Research is political, contextual and often problematic. According to Maori researcher Linda Tuhiwai Smith, ‘…“research” is probably one of the dirtiest words in the Indigenous world’s vocabulary’. She adds: ‘The ways in which scientific research is implicated in the worst excesses of colonialism remains a powerful remembered history for many of the world’s colonised peoples.’ 1
International development has, at various points in its history, been accused of being a new form of colonialism; one that imports its own ‘world-ordering’ knowledge, created within a ‘Western’ social, political and economic context and exported around the developing world2.
Hobart has also argued that the growth in this internationally recognised, world-ordering knowledge has created an equivalent growth in the possibility of ignorance among ‘non-experts’ in developing countries. People become considered (or considered themselves to be) ignorant of knowledge or skills or systems or models that they previously had not known existed, or had not considered to be in any way relevant to their daily lives.
As researchers, it is easy to become complicit with a hierarchy of knowledge in which one’s own expertise is rated as more important than that of the people engaged in research. That’s why we here at the Institute have developed a Research Position Paper, which reflects on our own practice and sets some principles in place.
The paper, available here, sets out:
- The Institute’s focus;
- Our (brief) understanding of how progressive social change is most likely to occur;
- The overarching research questions that guide all of our work;
- Our research principles (informed by the Guidelines for Ethical Research in Australian Indigenous Studies, the Guidelines for Ethical Conduct in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research , and Guidelines on Ethical Conduct of Evaluation and Code of Ethics produced by the Australian Evaluation Society); and
- The effect of all of the above on our research in practice.
No doubt there may be times when we fail to achieve our own desired standards. But we hope that by developing such a document (and ensuring it is made publically available) we are a) continually reminded to reflect on what we do and how we do it, and b) that we can be held to account, if we do not reach these standards.
Thoughts and reflections on the Position Paper are welcome!
1Tuhiwai Smith, L. ( 2008). Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. Zed Books and University of Otago Press, London, New York and Dunedin.
2Hobart M. (1993) Introduction: the growth of ignorance? In: Hobart M (ed) An Anthropological Critique of Development: The Growth of Ignorance. London; New York: Routledge.