New Books Network

Michelle Fine

Just Research in Contentious Times

Widening the Methodological Imagination

Teachers College 2018

New Books in Critical TheoryNew Books in EducationNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in PsychologyNew Books in Science & TechnologyNew Books in SociologyNew Books Network November 16, 2018 Pengfei Zhao

What can a researcher do to promote social justice? A conventional image of a researcher describes her staying in the ivory tower for most...

What can a researcher do to promote social justice? A conventional image of a researcher describes her staying in the ivory tower for most of the time, producing papers filled with academic jargons periodically, and occasionally providing consultations for policymakers. In Just Research in Contentious Times: Widening the Methodological Imagination (Teachers College Press, 2018), renowned critical psychologist Michelle Fine challenges us to imagine social research radically differently. According to Fine, if a researcher’s social justice work was only targeted at top politicians of this era, she probably would feel our era had never been darker. Fine argues that social research can do far more than that: It could create new solidarities across multiple marginalized groups, democratize the knowledge production process, disrupt the reproduction of oppressive social structure, and ultimately, sow the seed of positive social changes.  Just Research in Contentious Times documents Fine’s long-term grounded research efforts at the frontline of the battle for social justice. She and her research team work with dropout students, female prisoners, Muslim youths, LGBTQ teachers, and many other marginalized social groups to bear the witness of their sufferings, probe the inequality of the current system, and raise the public’s consciousness on pressing social issues. By doing that, she champions a research approach which emphasizes the participation of community members as co-researchers, one that she terms as critical participatory action research (CPAR). Just Research in Contentious Times blends her passion for CPAR with highly personal yet profoundly touching self-reflection, rigorous data analysis, and innovative theoretical discussions. It is a compelling and inspiring read for anyone who is interested in social justice work.

Michelle Fine is a distinguished professor of critical social psychology, women’s studies, and urban education at the Graduate Center, the City University of New York. She is the author or editor of more than a dozen books, including Framing Dropouts: Notes on the Politics of an Urban High School (1991), Disruptive Voices: The Possibilities of Feminist Research (1992), Working Method: Research and Social Justice (with Lois Weis, 2004), and Muslim American Youth: Understanding Hyphenated Identities through Multiple Methods (with Selcuk Sirin, 2008).


Pengfei Zhao holds a doctoral degree in Inquiry Methodology from Indiana University-Bloomington. Among her research interests are youth culture, identity formation, qualitative research methods, and comparative sociological and educational studies. She is currently working on a book manuscript studying the coming of age experience of rural Chinese youth during and right after the Cultural Revolution.