Reframing Leadership as a Democratic Practice
Social Justice Dialogue: Leadership for Social Change
Too often, discussions about leadership confuse leadership with authority or management, and ignore the unique imperatives public leaders face. This trend is especially troubling in a socio-political context that characterizes “the public” as dependent and inefficient, and redistributes financial and political power from everyday people to a select few corporate actors. But Wellesley College faculty and other scholars on campus are holding a different conversation, reframing leadership as democratic practice and a call to empower social actors from all walks of life. Over the past year, roughly 25 professors and researchers from across the college have come together to forge the Project on Public Leadership and Action, a working group with three distinct principles.
First, we are dedicated to public facing scholarship and teaching. We are committed to dialogue about the civic and democratic practices needed to address public problems and help individuals be agents of social change. This requires thinking about how our research and teaching can reach and impact audiences beyond the campus and our own professional networks. As we teach and write about global citizenship, democratic practice, collective action, and civic engagement, we realize that the true value of the work is realized only when everyday actors take it and make it their own. This means thinking intentionally about constituencies for our work outside of academia, and finding ways to make our work accessible to practitioners.
Second, the PPLA explores ways to do teaching and research that is driven by our values. We focus on the kinds of leadership and collective capacity we need to meet the common challenges our society face in a just way. We insist upon rigor and methodological soundness in our work, but we cannot separate moral and ethical considerations from our research and writing. Many scholars believe that our values suffuse our classrooms, laboratories, articles, and books whether we recognize and foreground them or not. The Project on Public Leadership seeks ways to affirm and support explicitly values-driven work.
Finally, the working group is committed to creating a community where scholars and practitioners cross borders and break down traditional silos of research, teaching, and practice. PPLA gatherings boast professors from the social sciences, humanities, and natural sciences, and we benefit greatly from the wisdom and experiences of colleagues we might never interact with under ordinary circumstances. Further, we recognize that knowledge production is not the exclusive domain of those in the academy. Practitioners working at non-profits, advocacy groups, neighborhood associations, and other organizations have much to teach us, and when we fail to communicate and collaborate, we fail each other.
During our pilot year the PPLA is holding a series of seminars dedicated to each principle, and inviting guests with experience bridging the gap between the academy and the broader public to help us think through working models for Wellesley. For more information on current programming and plans for the future, please visit our webpage and join the conversation at our next event!
Michael P. Jeffries, Knafel Assistant Professor of Social Sciences, (@M_P_Jeffries) and Hahrie Han, Associate Professor of Political Science, (@hahriehan), are spearheading the Project on Public Leadership and Action with colleagues at Wellesley College.