Decolonizing Research

Last week, I had my students write about research methods based on readings from the book, Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples by Linda Tuhiwai Smith.  As a community-based, participatory researcher, her words make sense and I would like to recommend her book to any course on research methods.  Specifically, she examines the interconnection between research and imperialism in the creation of knowledge and “truth.”

Those who hold power also controls “truth.”  We see this in the creation of national, state, and local policies and even our social service programs.  When those in power hold perspectives that are incongruent with the reality of those without power, this can be truly dangerous.  The same can be said with research.  When we as researchers, individuals who hold power to a degree, develop our research questions, collect data, and interpret those responses without critically analyzing the biases and assumptions that underlie our work, we have the potential to reinforce imperialistic thoughts and practices among the populations we hope to serve.

Here is a simple example.  A few months ago, I was involved in a conversation with people from a State agency who were interested in research on Native Hawaiians in the foster care  system.  Native Hawaiian children comprise about 49% of all children in the foster care system in Hawaii and these investigators were interested in conducting research on how we can help them identify how we could recruit more Native Hawaiian foster parents.

One question came to mind…Of the percentage of foster parents in the system, what percentage are currently Native Hawaiian?  A simple question I thought given the subject.  They did not know.  Well, I responded, if Native Hawaiians make up about 20% of the State’s population and there are 49% of Native Hawaiian children in foster care, you would need Native Hawaiians, who are also among the State’s poorest and most disenfranchised, to participate at more than twice the rate of any other ethnic group.  Perhaps Native Hawaiians are already participating within the range of their proportion to the population?  If that is the case, then the question should not be why more Native Hawaiians do not foster children, but why the heck are there so many Native Hawaiian children in foster care!

There was a brief silence and then the meeting resumed.  My point was not fully acknowledged and I never heard back from these individuals.  What were the biases of these individuals toward Native Hawaiians?  How does it relate to imperialism and research?  Questions to ponder.  I’d love to hear your examples.


8 thoughts on “Decolonizing Research

  1. snamiko says:

    I feel like this post was made to “bait” me 😂 I say that because it talks about the two things I’m passionate about: research and foster care.

    I’ve made several comments in my blog about foster care and I feel like you really hit the nail on the head in this post. There is a clear disparity about the composition of foster care in Hawaii…with Native Hawaiians sorely and overly represented, which is clear by the numbers. While we are learning about power and control in research, it is clear by the actions of our practice that we are doing a major disservice to our children. You’re right to have pointed out that the disenfranchised are not educated about what it takes to become resource caregivers…I think this because they have been clearly conditioned to become reliant on the welfare system with many of these families experiencing generations of abuse and neglect making them ineligible for placement. Instead of starting a statewide initiative to educate Native Hawaiians, our administrators hold meetings like this and ask rhetorical questions such as these…policy and procedure is often the main barrier to outside-of-the-box thinking and that seems to be the status quo.

    Sorry for the long rant…but I wholeheartedly appreciate the courage you had to state the obvious in a room full of people who knew that fundamental truth but were too afraid to say it out loud.

    Thank you!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Claudette Grinnell-Davis says:

    Aloha, Mike… Didn’t even know this blog existed!

    YES… I am with you on this… This sounds exactly like the conversations we’ve been having in Nebraska in trying to recruit foster parents for ICWA-protected children, and I am sure when I get to Oklahoma in the next 3-4 months I will hear similar things. But your post highlights an even more important reality – there’s a vicious circle here in that some of the injustices that lead to higher rates of child welfare system involvement are precisely the injustices that get in the way of being foster parents – and effectively also put even more stress on already-stressed people. The (re-?)colonizing, the injustice… it feels like a wicked Gordian knot. I’m tired, and even though I know CW work is important, I always find myself interrogating how I’m contributing to the injustice through either research or service.

    Mahalo, Mike – keep speaking truth to power.

    Liked by 1 person

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