112b. Norman K. Denzin, Yvonna S. Lincoln, Linda Tuhiwai Smith, eds., Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies, continued
As I stated in the previous post, the Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies is so long—some 600 pages—that I’ll be posting summaries of each of its sections, rather than trying to post one massive summary. Part 1 of the Handbook, the editors write, “begins with the suggested reform and decolonization of the academy through critical research” by taking up “multiple paradigmatic and theoretical formations, including those connected to postcolonial theory; feminist, critical race, and queer theory; participatory action research; and critical pedagogy” (21). “We choose to interpret these presentations of theory as if they were performances—disruptive, unruly attempts to decolonize and indigenize research in the academy,” the editors write. “These decolonizing performances context and challenge the complicity of many modern universities possessed of neoconservative, neocolonial belief systems” (21-22).
The first essay in this section is “Decolonizing Performances: Deconstructing the Global Postcolonial” by Beth Blue Swadener and Kagendo Mutua. It begins by stating that it will “highlight the ways in which decolonization is about the process in both research and performance of valuing, reclaiming, and foregrounding indigenous voices and epistemologies” (31). (I’m not sure what the word “performance” means in this context.) “[W]ithin decolonizing projects, the possibilities of forging cross-cultural partnerships with, between, and among indigenous researchers and ‘allied others’ and working collaboratively on common goals that reflect anticolonial sensibilities in action are importance facets of colonization,” Swadener and Mutua write. “By bringing together critical personal narratives and postcolonial theory, we will demonstrate how decolonizing research uncovers the colonizing tendencies of language, specifically the English language,” as well as “the centrality of the U.S. academy in the articulation of ‘valid’ research questions and processes for investigating those questions; the cultural imperialism of research funding agencies,” which define positivist research as the only valid form of research; “and how such research produces discourses that inscribe and render Others powerless” by silencing their voices (31). “[W]hat makes decolonizing research decolonizing is not an adherence to a specific research method or methodology,” they continue (33). Rather, “decolonizing research is defined by certain themes and defining elements and concepts that arise when researchers engage in what they describe as decolonizing research versus research that studies coloniality or postcoloniality” (33). In addition, they argue, “decolonizing research is performative—it is enmeshed in activism” (33). (Aha! So that’s what performative means—or, at least, what it can mean, or might mean, at least in this essay.) In fact, the term “anticolonial research” is “a more accurate descriptor of this endeavor” (33). Decolonizing research “speaks to the issue of the performativity and continual interrogation of not only the process of the research but also its outcomes/outputs” (33). In addition, “decolonizing research recognizes and works within the belief that non-Western knowledge forms are excluded from or marginalized in normative research paradigms,” and therefore Indigenous voices and epistemologies are silenced (33). Decolonizing research “as a performative act functions to highlight and advocate for the ending of both discursive and material oppression” that are involved in this silencing and in “the encryption of the non-Western subject” as what Michel Foucault called “a ‘governable body’” (34).
Swadener and Mutua argue that their work, “which extends beyond research within indigenous contexts, recognizes that colonization in representation is more than a spatial-temporal experience, and by stating this, we are by no means minimizing the brutalities of that experience” (34). Their work, they continue, “recognizes the same mechanisms and colonizing ways in certain research that studies, produces, and silences specific groups (e.g., persons with disabilities) through the ways it constructs and consumes knowledge and experience about such groups” (35). Decolonizing research, then, “extends to conducting research, not exclusively in contexts where the geopolitical experience of colonization happened, but indeed among groups where colonizing research approaches are deployed” (35). “[U]nlike postcolonial theory, decolonizing research goes beyond the mires/lure of defining colonialism solely in terms of spatial or temporal dimensions, often ignoring the brutality of the material consequences of coloniality,” they write (37-38). Instead,
[d]ecolonizing research argues for materialist and discursive connection within postcoloniality and lays open the technologies of colonization, including language (English language) as the medium of research representation, deployment of Western epistemologies (often in diametric opposition to indigenous epistemologies), deployment of methodological imperialism (as defined within the Western academy versus indigenous modes of inquiry, representation, and ways of knowing), and the determination of “valid” research questions (generated in the Western academy and “investigated” in indigenous contexts). (38)
They want to bring together qualitative research and postcolonial theory to “make possible the production of new spaces for recasting research in liberatory ways that foreground indigenous epistemologies and ways of knowing in the field,” particularly by “destabilizing the ‘center’ of research and academic ways of knowing by reframing ‘the field’” (38). Decolonizing research “emphasizes performativity,” and by “performativity” they mean being “actively engaged performatively in decolonizing acts framed variously as activism, advocacy, or cultural reclamation” (38).
However, decolonizing methodologies run the risk of “being appropriated, indeed recolonized, and at times reduced to slogans and superficial versions of the intended project,” particularly due to “the impacts of neopositivism and an ‘identity politics’ backlash on interpretive research” (38-39). There is also the problem—at least, the authors identify it as a problem—of a “lack of a unified voice in postcolonial and critical research” (as if such unity were possible or even desirable) (39). “Furthermore, a growing number of Native American scholars have written powerfully about resistance to the Western academy and have called for indigenizing the academy and ‘literary separatism,’ foregrounding indigenous narratives and traditions,” they continue. “The divergent nature of the issues that are important to the decolonizing project further speaks to the diverse nature of the issues that lends the decolonizing project its strength and staying power” (39). The use of other languages in research—that is, Indigenous languages—is another issue: “Decolonizing or anticolonial(ist) scholars also must grapple with the issue of which language(s) in which to publish their work” (39). Of course, publishing in an Indigenous language would limit the reach of one’s research results, but if one had been carrying out research with an Indigenous community, doing so would be a mark of respect.
“Social action or praxis has a critical role in the performance of decolonizing methodologies,” Swadener and Mutua write. “Indeed, critical, culturally framed praxis is at the heart of many enactments of decolonizing methodology” (40). However, they ask questions about “both social action projects and the future of decolonizing research” (41). They are concerned about “how research benefits particular communities and subgroups/cultures in those communities” (41). They “anticipate the expanded use of alternative, performative genres including arts, music, drama, oral storytelling, narratives, and work with popular media . . . as vehicles of growing resistance to Western, neoconservative, and positivist paradigms” (41). (Of course, such forms of nonrefereed publication won’t help anyone get tenure.) “We also anticipate more hybrid identities and border-crossers performing research in ways that resist ‘insider-outsider’ dichotomies while continuing to authentically foreground indigenous issues and work—though not without complications and contestations,” they continue (41). “In this chapter, we have attempted to provide an overview of research that positions itself as working against colonization and reflecting indigenous or nondominant epistemologies and traditions,” they conclude. “[W]hile there are no formulaic universals of ‘decolonizing’ research methodologies, there are compelling examples of systematic approaches, including narrative and performative genres, most of which include activist agendas working toward social justice, sovereignty, self-determination, and emancipatory goals” (41). In addition, “decolonizing research goes beyond a postcolonial analysis to a more socially engaged, collaborative alliance model that reconstructs the very purposes of research and epistemologies that inform it” (41). And, “[i]n evoking a performative metaphor, we recognize the many forms of knowing, communication, and being in a complex and persistently oppressive world” (41).
In “Feminisms From Unthought Locations: Indigenous Worldviews, Marginalized Feminisms, and Revisioning an Anticolonial Social Science,” Gaile S. Cannella and Kathryn D. Manuelito write, “[t]he purpose of this chapter is to form an alliance of feminist, Native, and womanist worldviews that would provide a radical rethinking of the purposes, methods, and interpretations of research applicable to the construction of social justice in contemporary hypercapitalist patriarchy” (46). They believe “that native worldviews (especially those of women), traditionally marginalized feminisms, and womanist forms of female identification provide needed possibilities for activist reinvisionings of research as construct (and social science as disciplinary practice), a “revisioning” that “is especially necessary at a time when science (grounded in the linear notions of knowledge accumulation and progress that actually generate vulnerabilities to simplistic, dualistic thinking) is being attacked by those who would use vulnerabilities to reinscribe power over us” (46). I’m not quite sure how Cannella and Manuelito are using the word “science” here; do they mean social science? Is this an attack on positivism or not? It’s not clear. They recognize that the forms of thinking they intend to bring together have often been “at odds with each other,” conflicts that are “understandable as people are embedded within different histories and various intersecting survival locations within patriarchy and colonialism,” but they note that “[i]ntegrating Native worldviews with traditionally marginalized feminisms involves the intertwining of disposition, theory, and actions” which must transform the “purposes, questions, and methods of research” (46-47). “We propose an anticolonialist social science that would generate visions of egalitarianism and social justice,” they continue. “This anticolonialist social science would recognize the intersection of new oppressive forms of power created even within attempts to decolonize” (47).
Cannella and Manuelito note that “[t]he public, dominant history of American Indians has been formulated since colonization,” and that this history has been replete with “inaccuracies, misinterpretations, and misrepresentations” (48). Scholars have participated in this process of marginalization: “Human worldviews based on collective human rights, communal orientations, and constructions of sovereignty grounded in reciprocity rather than individual ownership have been treated as if nonexistent” (48). “Euro-American feminist constructions of universal female experience and White, privileged criticisms of patriarchy” have been questioned by “Native women and a range of women of color who identify themselves as feminists” (48). Cannella and Manuelito suggest that the current moment exhibits “a new colonialism, reworking the past in ways that are more insidious, that interconnect the violence of racism, sexism, and oppression of the poor . . . with a form of cultural erasure that is so thorough that it rivals physical genocide” (48). This new colonialism “is a patriarchal hypercapitalism that imposes market domination . . . over diverse epistemologies around the world as if a superior and therefore legitimate authority” (48).
It is within this context that they argue that “[r]esearch as construct is so deeply embedded within Enlightenment/modernist thought that arguing for its continued practice is actually a reproduction of the Eurocentric and American error,” although the believe that since rejecting research as a practice is “most likely not an option,” reconceptualizing research is “of great importance,” partly by changing the power relationships involved by involving people “in creating, conducting, owning, and judging research about themselves,” and by researchers recognizing “that there is no singular voice, no prototype of Native or Indigenous peoples” (49). Also, “a decolonialist science would privilege research goals/purposes that no longer accept the Eurocentric assumption (error) that some human beings have the power to ‘know’ others (whether cognitively or through personal stories) but would rather acknowledge and focus on the complexities of our contemporary sociopolitical condition(s)” (49). They describe this “decolonialist social science” through three points: it would “(a) investigate ways that society(ies) produce(s) forms of exclusion and erasure; (b) examine new forms of domination, as well as reinscribe/reinforce codes of imperialism; and (c) facilitate community action research originating from traditionally marginalized people” (49). I think the second phrase in point (b) is supposed to mean the opposite of what it says; perhaps they want researchers to look at the way that codes of imperialism are reinforced in the current moment? Anticolonialist research, they continue, “requires an orientation that is radically activist and does not support a false separation between academic research and transformative actions in the contemporary world” (49). In addition, it would no longer be appropriate for research to label other human beings; “rather, the research focus would be on the underlying assumptions, the will to power, that creates such constructs in the first place. Even our current academic attempts to recognize, hear, understand, and celebrate (and, however unintended, essentialize) Indigenous or Native voices would be examined” (50).
Anticolonialist research “would require that traditional and newly emergent methodologies be transformed into public conversations in ways that avoid the construction of dualist counternarratives that actually reinscribe modernist simplicities” (50). Is that a rejection of the distinction between Settler and Indigenous? Would such a rejection make sense? Such research “would be turned inside out to generate possibilities for continued dialogue with self and others regarding reconceptualization of even the techniques designed to counter colonialism and to generate unthought possibilities” (50). The focus of this research would be on examining forms of power (50). “Anticolonialism requires that no issue is off limits, yet all are treated with respect for complexity and influence on human beings, as well as positions that could unintentionally inscribe new imperialisms,” Cannella and Manuelito continue (50).
Cannella and Manuelito suggest that “the belief in the interconnectedness of life forms and nature, spiritualized egalitarian respect for all, and the importance of transformative actions that are found (however differently expressed) in Native epistemologies and feminisms from often marginalized or purposely discredited locations” can “provide new (and/or reconceptualized) knowledges and ways of speaking, unthought possibilities, and positive emotional-intellectual locations from which to generate being with, and caring for, each other that are egalitarian and life affirming” (51). The challenges that anticolonialist social science makes to “matrices of power” are only one component of that form of research, one which is “necessary (but not sufficient) for an anticolonial, egalitarian consciousness. Various forms of being, understanding, and interpreting offer unlimited positions from which to construct social science” (51). They cite the Diné story of Changing Woman and its effects within Diné society, suggesting that the “feminine organic archetype does not separate mind and body” (52). “Embracing, exploring, and privileging (without attempting to market) egalitarian, reproductive life force, and body knowledges from the margin would result in an entirely reconceptualized social science,” they argue (53). They suggest that ecofeminism “offers unique epistemologies that assume interconnections between human and nonhuman, life and nonlife” that avoid dualistic thinking (53). They suggest that “ecofeminists would reverse priorities away from capitalist production toward sustainable reproduction and ecology,” unlike notions of sustainable development (54). “Collectivist, reciprocal ways of being and living in respectful and honest relations are of utmost importance as we have increasingly denounced our connectedness, spiritualities, and possibilities in the name of competition, efficiency, individualism, measurement, and profitability,” they contend. “Social science discourses, knowledges, and ways of being that are caring, insightful, and that value our collective connections to each other (including all forms of life and ‘nonlife’), while fostering our diversities in ways that challenge commodification, may be the most needed contemporary emotional and intellectual acts” (54). They also contend that the “contemporary condition requires a mestiza warrior activism for the construction of an anticolonialist social science,” a form of wisdom that “would consciously construct new spaces for multiplicity, border essences, and woman identification” (56).
“Native epistemologies and marginalized feminisms can actually serve as foundational for the construction of an anticolonial, egalitarian social science,” Cannella and Manuelito conclude. “A transformative egalitarianism would insist that the purposes of research are to make visible, center, and privilege those knowledges that have been placed in the margins because they represented threats to power, while avoiding the creation of new power hierarchies or the objectification of those knowledges (or the people associated with them)” (56). In addition, they contend that “[r]esearch interactions are needed that allow for the different epistemological spaces from which to collect and analyze data without imposing power on others” (56). “This anticolonial social science would no longer accept the assumptions that human beings have the ability or ‘right’ to define, know, or judge the minds, cultures, or ways of being of others,” they continue (56). Instead, research must “reveal and actively challenge social systems, discourses, and institutions that are oppressive and that perpetuate injustice,” “support knowledges that have been discredited by dominant power orientations in ways that are transformative (rather than simply revealing), and “construct activist conceptualizations of research that are critical and multiple in ways that are transparent, reflexive, and collaborative” (56). These goals will mean transforming some research practices and eliminating others, while “[o]thers will emerge as we struggle together to hear, respect, and support each other and the collective environment that surrounds us all” (56). What strikes me about this essay is the way that it arrives at positions similar to the arguments made by Springgay and Truman, but from a completely different theoretical background. I also find myself wondering what Vanessa Watts would have to say about their argument, particularly their use of the word “epistemology,” a term she rejects. I also find myself wondering if there are any examples of anticolonial social science research, or if this article is more of a manifesto that describes practices that have yet to take shape. I think some art practices might fit parts of their description of anticolonial social science research, though not all of it. (I’m not sure that any practice could completely conform to their description of anticolonial social science research.)
In “Waiting For The Call: The Moral Activist Role of Critical Race Theory Scholarship,” Gloria Ladson-Billings and Jamel K. Donnor state that their purpose is to “move away from solely describing the epistemological terrain (both dominant and liminal) to advocating the kinds of moral and ethical responsibilities various epistemologies embody” (63). The “call” they refer to in the essay’s title “is that moment where, regardless of one’s stature and/or accomplishments, race (and other categories of otherness) is invoked to remind one that she or he still remains locked in the racial construction” (61). Their essay is focused on race and racism, and they argue that even though racism is “a permanent fixture of American life, we must still struggle against it” (64). “Our success will not necessarily come in the form of a tightly constructed scholarly treatise but rather in the form of scores of other community, student, and scholar activists who continue or take up this cause rather than merely waiting for ‘the call,’” they write (64).
Ladson-Billings and Donnor begin by acknowledging “the incredible volume of work that scholars of color have produced that we regard as ethical epistemologies” (64). “What each of these groups (i.e., African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans) has in common is the experience of a racialized identity,” they write. “Each group is constituted of a myriad of other national and ancestral origins, but the dominant ideology of the Euro-American epistemology has forced them into an essentialized and totalized unit that is perceived to have little or no internal variation” (66). At the same time, though, “members of these groups have used these unitary racialized labels for political and cultural purposes,” because such identifications enable “an acknowledgement of some of the common experiences group members have had as outsiders and others” (66). This “double consciousness,” they contend, “pervades the experience of racialized identities,” and they “believe it is imperative to include another theoretical axis—that of postcolonial[ism],” to serve “as a corrective to our penchant for casting these issues into a strictly U.S. context” (66-67). At the same time, they cite McClintock’s suggestion that the “post” in “postcolonialism” is “prematurely celebratory” (qtd. 67). It certainly is in this country.
That first section of the essay, Ladson-Billings and Donnor suggest, addresses “axes of moral and ethical epistemology on which the work of scholars of color rests (i.e., double consciousness, sovereignty, hybridity, heterogeneity, postcolonialism)” (67). The essay’s second section, they continue, points “towards the problems of dichotomy that current political and social rhetoric provokes” (67). They are particularly interested in the “us” versus “them” discourse that followed the 9/11 attacks (67) and the way that the “us” in that binary “serves to maintain White privilege and justify the subordination of anyone outside this racial designation” (68). The third section begins by citing legal scholar Derrick Bell’s argument that “the qualities of passion, risk courage, inspiration, faith, humility, and love are the keys to success that maintain one’s integrity and dignity,” and that these qualities are “standards of behavior in both scholarship and relationships” (70). “Clearly, this is a different set of standards than those the academy typically applies to research and scholarship,” they continue. “But how well have the usual standards served communities of color?” (70). Not well, they answer. While researchers might abide by the standards of scientific inquiry, “these standards are not inclusive of the moral and ethical action that must be taken,” they suggest (72). They believe that critical race theory can provide both a methodology and a theory that “seeks not merely reversal of roles in a hierarchy but rather displacement of taken-for-granted norms around unequal binaries (e.g., male-female, public-private, White-non-White, able-disabled, native-foreign)” (73). Critical race theory “is not limited to the old notions of race”; rather, it “is a new analytic rubric for considering difference and inequity using multiple methodologies—story, voice, metaphor, analogy, critical social science, feminism, postmodernism” (73). “So visceral is our reaction to the word race that many scholars . . . cannot see beyond the world to appreciate the value of [critical race theory] for making sense of our current social condition,” they write, and they list a number of scholars who, they argue, “all produce a kind of [critical race theory]” (73). “They are not bogged down with labels or dogmatic constraints”; instead, “they are creatively and passionately engaging new visions of scholarship to do work that will ultimately serve people and lead to human liberation” (73). What is necessary, they continue, is for scholars “to break new epistemological, methodological, social activist, and moral ground” (73). Unfortunately, the names in their list are primarily theorists, I think, rather than people engaged in other, more tangible forms of research, which might be a problem if they are calling for the creation of new forms of social science research. All social science research can’t be theoretical, can it?
The next section argues that “[a]ll scholars of color need to acknowledge the salience of popular culture in shaping our research and scholarly agendas, for it is in the popular that our theories and methodologies become living, breathing entities” (74). Like scholars who “have made connections with the hip-hop generation,” social scientists “must similarly situate themselves to play a more active and progressive role in the fight for equity and social justice” (76). “Their work has to transcend narrow disciplinary boundaries if they are to have any impact on people who reside in subaltern sites, or even policy makers. Unfortunately, far too many academics spend their time talking to each other in the netherworld of the academy,” publishing in “obscure journals” and using language that does not “translate to the lives and experiences of real people” (76).
The following section suggests that a transformation—such as a transformation of the academy—“implies a change that emanates from an existing base” (76). However, the old—the academy—may have to be destroyed in order “for it to be responsive to the needs of everyday people” (77). That’s rather utopian, and it’s far more likely that the academy’s destruction will take place at the hands of populist politicians and neoliberal bureaucrats. “A reconstructed university would displace much of the credentialing function of the current system and organize itself around principles of intellectual enrichment, social justice, social betterment, and equity,” they write. “Students would see the university as a vehicle for public service, not merely personal advancement,” and they would take courses “in an attempt to improve both their minds and the condition of life in the community, society, and the world” (77). They note that this idea “has little or no chance of success in our current sociopolitical atmosphere,” and that as they are currently structured, universities are premised on the “continued employment of elites,” the supply of “a well-prepared labor force,” and increasing their own endowments (77). “A reconstructed university would have a different kind of reward system where teaching and service were true equals to research and scholarship,” and its students would be selected “for their ability to contribute to the body politic that will be formed on a particular campus” rather than their academic preparedness (77). There is something rather Stalinist in the idea of recruiting students based on their political opinions rather than their ability to do the work required in university, isn’t there? “We are skeptical of the academy’s ability to reconstruct itself because of the complicity of its intellectuals with the current social order,” they conclude (79).
The essay’s concluding section suggests that “committed intellectuals must move into spaces beyond the academy to participate in real change,” and that this move “may mean that academics take on less prominent roles in order to listen and learn from people actively engaged in social change” (79). “Our call for a revolutionary habitus recognizes that the ‘field’”—they are citing Pierre Bourdieu here—“in which academics currently function constrains the social (and intellectual) agency that might move us toward social justice and human liberation,” they write (79). “[D]espite notions of academic freedom and tenure, professors work within a field that may delimit and confine political activity and views unpopular with university administrators, state and national legislators, and policy makers,” they continue (80). They suggest that their “notion of a revolutionary habitus might better be realized through Espiritu’s powerful conceptualization of ‘home’” as “a way to think about the permeable nature of concepts such as race, culture, ethnicity, gender, and ability” (80). “[W]e need to consider the way that we are all border dwellers who negotiate and renegotiate multiple places and spaces,” they write (80). “Thus the challenge of those of us in the academy is not how to make those outside of the academy more like us but rather to recognize the ‘outside-the-academy’ identities that we must recruit for ourselves in order to be more effective researchers on behalf of people who can make use of our skills and abilities,” they conclude (80). This idea would mean becoming more comfortable in communities “so that our work more accurately reflects their concerns and interests” and renouncing “our paternalistic tendencies and sympathetic leanings to move toward an empathic, ethical, and moral scholarship that propels us to a place where we are prepared to forcefully and courageously answer ‘the call’” (80). This argument is all very utopian (and thus impossible to realize), and I’m surprised that it neglects the fact that the majority of teaching on most campuses is done by armies of poorly compensated contract faculty who have no job stability and no institutional support for research of any kind—radical or traditional. That’s quite a blind spot—and as someone who has worked for years as contract faculty, I find it quite insulting.
“Critical Race Theory and Indigenous Methodologies,” by Christopher Dunbar Jr., begins with the history of “Negro” scholarship in the U.S. Many “scholars of color” embraced “a position that everything about race is subjective, hence challenging the notion of objectivity and the perception that given the same materials and resources, anyone could conduct research and arrive at the same findings—that is, the belief that life experiences and/or power relationships have no impact on research outcomes” (86). “The advantages to scholars of color results from the opportunity/obligation to transcend the either/or way of knowing,” Dunbar writes, suggesting that the scholars he includes in this essay “argue against dualistic positioning” and “provide multiple positions/lenses that challenge the dominant cultural model that they contend distorts their realities and has served only to sustain power relations that continue to place them at a disadvantage” (86). He suggests that Indigenous methodologies are important for critical race theory, and that “both Indigenous scholars and scholars of color” must “provide alternative modes of inquiry that accurately represent/reflect and critique their experiences” (87).
The first section of the essay looks at critical race theory. “Two common interests unify critical race scholarship,” Dunbar writes. “The first is to understand how a regime of White supremacy and its subordination of people of color have been created and maintained in America, and the second is a particular examination of the relationship between that social structure and professed ideas such as the rule of law and ‘equal protection’” (87). Critical race theory is an outgrowth of critical legal studies, whose proponents believe that scholarship cannot be neutral or objective, and that “[t]here is no scholarly perch outside the social dynamics of racial power from which to merely observe and analyze,” because knowledge (and the way it is created) is “inevitably political” (87). Both critical race theory and critical legal studies rely on narrative as a way to challenge the academy’s “meritocratic paradigm” (Eleanor Marie Brown, qtd. 87).
Some scholars “argue that race is scientifically meaningless”—that it is “a socially constructed concept”—and “‘[a]ntirace’ and so-called mixed race theorists” encourage the rejection of “all race concepts on strategic, scientific, conceptual, sociohistorical, and existential grounds” (88). The methods of these scholars “have included development of autobiographically based multiracial and ‘borderline’ identity theories, refutations of biological essentialism, and identification of historical and conceptual underpinnings of White racism” (88). According to Dunbar, though, “[r]ace is a constant in my life. It may be the only constant” (89). “I have framed much of my research in story form because I, too, agree that a story frames my research,” he writes (89). Scholars of colour, he states, need “to adopt critical methodologies toward the transformation and liberation of oppressed people” (90). “I would argue that the peculiar set of experiences of African Americans necessitates a methodological approach of inquiry that also differs from a Euro/Western approach to uncover and discover the lived experiences of disenfranchised, colonized, and Indigenous people,” he continues. “That is, there are (and need to be) multiple ways of inquiry/knowing” (90).
Stories “are a powerful tool for reflection,” and their language “is an act of epistemology” (91). “The Indigenous worldview places Indigenous peoples at the center of the research environment and is cognizant of Indigenous values, beliefs, paradigms, social practices, ethical protocols, and pedagogies,” Dunbar writes. That worldview “identifies both Indigenous and non-Indigenous research voices and perspectives, but these will be filtered and framed by Indigenous worldview. The knowledge framework will be one that his holistic and integrated, and this will further inform the view of research and research training and its impact on peoples and cultures” (92). “Indigenous research is about changing and improving conditions,” he continues (92). Critical race theory “legitimates and promotes the voices of people of color by using storytelling to integrate the experiential knowledge drawn from history of the ‘other’ into critiques of the dominant social order,” Dunbar argues, citing Laurence Parker (93). Telling personal stories “involves the work of reflection and telling. . . . It is both a historical and political process that places people of color in control of their story. Stories often trace the path/history of the person telling the story” (94).
There are challenges to critical race theory; they come from Latino critical race theorists, who “challenge the use of race as the central unit of analysis” and “argue that critical race theory has provided little understanding of the political economy of racism and racialization” (94). Latino critical race theorists are critical of “the use of narratives and storytelling, positing that this method, though useful in its own respect, tends to essentialize the plight of a disenfranchised people” and that it romanticizes, homogenizes, and exaggerates their experiences (94-95). They argue that “the effort toward the liberation of disenfranchised people requires moving race from the center of emancipatory efforts and placing the capitalist economy paradigm as the focus toward social and economic equality” (95). Dunbar also cites Matsuda, who suggests that it’s important to learn from those who have been “poor and Black,” and Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s notion of Kaupapa Māori, or “Māori research,” which is more specific and accurate than “Indigenous research” (95). The purpose of those brief discussions, however, is not clear, nor is their connection to challenges to critical race theory. In fact, the final pages of this essay seem to fall apart into disconnected fragments. If that’s a deliberate formal decision, it doesn’t work.
“Reflecting on what I have written over these several pages has served to solidify my belief that an understanding and utilization of critical race theory as a method of inquiry is essential to understanding the impact of racism and the ongoing struggle of Indigenous and people of color not only in the United States but in other countries around the world,” Dunbar concludes. “Critical race theorists and Indigenous methodologists speak to the necessity of writing their own script. They note that storytelling is a sacred act shared from the heart that relives/recounts their history and culture. It is their story—stories that bring back life” (95-96). “Indigenous scholars and critical race theorists reject the notion of one truth,” Dunbar continues. “They argue that there are multiple ways of knowing, depending on whose lens is used. The notion of objectivity as evidence of truth is deemed invalid. They challenge the immorality of subjugation and the concept that a ‘racelessness’ society can exist” (96). This argument suggests that critical race theory and Indigenous methodologies are very similar, but I find myself wondering about how they might be different. The essay’s final section criticizes forms of scholarship that focus on capitalism or Indigenousness rather than race. Such scholarship “does not address the multiple injustices that have occurred in history and continue to occur daily in the lives of people of color and Indigenous people,” Dunbar argues. “To move race from the center would mean the dominant cultural model would have to surrender its positionality and hence power and domination. I know of no instances where power was willingly surrendered” (97). In addition, “[t]o suggest that people of color remove race from their center would mean to ignore the injustices that have occurred throughout history. It would mean ignoring the truth and exposing social inequities that give rise to continued social injustice. Race gives rise to exclusionary practices and not the other way around” (97-98). “It is critical that Indigenous scholars and scholars of color take the lead in framing their stories,” Dunbar writes, and he suggests that Indigenous scholars, “in challenging traditional research methods, have adopted methods of their own” which “consider the whole person, that is, the religion, culture, language, nuances, spirituality, and other values shared by their people” (98). Indigenous research attempts to accurately represent the lives of Indigenous peoples: “The research is intended to revive their people as opposed to researching them to ‘death’” (98). I agree that Indigenous research is important, but the essay ends without clearly distinguishing Indigenous methodologies from critical race theory, which leaves one with the mistaken assumption that they end up being the same thing.
In “Queer(y)ing the Postcolonial Through the West(ern), Bryant Keith Alexander brings together queer and postcolonial theory through an autoethnographic perspective. “[A]s a Black/gay/man/teacher/performer/scholar—I speak/write from a place of both bondage and freedom, held in place by the tensive ties of history’s legacy that depicts me as exotic other, a transplanted aborigine negotiating diaspora in a land that both recognizes and disowns,” he writes (103). “I claim a tensive comfort in postcolonialism and queer theory, knowing that I am both placed and displaced in both, yet I move forth boldly voicing experience, engaged in ‘the production of identity’ by renarrating the past and resisting the treachery of invisibility and exclusion that each promotes,” he continues, quoting Stuart Hall (103). (“Tensive,” a word that means “the quality of stretching or straining” or causing “a sensation of tension or tightness in the body,” according to the O.E.D., doesn’t seem to fit the sentence, but it recurs throughout Alexander’s essay.) “The method that I engage here is a critical interpretive queer methodology that engages a particular focus on critique but uses a highly personalized reflective and refractive method of revealing the invested self-implication of the author in the telling of the told, in a form that both signals and subverts traditional forms of scholarly discourse, contributing to both the field of knowing and the field of expressing the known,” he states, arguing that he is “building a kind of grounded theory, of doing and describing at the same time” (104). This essay itself is, he argues, “queer” in content and form, because “it resists the encompassing strictures of traditional forms of scholarly discourse, while working the political line between what is assumed to be only an aesthetic form without substantive worth and a critical excavation of thought that often sanitizes the dense particularity of the writer, which often receives false accolades as objectivity in scholarship” (104). “[O]nly an aesthetic form without substantive worth”—to a poet, those would be fighting words. Alexander argues that by illuminating and subverting the paradox of postcolonial theory—it sets out to dismantle the object with which is it fixated—he will not be “completely erased in the Whiteness of the scholarly mandate of academic performance to which I more than partially subscribe” (104).
After that lengthy introduction, Alexander turns to points of contact between postcolonial and queer theories. He argues that both are “engaged in a project of excavation and rescue of the alienated and silenced other,” and both are “subverting regimes of the normal and systematic deconstructions of colonial legacies, to create spaces for the variable performative identities of racialized and gendered minorities to practice voice” (105). In addition, both are engaged “in a rhetoric of critique and a rhetoric of possibility that liberates alternate ways of knowing, constructing, and engaging the world through the dense particularity of being” (105). In addition, both set out to illuminate and dismantle “systems of oppression” through critical analysis (105). Both are also “grounded in Whiteness: one a resistance to Whiteness as in European territorial conquests and its consequences, the other a blanching of racialized sexual differences that do not necessarily foreground Whiteness as its intent but as its effect; an erasure of racialized difference within the quest of universalizing larger notions of queer identity” (105). He cites Homi K. Bhabha’s definition of postcolonial perspectives as emerging “from the colonial testimony of Third World countries and the discourses of ‘minorities’ within the geopolitical divisions of east and west, north and south” (qtd. 105) because it “identifies both a point of origin, as well as the expanse of possibility within an approach to criticism that has, as a concerted effort, to crack the code of history’s conceit and open spaces that question not only the master(’s) narrative, but gives voice to untold stories cloistered in the margins of minority populations and lived experience” (105). He argues that postcolonial theory “pivots on the following logics”: a shift in who gets to speak, which opens “the categories of diversity in race, genders, and sexualities”; a shift in context, “from larger social and political systems to the specific contexts of private/public lives and the ways in which place and space become meaningful terrain of practiced lives”; and a shift in theory from modern to postmodern to “critical postcoloniality,” from “abstracted generalizations to emergent constructions grounded in the articulation and actualization of experience”(105-06). “Issues of voice, power, context, and theory are contingencies of human social relations that dictate the known and the knowing, histories and futures, and the quality of human existence that makes new histories and emergent identities possible,” Alexander writes (106). The “core logic for the transformative potential in critical postcolonial studies” is “the radical revisioning of social temporality,” he continues, citing Bhabha again. Somehow—the inclusion of the word “temporality” is confusing the issue—this “core logic” “reshapes and helps to revision the progenitors of human accomplishment, in a manner that is inclusive of the more collective contingencies of actual experience in the dynamism of human social relations” (106). What that has to do with temporality, however, either in Bhabha or in Alexander, is lost on me.
Alexander next suggests “two purposeful and very idiosyncratic critiques of postcolonial studies” (106). The first is that postcolonial theory has tended to “focus on the dominating qualities of heterosexual identities, their regenerative abilities to sustain domination over sexual minorities, and their contributions to the spectrum of intellectual, artistic, and practical human innovation” (106). The second is the claim that “postcolonial studies is built around the concept of otherness—as both a point of departure and critique,” which tends to reify the “presumed subjugated positionality” of “minority voices” (107). According to Alexander, this “construction of otherness in postcolonialism is linked with the relationship of origins—colonizer to colonized—but the relationship can also be distinguished by points of destination and departure—which leads to a particular resistance of indigenous people to feel that postcolonial theory has failed them” (107). In other words, postcolonial theory does not apply to settler colonialism, and in fact the “post” in “postcolonial” is itself a problem.
A discussion of queer theory follows. “In its most idealistic and liberatory impulse, queer theory” uses the word “queer” not only to describe “a gendered identity location” but “as resistance to orthodoxy—expounding, elaborating, and promoting alternative ways of being, knowing, and narrating experience—through scholarship, through embodied being, through social and political interventions in regimes of the normal” (108). However, “queer theory is not presented as alternative . . . but as the reality of alterity that penetrates the suppressed and supplanted presence of difference that always and already exists in daily operations—both political and practical, as well as academic and everyday” (108). Therefore, “queer is antifoundationalist work that focuses on the opposition to fixed identities,” and queer theory itself “is interested in remapping the terrain of gender, identity, and cultural studies” (108). Queer theory is also “a form of academic activism” (108). “[H]ow does the occlusion of people of color become counterintuitive to the project and the very nature of cultural studies,” Alexander asks, given the way that queer theory remaps the terrain of gender, identity, and cultural studies by denaturalizing sexual identity? (109). In addition, if “queer” is an “inclusive signifier,” “then what about any discussion that links perception, practices, performances, and politics of sexual identity to race, ethnicity, culture, time, place, and the discourses produced within these disparate locations?” (109). “Are the specific experiences and concerns of queer folks of color erased in the dominant discourse of queer theory?” he continues (109). And if queer theory is grounded in feminist theory, “then doesn’t the collectivizing of experience prove unfaithful to the listening, debunking the singularity of voice, and the articulation of lived experience that undergirds feminism?” (109-10). (So no one shares aspects of their experience with anyone else? Isn’t this a radical individualism that denies the possibility of community?)
Queer theory is apparently therefore indifferent to
the unjustified generalization of common concerns and experiences within an imagined community in which there is contestation over the very terms gay and queer. Consequently, while queer studies grounds itself as an academic manifestation, it risks engaging and codifying the representational politics of alternative communities that it seeks to intervene in and thus becomes fraught with the danger of imperialism, colonialism, academic puffery, and racism. (110)
“[W]ithin the employment of the notion of queer studies, the gaps have been large enough to cause considerable slippage, if not a complete occlusion of the experiences of queer colored folk,” Alexander continues, suggesting that “queer” both includes and excludes (110). “The question then becomes, what and why does it exclude?” he asks. “Queer theory uses a false notion of building community in order to dissuade arguments of exclusion” (110). The word “queer” homogenizes the experiences and desires of people from a range of identities, particularly racialized identities, which it excludes in “what appears as either an intentional or unintentional act of racism in a project that has as its goals the notion of broad inclusivity” (111). This is a “dilemma” for Alexander, who writes, “I am engaging a critique of queer theory while engaged in a process of a queer reading of queer theory and its relationship to the postcolonial project” (112).
“And so maybe my particular construction and critique of queer theory in fact erases the divide that separates colonial and postcolonial theory,” Alexander writes. “If queer theory seemingly promotes mostly white constructions of gay sexual identity, it most certainly is (inadvertently) complicit in racial domination in the service of sexual specificity; a study of White queers at the exclusionary expense of all others” (112). (How does that argument erase the division between colonial theory—which Alexander has not discussed or defined—and postcolonial theory? I don’t understand.) “But herein may lie both the limits and possibilities of queer epistemology,” he continues:
especially when pushed by a queer of color critique, a critically applied method of disidentification, and a burgeoning quare studies, each demanding a specific and text-specific analysis of racial and sexual deference, each examining the text and subtest of same-sex desire and the strategic rhetorics that both patronize and pathologize queer identity, and each examining the rhetorical strategies of exclusion and occlusion of racial sexual minorities that establish the motivating and guiding impulse in queer theory. Whether as a particular backlash to queer theory or as a culturally conscious/community-conscious critique for social transformation and empowerment—maybe a queer of color critique and the emergent interpretive queer methodology that I am espousing in this project—embody in more salient ways, the postcolonial move that should be are the core of queer theory, focusing on the complicated construals of queer identity across variables of race, class, and geography, with the particular focus on articulating experience and voice. (112)
I don’t work in the area of queer theory, and so I don’t have much to say about Alexander’s argument, except to wonder what he would make of metaphorical uses of the term “queer,” as in Springgay and Truman’s book on walking. My sense is that he would be angry in an application of the word “queer” that moves away from literal meanings of the term, although I could be completely wrong about that. Clearly he expects queer theory to engage with the issues that are important to him. “[M]y approach to doing a queer reading in this project pivots off of these logics to foreground not just the obviously queer but the multiple logics in which queer is being promoted as a restrictive and delimited possibility within a larger heteronormative promotion of the ideal,” he continues. “But I want also to acknowledge the moments in which queers of color are excluded or constructed in ways that further marginalize that identity construct, in the service of promoting heteronormative constructions of White masculinity—even in the presumed context of foregrounding queer identity” (113). For my part, I would like to see examples of queer theory that promote “heteronormative constructions of White masculinity,” because I would be very surprised if such things existed.
Next, Alexander offers “an alternative method of doing a critically interpretive queer reading that is an extension of the queer methodology that structures this text” (113). This method uses “disidentification,” or (quoting Muñoz) “a ‘recycling and rethinking [of] encoded meanings . . . that both exposes the encoded message’s universalizing and exclusionary machinations and recircuits its workings to account for, include, and empower minority identities and identifications’” (qtd. 113). (What might that look like in practice?) According to Alexander, disidentification is “a practiced positionality and a method that seeks to subvert mainstream constructions of queer identities in presumably liberal social texts” (113). (Are these texts literal or metaphorical? Are only some texts “social” or are all texts social? What is the function of that adjective, anyway?) “I am moving toward a method of queer resistance that contests hegemonic colonial methods of sexuality and queering through a critical method that has a ‘culture-specific positionality’ that reveals my biases and investments without promoting yet another exclusionary method with a singular focus on raced identities, but one that promotes a critical awareness of exclusion and not self-promotion,” he writes (113). In this method, “the act of queering a social text is not only a methodological offshoot of queer theory seeking to unmask sexual erotics, same-sex desire, or sexual deviancy in any particular text to denaturalize assumed natural social processes,” nor is it “just a rearticulation of the postcolonial project, an analysis that shows how cultural, intellectual, economic, and political processes work together to perpetuate and to dismantle colonialism,” but it is “a paradigmatic approach to reading social, cultural, and political texts that covertly seek to perpetuate violence against queer lives while maintaining human social relations that create hierarchies of race, class, and sexual identity” (113). More importantly, the approach Alexander is advocating “is also a method that foregrounds the critical—as a systematic focus on content and intent with commentary and direction—and the ways in which particular queer identified texts are imbued with residual effects not only of heteronormative dominant values but a particular emphasis on Whiteness that is counter intuitive and often disparaging to the lives of racialized sexual minorities” (113). What Alexander is “moving toward” is “the emergence of a critical interpretive queer methodology that addresses the concerns of both a nihilistic postcolonial perspective”—how is that perspective nihilistic?—“and homogenizing queer studies, thus suturing the pains and possibilities of each,” a method “that works toward elaborating social action issues without simply replacing ills with additional harms but introducing new spaces of inquiry,” a method “like quare studies” which would attend to race as a social and cultural construction or performance, while also “crossing or bleeding the borders of identity construction, which affects the material practices of culture, gender/sexuality, and the socially delimited constructions of possibility” (113-14).
This method, he continues, would acknowledge and use Indigenous knowledge, “understood both as the commonsense ideas and cultural knowledge of local peoples” but also “theories of the flesh, which fuse the specificities of lived and embodied experience to create a politic born out of necessity” (114). Such Indigenous knowledge would include “those particular spaces like prisons, ghettos, and underdeveloped nations within the backyards of developed countries” (114) and involve
the innate sense of understanding one’s positionality in relation to the social and political constructs that strive, in both radical and subtle ways, to erase the significance of lived experience and bodily being to perform resistance, an indigenous and queer resistance that opens up a breathing space to know self in relation to hegemonic notions of racial and sexual identity as that particularly relates to the socially constructed marked other—which most often is the indigenous native withering under the colonial gaze. (114)
“[W]hich most often”? After his withering critique of generalities and homogenizations of queer identities and lives earlier in this essay, Alexander is going to do the same thing to Indigenous people? Really?
Critical interpretive queer methodology, Alexander continues, “analyzes a social text to reveal how the cloistered gay lives in the text, living in a presumed democratic society, and is both celebrated—as a part of the commercial mainstreaming of queerness—yet penalized as sexual deviancy within the larger dominating construction of heteronormativity” (114). It is, he writes, “a method that moves back and forth between social text and actual experience to reveal how the two are always and already co-constructed and codependent yet often placed in a hierarchical position of worth” (114). Given that his example is the fictional feature-length film Brokeback Mountain, I’m not sure where “actual experience” would apply, though. Whose actual experience? Alexander is setting up a critique of mainstream films like Brokeback Mountain for their characters’ “self-loathing that is socially inserted in the public construction of queer desire, as a heteronormative default setting, signaling pathology and a longing for (hetero) normalcy” (115). That would seem to be an easy criticism to make about such films, but Alexander is arguing that his method is complex:
I am moving toward a method that moves between human rights and queer cosmopolitanism to develop what should be a grounded sense of common investments in human social relations—bleeding the borders of difference by foregrounding those very instances in which difference is marked and reified. This is from the perspective and articulated voice of one whose absented presence is only signaled in the text, but never actualized; one whose racialized possibility is presented as a counternarrative to the dominance of Whiteness—here relegated as the other—both alternative for Whiteness and alterity to Whiteness. (115)
I am moving toward a method that deconstructs a social text for the tripartite and competing issues of foregrounding same-sex desire, while concomitantly promoting overt homophobic skepticism, within the particularity of also foregrounding racial specificity that competes against notions of a multicultural community building: community both in the larger human social system and a presumed common political concerns. Such a method blends and bleeds the borders of postcolonial and queer studies—in what might be a form of postcolonial queer analysis. (115)
Alexander promises that his reading of Brokeback Mountain will “demonstrate this burgeoning methodology” (115). I am so happy to see an example of a methodology in this essay, because such examples or practical applications have been missing from the other essays in this book that I have read so far.
Alexander states that his approach to Brokeback Mountain is postcolonial: “Postcolonial texts—and, more importantly in this case, social positions—presumably seek to open up spaces of liberation and possibility,” he writes (115). He also states that he is reading the film “as synecdoche for the culture machine of the film industry in the production of hegemonic notions of social propriety” (115). According to Alexander, Brokeback Mountain is “both a mechanism to out long-suppressed depictions of same-sex desire, through a presumed proclamation of affiliation (or at least support) and identity declaration (as presumed sexual alternative), but it also fulfills the critical possibility of the medium to question and questions of desire” (116). (The last phrase of that sentence makes little sense to me.) He focuses on specific scenes as “strategically constructed arguments in the larger rhetorical messaging of the film that creates a dispositive perspective of gay lives and how the reading of the text opens up new spaces for conversation and activism against the subtle social sanctioning of violence against queer bodies” (116). Brokeback Mountain, he writes, both popularizes and penalizes “the politics of queer identity as negotiated through heterosexual and uniquely White male sensibilities” (116). It “outs long-suppressed homosociality and homoeroticism in the American western genre” while also using gay male desire “as a mechanism to uphold the virtues of (performing) White male heterosexuality, as a mechanism to perpetuate a pernicious homophobia, as well as social and religious constructions of ‘family values’ that further instantiate the specificity of gender roles” (116). The “self-constraint and self-hatred for the potency of same-sex desire portrayed by the main character” act as “an internal, yet culturally inseminated, mechanism to control the lures of libidinal gay desire—which are never completely held at bay but later held in disguise behind the portrait of the ultimate sign of heteronormativity—male/female marriage” (116-17). What Alexander seeks to reveal is that Brokeback Mountain is “a propaganda for the always and already present heteronormative logic that perpetuates hatred of and violence against ‘queer’ populations, particularly in the case of gay men” (117). “[W]hat is queer in the film is not the main characters (who of course are queer) but the rhetorical strategy of the text that lulls the viewer into the assumption of an alternative love story with a ‘happy ending’ . . . but with the altogether traditional moral of applied heteronormativity that trumps queerness in the most vile and violent ways—ways that are always and altogether know,” Alexander writes, describing the film as “a coy text” that diverts the viewer’s attention “from one site or locus of meaning potentially risky or dangerous to what appears to be a more comfortable and secure space but in fact becomes a place of entrapment” (117). For Alexander, the fact that the film’s marketing did not “overtly suggest a queer theme” is an example of such coyness (117).
According to Alexander, “[a] queer reading as a form of disidentification asks the reader to . . . reread the encoded message” of the film “in a fashion that exposes the encoded message, which . . . universalizes a particular construction of queer lives toward particular heterosexual, if not mainstream, constructions of normalcy and the consequences of presumed-to-be deviant behavior” (118). Minority identities are excluded from the film, he continues: “The film is (reductively speaking) about two White queers. The only reference and allusion to queers of color pinpoints Mexican queers, presumabl[y] prostitutes, who become literally shadow figures in a darkened alley across the border,” substitutes for the desired and rejecting “ideal White male lover” (118). “[T]he film only offers a suggestion of the sexuality of the Mexican men in this particular scene,” and “the sexual exchange in what is constructed as prostitution” is really about “commerce and the fluidity of sex as a practiced activity as a by-product of colonialism” (118). Those men become commodities rather than agents of choice, and merely expedients rather than focuses of desire (118). Their bodies are “knowingly situated in an economic dilemma in which prostitution is expedient financial gain, hence becoming portal, promotion, and possibility for the sexual desires of others,” and this “colonial encounter” is staged as a “homoerotic colonial fantasy come true, deregulated by economic power and made manifest as acceptable within the larger frame of the film that promotes, if not rehistorizes, such convenient colonial relations that realign identity, politics, and desire” (118-19). “In reducing people of color to commodities, people to be purchased or engaged as second alternatives, the film reinforces not so subtle aspects of racism and sexism,” Alexander contends, and he concludes by suggesting that “[t]his overall pivot point for analysis, appropriation of liberal stances for political purposes, is linked with the second theme of invoking the conservative links between sexuality, religion, and normalcy as a means of establishing standards of social conduct” (119).
The next section of Alexander’s reading of Brokeback Mountain focuses on those links between sexuality, religion, and so-called normality. “I believe that Brokeback Mountain works in opposition to particular movie dramas that foreground the nexus of gay-life-tragedy—stories such as the Matthew Shepard Story . . . and others that have as their intent to politicize alterity and promote tolerance,” he writes (119). In contrast, “Brokeback Mountain establishes a fictive location of critique that becomes a site of real domination; the object of critique becomes the abject gay bodies bashed, beaten, and narrated in the film as historical object lessons for heteronormativity” (119). In other words, the film “becomes another mechanism for disciplining gays” by situating “gay bashing in the realm of fiction and maybe even fantasy” (119). “The film almost uses the act of violence against gays as a promotion or performative act of compulsory heterosexuality in a manner that goes uncritiqued and without social consequences,” Alexander writes (119-20), and Brokeback Mountain, unlike The Laramie Project (a play about the death of Matthew Shepard), “falls short of this social justice and community-building goal” (120).Divorce and marriage, “both socialized and legal institutional mechanisms that attempt to dictate particular human social relations,” are “promoted within the film as social sanctions—normalization and its presumed opposite” (122).
The third section of Alexander’s reading of the film focuses on a flashback in which Ennis’s father takes him and his brother to see a dead body—a neighbouring rancher who was apparently murdered because he was gay. This viewing, Alexander argues, is “an object lesson” that is intended “to enforce heteronormativity and the socially sanctioned consequences of its opposite” (122). “This becomes the grounding logics for the analogy used to justify and reinforce the social hysteria around homosexuality that Ennis perpetuates, nay promotes in his telling—to forestall any possibility of two men living together,” Alexander writes. “The analogy serves as both comparative template and prophecy” (122). It is a prophecy of Jack’s murder, and it makes Ennis “complicit in the social outcome of Jack’s murder” because of the “projective fate of queerness to which he has invested and helped call into being” (123).
“In offering these three pivot points toward doing a critically interpretive queer analysis of Brokeback Mountain,” Alexander writes, “I want the reader to see an attempt at not revealing the queer undertones in the text already marked as ‘queer,’ but . . . an attempt to recycle and rethink encoded meanings in a cultural text that is presumably liberal but in fact perpetuates very conservative notions of social priority that can easily (and not so easily) go undetected within the political processes of promoting the particularity of dominative values” (123). This interpretation, he continues, comes from “a queer of color critique that identifies investments that re both specific to race and culture but does not fixate in those disparate territories while addressing issues most pertinent to a renewed queer theory interested in transforming the politics of representation that restrict and diminish all our lives” (123). Brokeback Mountain is “always and already a heteronormatively constructed and hegemonically dominating text that seeks to set straight issues of desire, happiness, and socially sanctioned happy endings in the west(ern)” (123). It’s not that the story it tells takes place in a homophobic social and cultural context, then, one marked by internalized homophobia within its characters, but that the film itself is homophobic. Any identification gay audiences may experience with the film’s characters “must also be closely linked with an act of mourning the despair of particular gay lives of which the film also narrates and perpetuates,” Alexander contends. “The project of queer lives is only understood within the larger context of the film. The film encourages the continuation of cloistered lives within the shadows of the dominative value of heteronormativity” (124). It pretends to take “a liberal stance on social issues but in fact sustains, if not sanctions, the same barbaric practices toward queers” (124). Fair enough, but now I want to see Alexander discuss a representation of gay life that he approves of—perhaps The Matthew Shepard Story, the made-for-TV movie he mentions briefly, The Laramie Project, or perhaps an avant-garde queer film. We know what he finds impossibly compromised and suspect. What kind of representation avoids the problems he identifies in Brokeback Mountain? I’ve read a lot of political critiques of Hollywood films in the past 30 years, and usually they are quite predictable: a mainstream film that pretends to be politically engaged or radical in some way turns out to be quite conservative. Alexander’s reading of Brokeback Mountain is much the same. Why not pay attention to representations that avoid the typical failings of Hollywood? They must exist somewhere.
Alexander suggests that critically interpretive queer methodology is focused on action, and he describes action in a number of different ways: “as continued critical readings of socially constructed texts about queer lives,” “as resistance to nostalgic romanticized depictions of queer lives with all too predictable tragic endings,” “as resistance to being happy with unsavory representations and promotions of cloistered gay lives,” “as the resistance of queers of color to being reduced to shadow figures and secondary choices of white lovers,” “as the continued construction of essays written from a queer of color analytical perspective,” “as critiquing the everyday cultural practices of home and community that establish the foundations of our deepest insecurities and pains about sex and sexuality” (124-25). All of these forms of action refer back to his reading of Brokeback Mountain, but Alexander goes on to list other forms of action, such as the book Infamous Desire: Male Homosexuality in Colonial Latin America, or David Román’s Acts of Intervention: Performance, Gay Culture, and AIDS—forms of scholarly action, then. But he returns to Brokeback Mountain:
At the end of Brokeback Mountain, like the characters themselves, I am left battered and bereft. In writing this queer reading of the text, I know that I am not complicit in the construction of these categories and the retelling of these particular tales that further my own marginalization. Like other queers of color, I know that my queer reading is both an act and a call for disidentification. (125)
“I seek to use the raw materials of this decoded text as a means of representing the disempowered politics of queer lives that the film perpetuates through a particular brand of hegemony and heteronormativity promoted with the text and in fact empower the queer lives that the film very strategically patronizes and pathologizes,” he continues. “Such acts might in fact be the core logics of any project that seeks to queer postcolonialism, an act that at once focuses and distinguishes the radical possibilities of being and sounds out voice from the marginalized spaces of nation and state form which such social and political texts promote their particular rhetorics” (126).
The essay concludes with an epilogue in which Alexander claims “this space to practice voice at the intersection of a nihilistic postcolonial perspective and a homogenizing queer studies” (126). (I’m still not clear what he means by “nihilistic” in this context.) What follows is an attempt at poetry. If social scientists are going to publish poetry, they really need to attend to the craft of writing poetry. It’s not simply a free expression of one’s emotions or ideas. There’s a lot more to it than that. It’s an artistic discipline. It deserves to be treated as one.
In “Indigenous Knowledges in Education: Complexities, Dangers, and Profound Benefits,” Joe L. Kincheloe and Shirley R. Steinberg explore “the educational and epistemological value of indigenous knowledge in the larger effort to expand a form of critical multilogicality—an effort to act educationally and politically on the calls for diversity and justice that have echoed through the halls of academia over the past several decades” (135). This project “seeks an intercultural/interracial effort to question the hegemonic and oppressive aspects of Western education and to work for justice and self-direction for indigenous peoples” (135). “In this critical multilogical context, “ they continue, “the purpose of indigenous education and the production of indigenous knowledge does not involve ‘saving’ indigenous people but helping construct conditions that allow for indigenous self-sufficiency while learning from the vast storehouse of indigenous knowledges that provide compelling insights into all domains of human endeavor” (135).
According to Kincheloe and Steinberg, “indigenous knowledge” refers “to a multidimensional body of understandings,” “a lived-world form of reason that informs and sustains people who make their homes in a local area” and who produce “knowledges, epistemologies, ontologies, and cosmologies that construct ways of being and seeing in relationship to their physical surroundings. Such knowledges involve insights into plant and animal life, cultural dynamics, and historical information used to provide acumen in dealing with the challenges of contemporary existence” (136). Their use of this definition “accounts for the many complexities that surround the term and the issues it raises,” they continue (136). They acknowledge their privilege and that the term “indigenous itself . . . appears to conflate numerous, separate groups of people whose histories and cultures may be profoundly different” (136). “[I]t is not our intent to essentialize or conflate diverse indigenous groups,” they write, and their “definition of indigeneity and indigenous knowledge always takes into account the colonial/power dimensions of the political/epistemological relationship between the indigenous cosmos and the Western world” (136). “[T]he standpoint of colonized peoples on a geopolitics built on hierarchies, hegemony, and privilege is an invaluable resource in the larger effort to transform an unjust world,” they continue (136); I wonder if that statement could be interpreted as somewhat extractive.
“We believe in the transformative power of indigenous knowledge, the ways that such knowledge can be used to foster empowerment and justice in a variety of cultural contexts,” Kincheloe and Steinberg write. “A key aspect of this transformative power involves the exploration of human consciousness, the nature of its production, and the process of its engagement with cultural difference” (136). Indigenous knowledges, they continue, “become a central resource for the work of academics,” and they find it “pedagogically tragic that various indigenous knowledges of how action affects reality in particular locales have been dismissed from academic curricula,” because those knowledges “could contribute so much to the educational experiences of all students” (136). “Our intention is to challenge the academy and its ‘normal science’ with the questions indigenous knowledges raise about the nature of our existence, our consciousness, our knowledge production, and the ‘globalized,’ imperial future that faces all peoples of the planet at this historical juncture” (136). In other words:
We want to use indigenous knowledge to counter Western science’s destruction of the Earth. Indigenous knowledge can facilitate this ambitious 21st-century project because of its tendency to focus on relationships of human beings to both one another and to their ecosystem. Such an emphasis on relationships has been notoriously absent in the knowledge produced in Western science over the past four centuries. (136-37)
“[A]dvocates for indigenous knowledge,” they continue, argue for “the inseparability of academic reform, the reconceptualization of science, and struggles for justice and environmental protection” (137). In addition, Indigenous knowledge shows how academic research can be “directly linked to political action” (137).
In Indigenous studies, “emerging political awarenesses have been expressed in terms of the existence of a global Fourth World indigeneity” (137). Those who argue in favour of this idea suggest that Indigenous peoples share experiences of domination. While “it is important to avoid the essentialist tendency to lump together all indigenous cultures as one,” it is also important to “maintain an understanding of the nearly worldwide oppression of indigenous peoples and the destruction of indigenous languages and knowledges” (137). This “complex dynamic” is the focus of their essay (137).
Kincheloe and Steinberg suggest that “the best interests of indigenous and nonindigenous peoples are served by the study of indigenous knowledges and epistemology” (137). An appreciation of Indigenous epistemology, for instance, “provides Western peoples with another view of knowledge production in diverse cultural sites” which “holds transformative possibilities, as people from dominant cultures come to understand the overtly cultural processes by which information is legitimated and delimited” (137). That awareness might “shake the Western scientific faith in the Cartesian-Newtonian epistemological foundation as well as the certainty and ethnocentrism that often accompany it” (137). This “meta-epistemological context” might result “in a much more reflective and progressive consciousness” that would “encounter the possibility that the de/legitimation of knowledge is more a sociopolitical process than an exercise of a universal form of disinterested abstract reason” (137). However, questioning or rejecting “absolute and transcendent Western reason” need not lead to relativism, which can be avoided “by an understanding of culturally specific discursive practices” (137-38). For example, the Chagga people of Tanzania believe that truth is “a contingent, local epistemology” and “would not claim power via its ability to negate or validate knowledge produced in non-Chagga cultures” (138). According to Kincheloe and Steinberg, “[s]uch an epistemological issue holds profound social and political implications, for it helps determine the power relations between diverse cultural groups” (138). “In this reconceptualized, antifoundational epistemological context, analysts must consider the process of knowledge production and truth claims in relation to the historical setting, cultural situatedness, and moral beliefs of the reality they confront,” they write. “Such understandings do not negate our ability to act as political agents, but they do force us to consider our political and pedagogical actions in a more tentative and culturally informed manner” (138). As a result, Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples might find it possible “to enter into a profound transformative negotiation around the complexity of these issues and concepts—a negotiation that demands no final, end-of-history resolution” (138).
“Our point here is on one level quite simple—humans need to encounter multiple perspectives in all dimensions of their lives,” write Kincheloe and Steinberg (138). “This concept of multilogicality,” they continue, “is central to our understanding of indigenous knowledges” (138). “A complex science is grounded on this multilogicality,” and in a recognition of this multilogicality, “we begin to see multiple causations and the possibility of differing vantage points from which to view a phenomenon” (138). The place from which one observes shapes what one sees, they continue, noting that this “standpoint epistemology” suggests that “the assumptions or the system of meaning making the observer consciously or unconsciously deploys shape the observation” (138). This notion “shapes social analysis, political perspectives, knowledge production, and action in the world” (138). “A multilogical epistemology and ontology promotes a spatial distancing from reality that allows an observer diverse frames of reference,” and in this “multiplex, complex, and critical view of reality, Western linearity often gives way to simultaneity, as texts”—why only texts?—“become a kaleidoscope of images filled with signs, symbols, and signifiers to be decoded and interpreted” (139).
“The transformation of Western consciousness via its encounter with multilogicality vis-à-vis indigenous knowledges takes on much of its importance in relation to a more humble and empathetic Western perspective toward indigenous peoples and their understandings of the world,” Kincheloe and Steinberg continue (140). This perspective will lead to a greater understanding of colonialism. “It will be the responsibility of social and political activists all over the world to translate these awarenesses into concrete political actions that benefit indigenous people” as “informed allies” (140). “[I]ndigenous knowledge studies . . . can facilitate indigenous people’s struggle against the ravages of colonialism,” they continue (140). In addition, “a transformed social science would involve the pedagogical task of affirming indigenous perspectives, in the process of reversing the disaffirmations of the traditional Western, social scientific project,” in part by making use “of a variety of previously excluded local knowledges” which “could be deployed to rethink the meaning of development in numerous locales where various marginalized peoples reside” (141). Such knowledge could help Indigenous peoples to “move closer to the possibility of solving their problems in their own ways” (141).
Nevertheless, non-Indigenous researchers who care about the effects of colonialism on Indigenous peoples “are faced with a set of dilemmas”: “Not only must they avoid essentialism and its accompanying romanticization of the indigene, but they must also sidestep the traps that transform their attempts at facilitation into further marginalization” (141). Those researchers must keep asking themselves the question, “How can the agency, the self-direction of indigenous peoples be enhanced?” (141). They must also remain aware of the difference between celebration and appropriation of Indigeneity (141). The study of Indigenous peoples and their knowledges can become a process of Europeanization, “as Western intellectuals conceptualize indigenous knowledge in contexts far removed from its production” (141). However, those intellectuals “have little choice: if they are to operate as agents of justice, they must understand the dynamics at work in the world of indigenous people” (141-42). When Indigenous knowledges are conceptualized as “ethnoscience” by non-Indigenous researchers—Indigenous botany seen as “ethnobotany,” for example,” Indigenous knowledge is seen as “culturally grounded,” while Western science remains “transcultural and universal” (142). Indigenous knowledge is thus relegated to “a lower order of knowledge production” (142). In addition, seeing Indigenous knowledge in disciplinary terms taken from the Western academy (botany, pharmacology, medicine, and so on) “is to inadvertently fragment knowledge systems in ways that subvert the holism of indigenous ways of understanding the world” (142). In this way, Indigenous knowledge ends up “tacitly decontextualized, severed of the cultural connections that grant it meaning to its indigenous producers, archived and classified in Western databases, and eventually used in scientific projects that may operate against the interests of indigenous peoples” (142). This extractive process destroys the dynamic quality of Indigenous knowledge. In addition, Western researchers often insist on testing the viability of Indigenous knowledge through scientific procedures, which shows the “Western disregard of the need to protect and perpetuate the cultural systems that produce dynamic indigenous knowledge” (142).
“How do we deal with the understandable tendency within indigenous studies to lapse into essentialism?” Kincheloe and Steinberg ask (142). Notions of “essentialist authenticity” that romanticize Indigenous cultures by freezing them at some point in the past are myths “that must be buried along with other manifestations of essentialist purity” (142-43). “Without such burial, indigenous cultures are discouraged from shifting and adapting, and indigenous knowledges are viewed simply as sacred relics fixed in a decontextualized netherland,” they write. “Our examination of indigenous knowledge attempts to enlarge the space” for dialogue between Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledges, “denying the assertion of many analysts that European and indigenous ways of seeing are totally antithetical to one another. These cultural and epistemological issues are complex, and our concern is to avoid essentialist solutions by invoking simplistic binary oppositions between indigeneity and colonialism” (143). Such an “either-or approach leaves little room for dialogue, little space to operate. Counteressentialist views of indigenous knowledge understand the circulation of culture, the reality of ‘contamination’” (143). If cultures as seen “as interrelated networks of localities,” they will be understood as “shaped and reshaped by boundary transgressions,” and therefore any claims about cultural purity will be obviated (143). So too will assertions of fixed, stable Indigenous identities. “In our multilocal understanding of indigenous knowledge, we maintain that all identities are historically constructed, always in process, constantly dealing with intersections involving categories of status, religion, race, class, and gender,” they write, noting that this notion of hybridity “is conceptually unsettling” (143). While this claim is probably true, it neglects to attend to the tremendous power imbalance that has characterized 500 years of colonialism and genocide in the Americas.
“Our counteressentialist imperatives must always be understood within the framework of our valuing the diverse perspectives of indigenous peoples and our understanding of the continuing marginalization of their cultures and their perspectives,” they continue. However, “[h]aving made this antiessentialist argument, it is still important to note that within indigenous communities, the concept of essentialism is sometimes employed in ways significantly different than in the anti/postcolonial critical discourses of transgressive academics around the globe,” for strategic purposes and “in relation to spiritual dynamics involved with one’s genealogical connection to the Earth and its animate and (in Western ontologies) inanimate entitles” (144).
The “epistemological tyranny” of the Western academy “subverts multilogicality,” Kincheloe and Steinberg write. “In this context, the notion of indigenous knowledge as a ‘subjugated knowledge’ emerges to describe its marginalized relationship to Western epistemological and curricular power,” they suggest, and “the term subjugated knowledge asserts the centrality of power in any study of indigenous knowledge and any effort to include it in the academy” (144-45). Nevertheless, “[w]hen Western epistemologies are viewed in light of indigenous perspectives”—particularly perspectives on the genocide of colonialism—“Western ways of seeing . . . cannot remain the same” (145). “In the reconceptualized academic curriculum that we imagine, indigenous/subjugated knowledge is not passed along as a new canon but becomes a living body of knowledge open to multiple interpretations,” they continue (145). However, it’s important that Indigenous knowledge not only been seen “through the lens of subjugation” (145). “No doubt the dance connecting the celebration of the affirmative dimensions of indigenous cultures, engaging in humor in the midst of pain, and fighting against mutating forms of colonial oppression is a delicate and nuanced art form—but it is one worth learning,” Kincheloe and Steinberg contend. “In this complex space, we begin to understand the value of understanding and developing multiple ways of viewing the power and agency of indigenous peoples and the brilliant knowledges they produce” (146). Those of us who are not Indigenous “learn to listen quietly in such contexts” (146). “As indigenous peoples tell their stories and rethink their histories, it is the duty of critical multilogical historians to listen carefully and respectfully,” they continue, and in doing so, we “can become not only better allies in the indigenous struggle against colonial subjugation, for social justice, and for self-determination,” but we can become better researchers (147). From here, Kincheloe and Steinberg outline the educational benefits that come from analyzing academic practices in the context of Indigenous knowledges (147). We will rethink our purposes as educators; consider the ways knowledge is produced and legitimated; create a more just and inclusive academy; gain new levels of insight; and demand that educators at all levels become researchers as well (147-50).
A “critical multilogical analysis of indigenous knowledge is an examination of how different peoples construct the world,” although “such an epistemological study cannot be conducted in isolation, for any analysis of indigenous knowledge brings up profound political, cultural, pedagogical, and ethical questions that interact with and help shape the epistemological domain” (150). For that reason, questions like “what is indigenous knowledge, and why should we study it?” don’t “lend themselves to easy and concise answers” (150). That complexity is the result of the need to avoid essentialism (150). However, researchers describe Indigenous knowledges as forms of knowledge “produced in a specific social context and employed by laypeople in their everyday lives,” rather than by researchers “in archives or laboratories” (150). Indigenous peoples “produce forms of knowledge that are inseparable from larger worldviews” (150). “All knowledges are related to specific contexts and peoples,” but, they ask, “what context, and what peoples?” (151). “Cartesian-Newtonian-Baconian epistemologies and many indigenous knowledge systems differ in the very way that they define life—moving, thus, from the epistemological to the ontological realm,” they continue. “Many indigenous peoples have traditionally seen all life on the planet as so multidimensionally entwined that they have not been so quick to distinguish the living from the nonliving” (151). At what point do humans become separate from the oxygen they need to survive, from the water and food they must consume? A belief “that the rivers, mountains, land, soil, lakes, rocks, and animals are sentient may not be as preposterous as Westerners first perceived it,” since “all these sentient entities nurture human beings, and it is our role as humans to nurture them” (151). This idea reflects “a way of knowing and being that is relational” (151). The knowledge this epistemology and ontolology generates is “holistic, relational, and even spiritual,” and “the Eurocentric epistemology of studying, knowing (mastering), and then dominating the world” seems, in that context, “frighteningly out of place, as it upsets the sacred kinship between humans and other creations of nature” (151). “The indigenous epistemologies referenced here are not uncomfortable with a lack of certainty about the social world and the world of nature, for many indigenous peoples have no need to solve all mysteries about the world they operate with and in,” they assert (151).
Critiques of science tend not to come from scientists but from outsiders, Kincheloe and Steinberg suggest (151-52). Their intention “is to make the argument that a scholarly encounter with indigenous knowledge can enrich the ways we engage in research and conceptualize education while promoting the dignity, self-determination, and survival of indigenous people. . . . familiarity with indigenous knowledge will help academics both see previously unseen problems and develop unique solutions to them” (152). Yet if that knowledge is approached in an extractive way, the results may not be positive, they suggest. “Understanding this admonition, we frame indigenous knowledge not as a resource to be exploited but as a perspective that can help change the consciousness of Western academics and their students while enhancing the ability of such individuals to become valuable allies in the indigenous struggle for justice and self-determination,” they write (152). Indigenous knowledge is potentially revolutionary and transformative; it could lead to “an approach to knowledge production that synthesizes ways of knowing expressed by the metonymies of hand, brain, and heart” (152). Thy would like to begin a conversation with Indigenous knowledge that “leads to a reconceptualization of the Western scientific project and Western ways of being-in-the-world around issues of multiple ways of seeing, justice, power, and community” and that “challenges the epistemological foundations of the ethnoknowledge known simply as science” (152). (Does the term “ethnoknowledge” mean they have abandoned their earlier critique of the use of that prefix?) By studying Indigenous knowledge, “Western scientists come to understand their work in unprecedented clarity,” and that clarity can lead to seeing similarities between Indigenous knowledges and some conventional forms of feminism or critical theory (153).
Those examples point to a problem in Kincheloe’s and Steinberg’s argument: the claim that social science is science in the same way that biology or chemistry or physics is science. Does economics, for example, use the same methods as biology? Really? Would scientists agree with such a claim? The scientists I know would laugh at it. Those of us who aren’t trained in the sciences should be careful about the kinds of claims we make about scientific knowledge and the scientific method. After all, vaccines work for everyone, regardless of their cultural background, don’t they? I would be much more comfortable with this argument if the authors were clearly talking about social science research, since that’s what they know and what they practice. No doubt biology and chemistry have led to oppression and harm as well, but shouldn’t researchers more familiar with the scientific method engage in critiques of science? I don’t believe that all such critiques come from outside the scientific disciplines.
“Our goals as educators and researchers operating in Western academia is to conceptualize an indigenously informed science that is dedicated to the social needs of communities and is driven by humane concerns rather than the economic needs of corporate managers, government, and the military,” Kincheloe and Steinberg conclude. “Much too often, Western science is a key player in the continuation of Euro-expansion projects that reify the status quo and further the interests of those in power” (153). The authors advocate a dialogue between Western science and Indigenous knowledges, one that would lead to the redrawing of scientific boundaries and that would open the eyes of Western researchers “to the political and cultural forces at work in all scientific labor” (154). That dialogue would “reduce the ugly expression of epistemological xenophobia and the essentialism it spawns” (154-55). It would also lead to an acknowledgement of the way that the “cultural orientations and values” of non-Indigenous researchers “can do great harm to indigenous peoples” (155).
“Do You Believe in Geneva? Methods and Ethics at the Global-Local Nexus,” by Michelle Fine, Eve Tuck, and Sarah Zeller-Berkman,” begins with a description of their participatory action research projects and states the authors’ intention to “cast a critical eye” on that research “through the lens of Indigenous knowledge” (157). “We invite a conversation about participatory methods, oscillating at the global-local pivot, by commuting between three kinds of texts,” they write:
participatory and Indigenous writings on method, online exchanges of an international discussion group of participatory researchers we convened, and collaborative work we have undertaken with the Global Rights coalition of youth activists. Across texts, we interrogate the dialectics of method that erupt as critical youth work digs deep into local places and travels cautiously across the globe. We end with suggestive thoughts for activist scholars inquiring with youth in a place, across places and then those who dare to trace global footprints of domination and resistance. (158)
They recall a Global Rights youth training session on participatory action research, one intended to produce a document that could be used to lobby for reform at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland, and note that there was a “palpable tension” that could be felt “in the distinct goals of global and local work” (158). The youth wanted to be heard and to affect public policy, but at the same time, they wondered how the research would help their families and communities (158-59). That tension seems to be the “pivot” they described earlier.
“One of our methods for writing this chapter has been to pay close attention to what, in our quilted discourse, can serve as a metaphor and what cannot,” they write (159). They are particularly upset by the metaphorical use of words like decolonization and Indigenous (not surprisingly, given Tuck’s work with K. Wayne Yang). “Rather than lines drawn in the sand,” they write, “these are instead reminders of the slippery surface of language, the seductive pull of solidarity, and the terrific sloppiness with which we make names and claims under imperialism” (159):
Both those who are served by domination and those who are committed to social justice, seeking solidarity among oppressed peoples, engage in the too common practice of taking on the charged, contextualized, experienced words of brilliant communities and stretching them to fit inside their own mouths and own communities. On one hand, we recognize the assimilationist, exploitive tradition that is at work behind this practice and recognize that there are some who always feel entitled to scoop out the most on-point language and plant it in their work. . . . We urge our readers and remind ourselves to resist the appropriation of pain and language of Indigenous peoples and other oppressed peoples. (159)
“On the other hand,” they continue, “there are some ideas that speak so poignantly to issues of maldistributed power that our work across space, across time, across disciplines is deepened, thickened, by being compelled by them into practice” (159). “Colonization and sovereignty,” as prerequisites for democracy, “are examples of those ideas” (159).
Being Indigenous is not a metaphor, they write. “Those of us who are Indigenous have experienced the everyday realities of continued colonization, which has shaped the ways in which we think of ourselves, one another, and the ‘whitestream’ and the ways in which we write, speak, and come to research,” they continue. “Those of us who are not Indigenous have been profoundly shaped by our witnessing of colonization, by our roles as accomplices, abettors, exploiters, romanticizers, pacifiers, assimilators, includers, forgetters, and democratizers. Indigenous knowledge and experiences are markedly different from local knowledge” (159-60). I like the way that the authors do not allow their non-Indigenous audience to escape involvement in colonialism, and it’s clear that they are making a distinction between Indigenous knowledge and local knowledge; the latter must include what I am taking to be the false knowledge of the “whitestream” (they cite Sandy Grande as the source of that term). Colonization is not a metaphor either, but it “can be a lens through which to understand not only the rez but also the ghetto, the windswept island, the desert, the suburbs, the gated communities, and the country club” (160)—everything, in other words. “Understanding colonization as the primary relationship between the United States and oppressed peoples makes us know that decolonization involves not only bodies but also structures, laws, codes, souls, and histories,” they contend, citing Linda Tuhiwai Smith (160). (Who said decolonization would only involve bodies? Are the authors responding to an actual argument here?)
Geneva in this text represents the opposite pole to the one represented by Indigenous communities and local communities (I thought they were drawing a distinction between Indigenous and local?). They resist the local to global hierarchy, they write, “framing this relationship as the global-local nexus,” because “[s]pace is not a metaphor” (160). (Who said space was a metaphor? What argument are they addressing?)
The point of this essay, the authors continue, is “to carve out moments of conversation between participatory action research and Indigenous writings while refusing the paper over the tough differences” (160). They go on to explain what participatory action research, or PAR, is:
Participatory methods respond to [contemporary] crises in politics by deliberately inverting who constructs research questions, designs, methods, interpretations, and products, as well as who engages in surveillance. Researchers from the bottom of social hierarchies, the traditional objects of research, reposition as the subjects and architects of critical inquiry, contesting hierarchy and the distribution of resources, opportunities, and the right to produce knowledge. (160-61)
“While all PAR projects are constructed to speak critical truths to those in power,” they write, “some commit to writing academic scholarship, whereas others spawn organizing brochures, speak-outs, poetry, videos, popular youth writings, spoken word performances, theater of resistance, or maybe just a safe space free from toxic representations” (161). Their projects “have been place based,” and focused on the experiences of young people in a range of schools (161). “We believe in the significance of working doggedly, in a place, with local history, context, and struggle under your fingernails, and we believe that across places, youth inquiry and resistance can be fueled by global connections and contentions,” they suggest (161). In addition, they “assert that some knowledge carried in oppressed and indigenous communities should not be reported or documented; it is not to be known by those outside of the local community—that sacred local knowledges can be defiled and that research has, for too long, been the ‘neutral’ handmaiden of knowledge commodification” (161).
Now the authors return to the Global Rights training session, “a place where the air of global possibility and colonial danger filled the room” (161). The group of young people decided, after three days of work, that it was more important to “speak back to their home communities” than it was to try to get the attention of the United Nations (162). “Breathing in the power of possibility, our eyes stung . . . at the treacherous contradictions that lay at the global-local intersection,” and since that event, they “have been thinking hard about the dialectics of method tucked into the folds of global-local work” (162). “We take up four of these dialectics, to provoke imagination for method, to spark a conversation, to invite participatory inquiry that privileges the local while stretching thoughtfully toward to global,” they state (162). Those dialectics are:
preserving the right to “difference” in human rights campaigns devoted to universal access, documenting the history and geography of privilege as well as pain, nesting research inside grounded struggles for sovereignty that must be addressed before claims of democracy can be voiced, and articulating the obligations to local audience and local use when “jumping scale” toward global analysis. (163)
Those dialectics are the focus of most of the remainder of the essay.
The authors begin with difference and access, noting that “the discourse of human rights’ struggles for universal ‘access’ to education can silence or homogenize local demands for ‘difference’” (163). Some young people wanted to be educated only with others from their linguistic or cultural communities; others wanted to be educated with students from outside those communities. Some saw English instruction as liberatory; others saw it as imperialism. If groups do not seek access to dominant institutions, then how can discrimination be corrected while building difference into the remedy? (163). “The question of ‘difference’ looms large and clumsy, often silenced, in conversations for access to education, health care, housing, work, or even marriage rights, especially as researchers seek to document exclusion and policy makers/advocates seek remedy for all,” they write. “It is not easy to hold the notion of ‘difference’ in your head while trying to measure or ‘correct’ injustice systematically” (163). The young people divided into smaller groups and tried to develop surveys about different aspects of injustice in education. One group was developing questions about the things that kept students from completing school. They came up with a long list, and were asked to choose which questions had breadth—that is, which ones spoke “to the wide variety of reasons students did not complete their schooling”—as well as depth—which spoke “to the intimacy of politics of injustice” (164). There was little agreement about which questions were most important, and in the end, the youth “decided to pose the questions on the survey so that the ones being surveyed had the opportunity to prioritize the issues that kept them from completion” (164). Given the distinct histories, politics, and desires of each community, conversations about ‘difference’ deserve to be aired, not suffocated, at the global-local nexus,” the authors state:
Demands for “access” cannot mute noisy, contentious, sometimes divisive discussions of “difference.” Damage is done when remedies to injustice are universalized. Oppression is fortified when the knowledge for solutions is homogenized. Commitments to access must always be welded to equally strong commitments to difference. (164-65)
I wonder, though, how much difference can be included in remedies to injustice. Does the conclusion the authors reach suggest that each community needs to come to some kind of consensus? What if that’s not possible? How many schools, to use their example, can exist in a small community? What if some young people aren’t interested in completing their education? What happens then? The goal of understanding difference in questions of access is a noble one, but what would it look like in practice?
Next is the need to look at both the privileged and the oppressed. They wanted to “study privilege as well as those who have been denied,” because “[u]nless the very classed, gendered, ethnic, and racialized formations of accumulated capital are documented—not just the ‘damage’ of those who pay the dearest price for globalized injustice—social analyses run the risk of obscuring the architecture and mechanisms of social oppression; we collude in the presumption that ‘merit’ and privilege are trouble free” (165). They asked, “how do we map the geography and distribution of pain and privilege—who has it? What does it look like? How is it reproduced? Where is it hidden? Whose sacred knowledge deserves to be protected, and whose deserves to be exposed?” (165). Given the authors’ emphasis on knowing when metaphors are being used, it seems appropriate to note that “map” here is a metaphor.
Each young person in the group was to travel home with a survey to be “administered to 50 males and females from the ‘dominant’ group and 50 from the ‘marginalized’” (165). However, “on the ground, the constructs of privileged and marginalized (like discrimination) splintered” (165). The divisions and the number and range of unanswered (perhaps unanswerable?) questions were so great that the idea of a survey was abandoned. “[W]e had a hard time ‘operationalizing’ privilege,” the authors state (165). “Social scientists do not have easy methods for documenting the material, social, and psychological circuits of privilege—policies and practices of hidden/denied/outsourced ownership, accumulation, exploitation, embodiment, and reproduction of privilege,” they continue (166). “To gather up this evidence about privilege requires far more than simple self-report: digging deep, investigating behind, and lifting the skirts of privilege to view beneath and under dominants’ coattails, families, bank accounts, stock portfolios, sexual liaisons, pornographic Web sites, drug use, and ‘cleaned’ police records,” they write, citing examples of such research (166).
“Documenting the geography of pain, the shameful twin of privilege, may appear to be a somewhat easier task, but here we bump into issues of personal and community ethics and vulnerability,” the authors contend (166). “It may be (relatively) easy for researchers to document the quantitative indicators of raw deprivation—in illness and mortality rates; access to hospitals, medical personnel, and insurance; number of teachers; schools; books; and literacy rates,” they continue (167). “But questions of intimate subjectivities of deprivation and the collateral damage of psychic violence are harder and more consequential to capture and, in some audiences, more likely to be resisted, too painful to hear, too costly to speak” (167). Some of the young people wanted to stay quiet about these issues; others wanted to speak. “What constitutes ‘sacred knowledge’ or sovereignty in one community, or by some members of one community, may indeed by the primary purpose for the research in another,” they continue (167). And not just members of a community, either; let’s not forget that individuals (like the young people in the training session) may, for their own reasons, want to speak or remain silent. “In participatory work, some of the ‘trickiest’ conversations circled around pain, vulnerability, and damage, asking who gets to have a private life and whose troubles are public,” the authors conclude:
What can be included in the net of “evidence” of social oppression? What will be used against my community, as we document histories of colonization? Do we ever get to reveal the pathology of the rich, their drug abuse, violence against women, and corporate and environmental violence enacted by elites? These are indeed hard calls and not ones that participatory researchers should make alone. The power of global analysis is, perhaps, to be able to speak the unspeakable without vulnerability. This is yet another rub and the intersection of privilege, pain, and outrage, at the global-local nexus, where a set of important conversations with youth are waiting to be hatched. (167)
I’m losing the sense of the “global-local nexus” here, for some reason. Would revealing a community’s difficulties (the local level) help that community? Wouldn’t the community already have a sense of those problems? How would revealing those difficulties to policy makers (the global level) reduce the vulnerability of those making the revelations? I don’t understand. Besides, don’t we get some sense of the various pathologies of the rich in stories like the ones about Jeffrey Epstein’s circle of friends? Don’t we know about corporate and environmental violence? I see the point the authors are raising in this section, but am confused by the language in the conclusion they draw from it.
The dialectic between sovereignty and democracy is the essay’s next topic. Some of the young people at the Global Rights workshop were Indigenous, and their “experiences spoke to the complexity of a human rights-based campaign for the end of educational discrimination at the hands of governments that do not respect Indigenous sovereignty” (167). They saw the plan that was being produced by the group “as being severely mitigated by long histories of colonization and assumptions of equal opportunities and immunities to the dangers of transgression” (167-68). The authors came to the conclusion that there is no democracy without sovereignty. “The struggle for sovereignty is a real, experienced struggle for tribal and detribalized people,” and the existence of that struggle “could be perceived as a threat to the fantasies we are taught to have about ourselves: sovereignty and the self-determined political, cultural, social status that Indigenous peoples all over the world demand from the governments that have otherwise attempted to absorb or destroy them, through a coarse eye that reads as separatism” (168). “Sovereignty, complicated yet crucial to democracy in practice, is at the heart of how we as researchers and storytellers attend to our data,” they continue (169). “At the heart of participatory research lies a desire to resuscitate democracy as a whole, and yet this is an important historic moment to (re)consider democracy,” they suggest:
Democracy has been and is being waged on our bodies, in our names, as an occupying force. It has been exposed by Indigenous thinkers as an ideology that thwarts Indigenous interests and maintains the privilege of the power elite. The practice of democratizing has been a practice of desecration, of burning down, of forgetting, of watching home-language speakers’ mouths with soap, of forced removal, of denial, of deprivation, of depletion. (169)
“Thus, the work of those involved in participatory research with youth to reclaim and reframe democracy is a vulnerable yet pivotal endeavor,” they write. “What, then, does it mean for us involved in this endeavor to take sovereignty seriously as a prerequisite to democracy?” (170).
What it means, they state, is “that each participant in our research has sovereign rights,” and that “[s]overeignty as a prerequisite to democracy involves the cease-and-desist of Eurocentric, colonizing power formations” (170). It also “calls for us to mind what is sacred,” including the right to keep sacred knowledge private” (170). And it involves “the right to complex personhood,” meaning that everyone remembers and forgets, is “beset by contradictions,” recognizes and misrecognizes themselves and others, and lives lives that “are simultaneously straightforward and full of enormously subtle meaning” (A. Gordon, qtd. 170). “Sovereignty with a commitment to the rights of complex personhood does not defy democracy,” the authors conclude; “it is a requirement” (171).
The fourth dialectic is that between obligations to communities and others, and the demand to “‘jump scale’ to document global circuits of hegemony and resistance” (171). In that shift—from the local to the global—“the question of obligation to whom, accountability for what, and being grounded where grew more diffuse,” the authors state. “As local projects coagulated toward a vague sense of the global, images of audience and purpose blurred. To whom, for what, with whom, and toward what end to we create materials, products, scholarly documents, performances, exhibitions, and/or protests for global analysis?” (171). “First and foremost,” they state,
we caution that it is necessary that those of us who desire to leap between local participatory and global analyses build, self-consciously and transparently, mechanisms of participation so that our work remains situated, even if multisituated, and accountable to place. Global or cross-site work must remain nonhierarchical and have integrity with home spaces. Global research must remember, always, that the local is its mother. (172)
As is so often the case, I find that call would be more effective with an example of such “mechanisms of participation.” The suggestion that “we need to be listening for the whispers over coffee breaks, in informal spaces, that speak to the fear that local demands are being passed over for concepts far more grandiose and unclear” (172) is hardly a description of a “mechanism.” The second obligation is avoiding homogenization; the third is thinking about the interrelations between struggles in different places, and the final obligation has to do with “the delicate ethics and responsibilities of PAR researchers—having access to and responsibility for local knowledge and action” (173). There are also “opportunities of scale,” they suggest, that may conflict with the need to be responsible to communities (174). “Traditional notions of generalizability are deliberately troubled in our work—as they should be,” they write. “But they are not discarded. The question of generalizability is perhaps one of the most vexing and difficult questions in critical inquiry” (174). They call for “an intersectional generalizability—work that digs deep and respectfully with community to record the particulars of historically oppressed and colonized peoples/communities and their social movements of resistance, as well as work that tracks patterns across nations, communities, homes, and bodies to theorize the arteries of oppression and colonialism” (174). I’m not convinced that call answers the questions they are asking. The local is “the foundational base for building toward a global framework” (175), but does that resolve the conflict they have described between the local and the global? I don’t have to worry about that kind of conflict—I’m not a social scientist and probably won’t make generalizations based on my work—but if, for instance, some communities want everything kept private and don’t want researchers to publish their results (one of the examples they provide), how could one respect those desires while trying to generalize from that research? I don’t think one could generalize at all, in that situation. Perhaps there’s no need to generalize—it’s not common in humanities disciplines, for instance, which tend to focus on specific texts without making larger claims.
In their conclusion, Fine, Tuck, and Zeller-Berkman state,
We recognize that for each of these dialectical relations—access/difference, privilege/pain, democracy/sovereignty, global/local—there is an ideological valence, a gendering, racializing, and classing, attached to the split elements. Each prior element—access, privilege, democracy, and global—signals “modern.” Each latter element—difference, pain, sovereignty, and local—embodies “backward” or conservative. (175)
How do “pain” and “sovereignty” suggest backwardness? I don’t understand. They continue:
Democracy, access, privilege, and globalization are big ideas, associated with men, Whiteness, and progress. Calls for sovereignty, difference, pain, and the local weigh down people and movements. They are carried in the bodies of women, people of color, poor people who are viewed as holding back, resistant or ignorant of what is in their best interest. (175)
Participatory action research, they write, “must not only refuse these binaries and the associated valences but also must aggressively trouble the splitting as a form of political (and methodological) dissociation” (175-76). “At the heart of participatory design lies a recognition that when the stubborn particulars of local context . . . are disregarded, globalized justice research becomes another act of colonization,” they argue. “When difference, local, sovereignty, and pain are dissociated from global movements, justice campaigns simply fly above embodied lives and burning communities” (176). And yet in these dialectics is the “possibility for radical work to be opened up, reconceived, unleashed, or—sometimes—placed away for sacred keeping. This is where critical and indigenous work joins, even as they tip toward very different sensibilities in praxis” (176). “Struggle is ongoing; global provocation is powerful, but home is where we live,” they conclude, and proof or evidence is “only one resource that must be brought to bear in a long, participatory mark toward social justice” (176).
Although my intention was to read all of the essays in this anthology, I skipped the last two of the first section, because they focus on critical pedagogy, and I’m not interested in pedagogy because I’m not doing research on education. Still, a lot is happening in the essays I did read, although I’m not sure that my initial response to the book’s introduction—a caution regarding the possibility of bringing Indigenous and non-Indigenous methodologies into dialogue—has changed. I still think that bringing those two different ways of thinking and doing together would be difficult for all kinds of reasons. I feel the same about appropriations of the word “queer” by straight academics as a metaphor. But at least now I have a sense of how Denzin and Lincoln might have been using the word “performance” in the introduction. That’s one mystery solved (perhaps).
Denzin, Norman K., Yvonna S. Lincoln, and Linda Tuhiwai Smith, eds. Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies, Sage, 2008.
Springgay, Stephanie, and Sarah E. Truman. Walking Methodologies in a More-than-Human World: WalkingLab, Routledge, 2018.
Tuck, Eve, and K. Wayne Yang. “Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor.” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education, & Society, vol. 1, no. 1, 2012, pp. 1-40. https://www.latrobe.edu.au/staff-profiles/data/docs/fjcollins.pdf.
Watts, Vanessa. “Indigenous Place-Thought & Agency Amongst Humans and Non-Humans (First Woman and Sky Woman Go On a European World Tour!).” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, vol. 2, no. 1, 2013, pp. 20-34.