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Headshot of GCPR board member and former GCPR director Dr. Pat Parker Department of Communication

Dr. Patricia Parker is a Professor in the department of Communication and Director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She holds the Ruel W. Tyson Distinguished Professorship in the Humanities.  Prior to taking on the role of IAH Director, she served as Chair of the Department of Communication and Director of the Graduate Certificate in Participatory Research.  As a critical organizational communication and leadership scholar, her research focuses on questions about access, equity, and participatory democracy at the intersections of race, gender, class, and power in organization processes. Dr. Parker is the author of Race, Gender, and Leadership and Ella Baker’s Catalytic Leadership, which documents a multiyear participatory research study with African American girls learning social justice leadership in their communities. She has several essays and book chapters appearing in journals and edited volumes, including Management Communication Quarterly, Leadership Quarterly, Journal of International and Intercultural Communication Research, Communication Yearbook, and the Sage Handbook of Organizational Communication. She is the 2013 recipient of the Office of the Provost Engaged Scholarship Award at UNC-Chapel Hill, and the inaugural recipient (2010) of the Engaged Scholars Service Award from the National Communication Association’s Organizational Communication Division.

Entry into Participatory Research Methodologies

Dr. Parker began doing participatory research in 2007 when she founded the Ella Baker Women’s Center. She features the first six years of her work with this community-based collective as part of her most recent book, Ella Baker’s Catalytic Leadership. Her interest in participatory methodologies began when she was finishing her first book, Race, Gender, and Leadership, which centered the experiences of African American women executives. During the project, Dr. Parker became interested in how these women found their voices as leaders in relationship to their communities. As part of this research, Dr. Parker was drawn to Ella Baker’s methodology for catalyzing knowledges that reside in communities and decided to focus on this for her next area of research.

How do you see catalytic leadership fitting into a participatory research framework? What roles does catalytic research play and what most distinguishes it from other participatory approaches?

Ella Baker’s catalytic leadership methodology asks how we can create meaningful spaces where knowledge in the community is catalyzed. The methodology focuses on intentional community engagement. Communication is at the heart of this. As part of catalytic leadership we must thoughtfully consider how we enter into communities, how we create participative spaces through decision-making, and how we have a broader impact through story-telling communities. Critical parts of this are being self-reflexive about our position in communities and engaging in radical listening with community members.

How do participatory principles shape your approach to leadership within the University and within communities?

Participatory-meaning making is at the heart of Dr. Parker’s approach to leadership. When she was the inaugural director of faculty diversity initiatives, she went on a listening tour, meeting with the diversity liaisons of all 34 departments on campus to involve them in her work. As Director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at UNC-Chapel Hill, Dr. Parker continues to participatory methodologies and philosophies as framework for building conversation across groups with varying viewpoints.

“Sometimes we assume that as experts when we go into it to a community that we are, you know empower, that we are giving power to [communities]. But it isn’t just that. To catalyze knowledge to me means that we recognize how complex meaning-making is. When we encounter each other, especially when there’s some perceived hierarchy, whatever that may be… we have to be intentional about creating a space where people can hear their own thoughts, even, and to see what they mean. And so that’s what I felt like you know Ella Baker really modeled throughout her whole life as an activist.”

“Even before we go into communities, I think it’s really important that researchers do the self the critical self-reflexive work. And this is especially true when we’re thinking about entering into communities that are made vulnerable by the power flows of capitalism and patriarchy, militarism. There’s real trauma that’s residing in vulnerable communities. And coming from academia, we are residing in those same systems, so we’re complicit. All of us are all tied up in these power flows.”