a research setting, or at least what it means to be an outsider within (someone's who's from the region, understands the issues, etc.). Also, as activist research allows the research relationships to be on par with the research questions, with the outcome, the finished report, it allows the researcher to view her/his project as a whole and this kind of engaged researching, instead of being a methodology, is a set of principles that informs the way we work.

If changing the world starts with changing ourselves, as researchers, changing the world starts with changing our relationship to the institution, to our research, to science and to knowledge. Here, one prof reminded us that not so long ago, academics back home were being arrested. It's such a privilege to have access to science, this supposedly neutral language, we therefore have a responsibility to transmit that knowledge, or rather, those knowledges. To work in a space where thought, ideas, concepts are created.. it's good to be reminded of the power and responsibility that comes with that. And of the possibilities of such creations. The WSF's slogan, another world is possible, reminds us of this as well. Indeed, the Forum allows us not only to dream up new ways to move away from thought monopolies and from hegemeny, to try to bridge the gap between social movements and the masses, but in so doing, it allows us to think, to dream up, to story another world.    

The day is filled with workshops and visits to the institutional fair, a tent filled with booths representing different organizations, groups and projects. I attend a workshop on the Palestinian situation ("boycott, divestment and sanctions") organised by folks from War on Want UK and the Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign, as well as a really interesting session put on by CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation ("civil society under threat and our collective responses").

Riding the bus back home, I enjoy having the time to rest, to people watch, to gaze at the city.. Being a fervent cyclist, I especially enjoy watching those fabulously clunky red hybrid work bicycles being ridden against traffic, through traffic jams, alongside very aggressive motorists by very brazen and determined cyclists. Passing through a favela, I see two young boys riding their bikes along a sidewalk being stopped by a police officer (there are so many.. the civil police, the military police, the national.. and I know this has a lot to do with the Forum, but it's still really overwhelming and unsettling). The boys, barely teenagers, are told to drop their bikes. They do and they put their hands up. The police officer pats them down. His partner stands at a distance pointing his gun at the boys. I stare in disbelief as the bus rides on.   

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