This series of podcast episodes will focus on Decolonising Research, and feature talks from the Decolonising Research Festival held at the University of Exeter in June and July 2022.

The eleventh epsiode of the series will feature Dr Salmah Eva-Lina Lawrence from the International Women's Development Agency with her talk 'What does it mean to do decolonial research?'

 

Music credit: Happy Boy Theme Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

 

Transcription

 

00:09

Hello, and welcome to rd in the in betweens. I'm your host Kelly Preece. And every fortnight I talk to a different guest about researchers development, and everything in between.

 

00:32

Hello, and welcome to the final recording of talks in our decolonizing research series. For this final episode, I'm delighted to bring to you Dr. Salmah Eva-lina. Lawrence, with her talk, what does it mean to do decolonial research.

 

00:48

But first of all, I'd like to acknowledge that I am on the lands traditional lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation of New South Wales in Australia. This is where I normally live and work tonight I'm in Melbourne, I'm actually on the lands of the orangery, people of the Kulin nation. I pay my respects to the elders past, present and emerging of the First Nations peoples of Australia. And I recognize that Australia was founded on the genocide and dispossession of First Nations peoples, and that the land was never ceded. It always was and always will be Aboriginal land. So I'm going to do a short introduction to myself and then head off into my presentation. I am currently the acting co CEO of the International Women's Development Agency in Melbourne, Australia, where I lead our decolonial work interrogating our practices and our approach to international development with the objective of decolonizing how we work when I'm not acting CEO, I'm the director of systemic change and partnerships, and I still have charged in the decolonial work that we do. I'm also an adjunct Fellow at Macquarie University. In my scholarly life, I research decolonial theory, ethics and epistemology. And I draw deeply on my own culture, which is a matrilineal culture in Papua New Guinea, the millbay province of Papa New Guinea, and I use my own culture to frame my decolonial practice. In fact, it's my matrilineal culture, a culture that's at the opposite end of the spectrum of the masculinizing patriarchy of coloniality. That shapes my decolonial practice and shaped my decolonial practice long before I became a scholar of the decolonial. So it's really exciting to see Exeter, uni and other academic institutions start to take the decolonization of research seriously. I started my PhD in 2013 and submitted in 2017. So really not that long ago. But my thesis was grounded in decolonial theory theory I was influenced into radio by any bulky handle, Walter Manolo Ramon, Grossberg well, and reproduce cell, or your NK or women in the mighty Nile cough. I hope these names are familiar to you, if you are decolonial researchers, and Linda Jr. By Smith, who is a Maori from the Pacific region. On the one hand, at the level of the institution where I did my PhD, it was a struggle to talk the decolonial and hold a decolonial space, because it was just so alien at that time. It was marginally easier within my discipline of gender and Cultural Studies, because both feminist and anthropological critical studies were an influence in this domain. And I was able to use this as a bridge into post colonial theories and then into decolonial theory. So where you sit discipline wise, I think will have a large influence on how you're able to negotiate using decolonial theory and being a decolonial researcher.

 

03:49

In the second year of my PhD, I attended a summer school in Barcelona on decolonizing knowledge and power, I met some of the scholars that I've just named, and where I connected with a community of like minded scholars and activists. It was really enlightening, and energizing. And I highly recommend if you are a PhD scholar candidate, or if you're a master student, I recommend participating in this summer school non slip show a slide at the end with the website name and other resources. I'm going to share my understanding of decolonial research which does touch on the points made by dt and Saskia. I want to explain some concepts that I use that I will be using. I'll then talk about some principles for doing decolonial research or for the way that I do my decolonial research. And I'll talk about some of the practices that I use to support those principles. I'm going to talk for about 25 minutes, I can see that it's 10 parts the hour now and I will try to keep to time, but there will be time for q&a at the end. If there's time and if anybody is interested, I'll be able to share with you my own PhD research and what was decolonial about it So the first concept that I want to talk about briefly is the concept of whiteness. Now, I deliberately use the terms of whiteness West Global North Eurocentric developed world interchangeably. These terms often broadly refer to the same demographic, but within specific academic disciplines, they have nuanced meanings. Whiteness, for instance is used by Critical Race theorists to mean a system or culture that discriminates based on race, specifically, this perceived superiority of white people and their customers. For a detailed look at whiteness from the perspective of a white person, I recommend reading Shannon Sullivan's revealing whiteness, the unconscious habits of racial privilege. So like patriarchy, whiteness describes a particular set of characteristics and practices which have become institutionalized in many parts of the world, including an international development the sector in which I work. And of course, in academia, there would be no Exeter University decolonizing Research Festival, where this is not the case. The other concept that I want to share with you is that you will hear me mention majority world and minority world. I use minority world instead of the west or the global north, and I use majority world instead of developing or the global south. For me this, this terminology more meaningfully and accurately describes the global demographic majority who are located in the Global South. It's also terminology that doesn't infantilized by using the word developing or developed or use majority well, because not only is the global south a demographic majority on this planet, we are also a sociological majority. Our cultures share many things in common in contrast to minority world cultures. Across the Pacific Africa, the Americas and Asia, we are united by an ethics of relational autonomy that underpins our diverse social, economic and epistemic systems, and which contrasts starkly with the competitive individualist ethics, growth based economies and binary knowledge systems of the developed world or the minority world. So it's a political choice for me to use this terminology, political choice to use the term majority world to bring into stark relief, the situation that we all find ourselves living with in at the moment, which is a global power system that is based on minority world ideas. Another concept, I want to talk so I've shared with you the concepts that I'm going to use whiteness majority with minority world owners with a little bit about coloniality and epistemic decolonization before I move on to principles and practices.

 

08:03

So coloniality, as you would know, is a theory developed by a group of primarily Latin American thinkers which coalesced around 1998 into the modernity coloniality matrix. A theory is a way of explaining the world and as we all know, it can be based on the evidence or not. The basic theory is that European modernity has a dark side, which is rarely if ever acknowledged by those working within modernity. And that Dark Side Includes colonization, enslavement, genocide, expropriation, so it is disingenuous to highlight the advances associated with modernity without acknowledging that these advances have been made possible through colonial reality, a matrix of intertwining systems and technologies of power, such as race hierarchies, gender hierarchies, and the exploitation of and dominance over the natural world. The theories of modernity coloniality have gained traction across the majority world across the global south. Because one, the historical and contemporary evidence for it is overwhelming and to the theory describes more accurately what majority well peoples have experienced and continue to experience than just theories produced by global North theorists. The theory of coloniality is a theory that resonates across the majority one because it actually explicates the historical and contemporary experiences of majority well, people who have experienced colonization, enslavement, genocide, racism. So coloniality scholars and the bulky Hondo and Walter Manolo and others generated the modernity collegiality matrix by stepping outside modernity, to view modernity from an alternative perspective, the perspective of coloniality now this group of scholars to coined the term decolonial ality to describe centering understanding of and interpretation of the social, economic and political world from a perspective outside the Eurocentric frame. meaning of modernity. They also refer that they being the scholars also referred to the coloniality as epistemic decolonization. So what does this tell us about decolonial research or about doing decolonial research? And what relevance to the concepts of whiteness and majority and minority worlds have to doing decolonial research? Since deeper learn reality, you don't have to take a sip of water Excuse me. Since decolonial reality is about epistemic decolonization, it means articulating knowledge from a subject position that is not the colonizer. In the spaces that I work in the colonizer is synonymous with whiteness or Anglo and Eurocentrism. In other words, the minority world assuming that one takes a subject position that is not that a whiteness what does that mean to knowledge creation? Let's take the concept of gender. Only in very recent times has the minority world started to recognize that gender and sexual diversity exists along a spectrum. Yet non binary genders have always been recognized in parts of the majority world, such as in some all weather talk term FAR, FAR female refers to a non binary gender, or Urumqi or your woman in her book, The invention of women, demonstrates how Western gender roles do not map neatly to pre Christian roles in parts of Nigeria, providing one example in which the role of a husband the role of a provider and a projector can actually be fulfilled by a woman. The point is that social concepts generated from within one worldview view will not necessarily translate across other worldviews. A subject position that is not whiteness opens up knowledge is they have been unexplored, ignored or deliberately marginalized. So doing decolonial research means first of all, recognizing that the knowledge produced by the colonizer and through the knowledge production systems of whiteness is not universal. And secondly, it means recognizing that the knowledge produced in this system, the colonizer system is only partial knowledge. Why is it only partial knowledge or primarily because if you look at it from the perspective of logic, logically, in order to present knowledge as universal truths, it makes sense only if the entirety of the population to which that truth is said to apply, has been tested against that truth, and found to comply with it. With 7 billion humans on this planet, this is a feat that's never been accomplished. Researchers use sample populations to test their theories and make inferences based on these minut subsets of humanity. And we know that these sample populations are rarely truly representative of the diversity of the entire human population on this planet.

 

13:05

So the situation that the majority world lives in is that European customs culture, ways of being and knowing have been projected by Europeans as universal norms. But we've just seen that the gender norms of the minority world which are projected to be universal or not, and a cursory look at the literature on gender written by majority world scholars, such as or Iraqi or women immediately challenges that assumption. So what I'm channeling your attention to here is that the social world looks different, according to your worldview, and your subject position. knowledge that is produced by white men is only partial knowledge because it does not incorporate other subject positions. Knowledge produced by white women and white men is still only partial knowledge. We need knowledge generated from multiple different subject positions to create a picture that is holistic, that is more complete and representative of the reality of life on this planet. So the key learning here is that decolonial research and researchers treat minority world knowledge claims as merely one data point and never the only data point. The second point, and one which disrupts the colonizers view of objective knowledge creation. The second learning is that we all carry our cultural baggage, and our conscious and subconscious biases into all of our engagements, including research. No human is free of this, since no human exists outside of the social system. We see according to our own subject positions, when shown a different perspective, we might then see a different perspective. But we also might not see a different perspective, even when we are told about it, and even when we're shown it. So does the fact that we cannot see a different perspective mean that it doesn't exist or does the fact But others can see it mean that it does exist. And we simply don't have the faculties necessary to see that perspective. So for me, that's a very important part of decolonial research allowing for the fact that other perspectives do exist. So to summarize the points that I just made, there is no truly objective researcher. And secondly, since there's never been adequate evidence provided for claims that particular types of social knowledge are universal, the decolonial researcher will be skeptical when those claims are presented to him. So what are some of the principles and practices that researchers can employ to produce work that is decolonial now from my reading across different decolonial decolonial scholars, I've distilled a set of principles which I think a common decolonial works and I detail these in my forthcoming book decolonizing international development majority worldviews, there are three principles which are particularly pertinent to doing decolonial research. The principles highlight that decolonization and decolonial ality is not just about explicitly challenging external and institutional structures of race based power, such as how whiteness informs academia and pervades the interactions between nation states and individual citizens. The decolonial is as much about understanding one's internal world as it is about navigating the external world.

 

16:33

So what do I mean by this, we talked about how subject position matters. The first principle that I'm going to talk about relates to acknowledging that there is no truly objective researcher. Therefore, perspective matters and diversity matters. That is the principal perspective matters and diversity matters. We inhabit a planet with an incredible diversity of humans and other life forms, where we are situated geographically geopolitically, culturally our gender, a myriad of other intersecting ways. These all shaped the way that we interact with the world. respecting diversity necessarily means that we respect historical and cultural difference. On a planet as diverse as ours, one cannot generate sustainable solutions, or undertake ethical research without multiple diverse voices framing the issues that matter and how they should be addressed. So decolonial researchers employ radical honesty and transparency about their subject position. Now it's common for scholars from the Pacific region. I told you earlier that I am hoping again, you're not from the Pacific region, it's common for scholars in the Pacific region to emplace themselves. I introduced myself as coming from a matrilineal matrilineal culture in Papua New Guinea. My scholarly colleagues variously introduced themselves as Maori Fijian Samoan. In doing this, we are each acknowledging that our views of the world are partial, and they're shaped by our geopolitical location. Very few white scholars, particularly in place themselves, and by not doing so they are complicit in the myth of objective knowledge production, and in upholding white because there's a norm that needs no explanation. Some white scholars in Australia do in place themselves and I'm going to share with you how a white scholar working in Australia in the decolonial space positions herself. I quote along the Lenten who says, I wish to acknowledge the dark people, their elders past and present, and to remind us all that this lecture is taking place on stolen derelict land. I also want to begin my lecture by positioning myself as a European West Asian Jewish woman living on stolen Gadigal land and quote, Alana Lenten acknowledges that she is a settler colonizer on land that has been stolen from the original inhabitants and that she benefits from this situation. The effect of a white person doing the reflective work to understand her subject position. And then voicing that subject position is that it begins to destabilize whiteness as the norm, culture, ethnicity historical wrongs that continue as contemporary social marginally marginalization become visible, as influences on the knowledge that is being presented and the claims that are being made. The second principle that I wanted to talk about is that we live in a blue reverse, not a universe and the blue reverse is a term that we that the cohort of decolonial scholars that I talked about earlier on, Walter Manolo, Arturo Escobar, this was coined by them. decolonial approach rejects the idea of a universe or uni versal approaches which imply a single way of being knowing And doing that is the uni. A decolonial approach embraces the idea of a pure reverse meaning that we understand that there are multiple different and equal ways of being knowing and doing. And the third principle is that every related principle to the previous humility matters. In a pure verse have multiple ways of being, knowing, doing, relating and perceiving. No one individual or group has all the answers to human well being, or cultivating the flourishing of life more generally. In our pure reverse knowledge is generated in a myriad of ways, not just in universities. There are as many experts outside of universities, as there are within them. Who are these people, these other experts, they have people with lived experience of the research question or the policy problem.

 

21:01

They include, for example, women in communities across the Pacific who navigate who negotiate the effects of climate change in their daily lives, but whose voices are absent from the policymaking that directly affects them. Policy which can produce unintended, unintended harmful consequences for these women because it doesn't address their daily concerns. And I recommend reading Linda to EY Smith decolonizing methodologies as part of your PhD candidature exploration into other ways of knowing and knowledge creation. I'm going to talk now I realized that I'm over the half hour, but I'm going to talk a little bit about some of the practices that serve these decolonial principles. And then we can go into a q&a section. So the first practice that I highlight is a practice of radical self reflexivity, for the principle that perspective matters. radical honesty and transparency about your subject positionality requires deep self reflexivity. At IW da the International Women's Development Agency where I work, we are in the process of finalizing our inaugural decolonial framework to guide our work. And I'm going to quote a passage from this framework because I find it particularly pertinent. Starting the quote, since racist and colonial systems and institutions are created and held in place by many individual people, we each have a duty to do the personal inner work to analyze our relationship with whiteness, and coloniality. We must work to understand our own assumption, beliefs, behaviors, and positions in relation to colonialism and racial hierarchies. We must ask ourselves, how our nationality or religion, our language, our sexuality, or gender, our racialized identity, our indigeneity, our can our conceptual frameworks, our practices, etc, have been and continue to organization and flow in reality, and how this informs our individual sees hard work, particularly for those who benefit from the systems of oppression that coloniality and whiteness represent. However, doing this work as individuals is necessary in order to reframe our understanding of how to relate to other peoples other countries and other cultures, and to begin to decolonize ourselves and quote, this work I put to you is necessary for all decolonial researchers. Well, how can you seek to decolonize if you have no understanding of how you yourself are affected by and or complicit in colonial ality the second practice that I highlight speaks to the fact of living in a pure reverse. And that is all knowledge claims have to be triangulated. If you are researching the Pacific, for example, you triangulate the scholarly texts from scholars who are indigenous to the Pacific region and scholars who've written about the Pacific from other parts of the world or other subject positions. And you search out other sources as well. You acknowledge that people with lived experience of the matters that you are researching, have an expertise that is valuable, and you extend to them the mantle of expert, not just research subject, or object. So the principles and practices that I've outlined here are by no means exhaustive there, but they are I feel necessary tools for the decolonial researcher and practitioner to critique and disrupt and dismantle existing power structures and to contribute to offering and shaping a radical and transformative alter alternative world But to paraphrase Audrey Lorde does not use the Masters tools.

 

25:06

And that's it for this episode. Don't forget to like, rate and subscribe. And join me next time where I'll be talking to somebody else about researchers development and everything in between.

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