Methodologies of risky scholarship.
Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, Otago University and Zed Books, 1999.
For anyone writing a thesis a breakthrough point has arrived when you say to others: 'I'm working on my methodology chapter.' This is especially so for any student taking a radical stance or attempting to challenge the status quo. Students in Women's Studies and Indigenous Studies, among others, will find themselves asking the following questions: What is the methodology I am using? Where do its antecedents lie? Where can I find the theoretical literature to back up my arguments and my approach? How can I propose a risky scholarship?
Shulamit Reinharz's 1992 work, Feminist Methods in Social Research, provides a useful resource for looking at the range of approaches that are possible. Other scholars, such as Diane Bell (1998) and Marimba Ani (2000) include very useful introductory chapters that discuss issues of methodology, while the two books I am reviewing here by Linda Tuhiwai Smith and Chela Sandoval focus exclusively on methodology.
Tuhiwai Smith's Decolonizing Methodologies is a fine example of work that engages with the layered complexities of feminist and indigenous scholarships. The rupturing of the interconnected webs of culture, language, history and their own sense of self, is not unusual among colonised peoples; it is also a common feature in the experience of other oppressions outside of the colonisation, such as racism, sexism, homophobia, as well as discrimination based on class and ability/mobility. These additional refracting oppressions amplify one another according to the prominence within the individual's or group's identity.
For Tuhiwai Smith it is not simply the process of research that is fraught with difficulty but also the terms under which research is done. The latter is the framework within which research is carried out. She points to the overwhelming influence of western, so-called objective knowledge systems in framing precisely what research is possible, what questions can be asked. Simply thinking about which areas to research raises questions about 'what counts as real' (Tuhiwai Smith 44), and therefore about what constitutes real research. Feminist research has faced similar difficulties since the 1970s. There are sanctions for those who overstep the margins of intellectual respectability and go beyond what is considered 'legitimate knowledge' (Tuhiwai Smith 63). In a globalised world, legitimate knowledge is that which is acceptable to the arbiters of western knowledge (primarily universities, but also governments and major media corporations). So-called universal knowledge, knowledge not claimed by any one group of people, becomes the global knowledge currency. Everything else can be ignored. Legitimate knowledge is decontextualised and unmarked by its author's perspective (or at least this is the accepted fiction).
More recently, Tuhiwai Smith argues, 'the other' has become a tradable commodity and a profitable one (90). The ability to trade is at least two way. On the one hand, the cultural objects, works of art, language and cultural institutions can be sold on the global market, or to the global tourist who passes through. On the other hand, the 'interesting little backwaters, untapped potentials' (98) are themselves markets for other global products.
Tuhiwai Smith proposes a '"local" theoretical positioning' (186) that enables the researcher to draw on her own very 'specific historical, political and social context' (186) to develop an embedded critical theory. It is only in this way, Tuhiwai Smith argues, that the 'oppressed, marginalized and silenced groups' (186) will gain something from research and from the knowledge created. The creation of knowledge is a matter of means and ends, and if the ends are not achieved in a way consistent with the cultural framework, then the knowledge is not worth having.
Chela Sandoval's Methodology of the Oppressed raises similar questions within the framework of US social movements since the 1960s, in particular feminist and antiracist movements with a slight nod towards lesbian and gay movements (subsumed under the label 'queer'). It is refreshing to find a US-based author who acknowledges her location, as Tuhiwai Smith suggests researchers should, but the label US Third World feminism that she uses throughout is problematic. Just as 'queer' flattens the differences between lesbian and gay politics, usually resulting in the disappearance of lesbian theory, 'US Third World feminism' tends to obscure Third World feminism: the diversity of theoretical writings emerging from all around the world, including Indigenous theory such as that of Tuhiwai Smith.
Sandoval provides useful readings of Fredric Jameson, Roland Barthes and Frantz Fanon and although the works of US Third World feminists such as Gloria Anzaldua, Audre Lorde, Cherrie Moraga and Paula Gunn Allen provide important touch-down points there is no thorough-going analysis of those works. Sandoval seems intent upon finding the points of intersection between European male poststructuralist theory (her terminology) and US Third World feminism rather than assuming that US Third World feminism has its own theoretical substrata.
It is on this basis that I find her conflation of cultural feminism and radical feminism annoying, as is her ignorance of radical feminist theory--such as that of Mary Daly and Susan Griffin--which predates the irreverent scholarship of the few white US postmodern feminists she cites approvingly.
Sandoval's discussion of the process by which cultural consciousness occurs, in particular the processes of accepting dominant culture positions is interesting. She uses an example from Roland Barthes' work, Mythologies (1957), of a young North African boy dressed in French military uniform saluting, in effect protecting the French empire in North Africa and simultaneously 'serving the oppressors' while losing his own identity and integrity. She describes how this reflects 'colonial, race, age, gender' power relations prevalent at the time between France and North Africa. The analysis she provides is an interesting one, but it fails to address the issue of gender. I find this troubling in a book that claims to put at its centre a US Third World feminism. I see the problem of US Third World feminism as one in which that category is simultaneously colonised (by US culture that because of its local dominance is invisible to her) and coloniser (of actual Third World feminism that is invisible because it is outside of the USA). In effect US Third World feminism is both victim of internal colonisation and a culpable actor in its own colonising impact on actual Third World feminism. Marginalised researchers need to beware of falling into this paradox, that is, through the reification of one group, of one perspective, not to thereby invisibilise others.
Sandoval's book is an ambitious work and will no doubt be well received in the US, but for a reader from outside of the US it is frustrating. Tuhiwai Smith chooses a smaller canvas for her work, but it never gets out of hand and her injunction to challenge all assumptions and to ensure local control of research not for the researchers' benefit but for the benefit of the researched is one that all researchers should heed.
Other books cited: Marimba Ani, Yurugu: An African-Centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior, Africa World Press, Trenton, NJ, & Asmara, Eritrea, 2000; Roland Barthes, Mythologies, Paladin, London, 1972; Diane Bell, Ngarrindjeri Wurruwarrin: The World That Is, Was, and Will Be, Spinifex Press, Melbourne, 1998; Shulamit Reinharz, Feminist Methods in Social Research, Oxford, New York, 1992.
Department of Political Science
University of Melbourne
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|Title Annotation:||Methodology of the Oppressed|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2003|
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