Cathleen Burnett



Passion Through the Profession: Being Both Activist and Academic

Burnett makes an appeal, based on the author’s personal experiences, to define the academic role as one that integrates activism and research in response to one’s passion. The essay highlights the “academic profession as vocation” and illustrates how activism can shape and strengthen one’s research agenda. Burnett considers multiple roles when conceptualizing the relationship between research and social action, including academic, volunteer, activist, and applied researcher. She uses her own experiences “to disentangle these roles and illustrate how the academic role can integrate activism and research as a response to one’s passion.” Her extensive involvement with a group dedicated to abolishing the death penalty provides the context within which she describes her shift from volunteer to social activist. Further, she highlights how her own social justice research agenda emerged from her service commitments and activism over time. Burnett then explains how her applied research is informing the ongoing debate over capital punishment through its incorporation in legal briefs and post-conviction appeals. The author highlights tensions resulting from the lack of structural support for activist work within the academy. She concludes by arguing that academic-activists be intentional about the dynamics between teaching, research, and service in order to live meaningfully at the intersection of passion and vocation.

death penalty, activist research, social activism, volunteers

Citation: Social Justice Vol. 30, No. 4 (2003): 135-150