Decolonisation Resources

I wanted to compile a list of online resources around decolonisation, for my benefit as well as yours, so I went looking. And I found that other people already had this idea and did the work. Quite a number of other people, in fact. I found three good long lists that already existed online, and I have put them here in a list of their own.

I haven’t checked all of the resources listed, because there are thousands. Many are open access, freely available online as web pages, videos, podcasts, and suchlike. There are also books, films, artworks, and so on – my Christmas list has grown considerably in the course of this exercise!

The first one I found is from a symposium, held at the University of East Anglia in the UK in 2018, on decolonising the curriculum. This led to a ‘researchathon’ to create a list of relevant resources, which is now an open access list on Zotero. There are over 1,000 resources in this list alone, and many are free to access.

The second is from another UK university, SOAS (the School of Oriental and African Studies), which has a Decolonising SOAS Working Group, set up in 2016. The Group has produced a list of learning and teaching resources, plus events, media coverage, reading suggestions, podcasts, videos and more.

The third is from a conference held in 2019 by Monash University from Australia at their European base in Prato, Italy. This is another long list, divided into non-fiction, fiction and art, activism, community projects, events, publications, and other resource lists – mostly reading lists.

This post may be short but it leads to a wealth of content. Are there other lists I should include? If so, please let me know in the comments.

This blog, and the monthly #CRMethodsChat on Twitter, is funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me at least one working day per month to post here each week and run the Twitterchat. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding from Patrons of $71 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $71 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons and donors also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

History, Truth, Research and Choices

I didn’t get on too well with history at school. It was all about kings and queens and battles, people and events I couldn’t identify with. I enjoyed historical novels if they were about times that had relevance for me, e.g. the first world war (in which my maternal grandfather fought) or the second world war (in which my paternal grandfather fought). But in general I preferred the contemporary world I knew, and books and films set there.

In the late 1980s I discovered revisionist history. I loved The Women’s History of the World by Rosalind Miles (later rebranded as Who Cooked the Last Supper?), which was an eye-opening book, clever, funny, and a welcome counterpoint to all the male-dominated history I’d read. I was fascinated by Peter Fryer’s books Black People in the British Empire, which demonstrated that the British empire was based on exploitation and oppression, and Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain, which showed how Black people had been present and influential in British society for two thousand years. (The link is to a recent edition of this book with a new foreword by Gary Younge – if you haven’t come across it and you’re interested, I would recommend a read.)

More recently I have read Inglorious Empire: What the British did to India by Shashi Tharoor (2017), An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (2014), and The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King (2013). I would recommend each of these books for their perspective, dignified approach, and eloquent writing.

At the start of lockdown, some kind neighbours along my street set up a book exchange for our community outside their house. A few weeks ago I found a copy of The American Future by Simon Schama, a high-profile and respected British academic historian, award-winning writer and broadcaster. This book has four sections:

  1. American War (civil war, World War Two, Vietnam)
  2. American Fervour (religion – mostly Judeo-Christian)
  3. What is an American? (immigration, primarily of Germans, other Europeans, Mexicans and Chinese people)
  4. American Plenty (shift in mindset from infinite to finite availability of land and resources)

With my new awareness of the position of Indigenous peoples in the US, thanks to the work of Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Thomas King, I wondered what Schama said on the subject. The subtitle of his book is A History From The Founding Fathers to Barack Obama, which didn’t fill me with optimism. And sure enough, Indigenous people barely feature in sections 1-3. There is a brief acknowledgement in the prologue on page 14 that ‘Native American tribes’ in Iowa might have had a different viewpoint from ‘Canadian troopers’ on whether Iowa had ever experienced war. There is a brief mention on page 114 that in the late nineteenth century, the army was involved in ‘finishing off Native Americans’. And other such mentions in passing – until section 4, pages 316-330, a subsection called ‘White Path 1801-1823’, which tells the story of the Cherokee people in Tennessee. Schama evidently attempts to use a reasonably even-handed approach: he acknowledges the Cherokee perspective and recognises at least some of the injustice done to them through broken promises, land grabs and forced relocations. He describes president-to-be Andrew Jackson as ‘unexpectedly brutal’ and says that ‘extinction’ [of Indigenous peoples] ‘was an actual policy determined by actual men’ (322). Schama also describes Jackson as ‘the ethnic cleanser of the first democratic age’ (326).

The story of American history from the late 18th century to the present day is told very differently by Dunbar-Ortiz. She acknowledges Jackson as ‘the implementer of the final solution for the Indigenous peoples east of the Mississippi’ (96). She points out that ‘In the 1990s, the term “ethnic cleansing” became a useful descriptive term for genocide.’ (9) And she identifies ‘four distinct periods’ where documented policies of genocide were created by US administrations. The first is the ‘Jacksonian era of forced removal’, and then ‘the California gold rush in Northern California; the post-Civil War era of the so-called Indian wars in the Great Plains; and the 1950s termination period’ (9).

Having already read Dunbar-Ortiz and King, the way Schama tells the story seemed to me to involve a lot of erasure of Indigenous peoples. And sometimes, due to his narrative choices, his writing seems quite tone deaf. ‘The dream of American plenty for the ordinary man was born from Andrew Jackson’s determination to evict tens of thousands of Indians – Chickasaw, Choctaw, Seminole and Creek as well as Cherokee – from the only homelands they had ever known, because they happened to be in the way.’ (323) Recognition of Andrew Jackson’s atrocities doesn’t hide the division Schama draws between ‘the ordinary man’ and ‘Indians’. That raises a whole bunch of ugly questions. He doesn’t engage with any of them.

Dunbar-Ortiz writes about the impact of history itself as its scholars work to protect ‘the origin myth’ of the Founding Fathers and independence. That origin myth ‘embraces genocide’ (2) which is ‘often accompanied by an assumption of disappearance’ (xiii). I see this in Schama’s engaging, entertaining, readable writing: the overall message is that some Indigenous people were badly treated, a long time ago, in a sub-plot to the major storyline of independence and democracy in a nation of immigrants. A Spectator review on the back of the book reinforces this point by claiming that Schama is ‘weaving the immediate present with [America’s] earliest history’. That ‘earliest history’ is somewhere around 1775. Dunbar-Ortiz, meticulously and forensically, establishes the existence of sophisticated societies and cultures in America thousands of years ago.

Schama’s book was first published in 2008, Dunbar-Ortiz’ in 2014 – but most of her sources are pre-2008, so they would also have been available to him. It is both fascinating and nauseating to read these two very different accounts of what is ostensibly the same history. The authors have completely different perspectives and narratives. And this, for me, is the key learning point. When we conduct research or scholarly work, we bring a perspective and we choose a narrative. Dunbar-Ortiz is open about this, talking about starting a dozen times before she settled on a narrative, and outlining where she sits within relevant debates around Native American scholarship (xii-xiii). Schama simply launches in to an authoritative tale.

The narratives selected by researchers and scholars both reveal and conceal. It is not possible to tell everything that could be told. With this comes huge responsibility. We need to tell the most important, most necessary stories – but that in itself raises new questions. Most important and necessary to whom, for what, and why? Which other stories could we tell? How do we know those stories are not every bit as important and necessary? With the story we choose to tell, how can we acknowledge what we are leaving out as well as what we are focusing on?

This is a complex business and there are no easy answers because each case will be different. What is essential is to be aware of the issues and to use our authorial power as wisely as we can.

This blog, and the monthly #CRMethodsChat on Twitter, is funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me at least one working day per month to post here each week and run the Twitterchat. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding from Patrons of $57 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $57 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons and donors also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

Learning From Stories

Human beings learn from stories all the time. In everyday conversation we tell and share stories to teach and entertain and strengthen social bonds: what to cook with a glut of apples, why I found my house keys in the fridge, when auntie Flossie fell off Blackpool Pier. We learn from stories in books and films, in songs and plays, and we tell each other those stories, too.

Researchers and academics learn from journal articles and policy documents, monographs and webinars. These also contain stories, though they are often in disguise, and they tend to be briefer and with less depth than stories told or shown. A lot of us enjoy this kind of learning, or most of it, though it takes more effort than the other kind.

I have some good news to share. We can learn useful information for our scholarly work from novels, memoirs, and poetry. For example, regular readers will know of my interests in Indigenous research and ethics, and in anti-racism work. Some of my teachers here are books I have read. As usual with my book posts, there is no system involved, I have just pulled some volumes off my shelves. Some were recommended to me, some I found in bookshops.

The Marrow Thieves by Métis writer Cherie Dimaline is a post-apocalyptic tale of a northern America devastated by global warming, where Indigenous people are being hunted for their bone marrow because it has special qualities. The protagonist is a boy called Frenchie who becomes separated from his family and has to travel north to try to find them. This book is classified as Young Adult literature, presumably because the protagonist is a boy, but I wouldn’t let that put you off. If you don’t like any kind of speculation with your fiction, you probably won’t enjoy this book (although there isn’t much), but I do and I did. And I learned a lot about how it can feel to be Indigenous, because that is one of the things novels can teach us which official writing mostly can’t. The Marrow Thieves won a bunch of awards, which is not surprising as it’s a terrific book.

Indian Horse by Ojibwe writer Richard Wagamese is another book focusing on Indigenous experience. This one is straightforward fiction, telling the life story of an Ojibwe character, Saul Indian Horse, and his trials and joys. It is beautiful, evocative and moving – and informative about the effects of individual, group, systemic, and national racism. It is very skilfully written, drawing me into unfamiliar cultural experiences such as competitive ice hockey, and enabling me to identify and empathise with people unlike any I have ever met. The characters and their experiences stayed with me long after I finished reading. This excellent book has now been made into a film, Indian Horse, which was the highest-grossing English Canadian film of 2018.

Night Spirits, by Ila Bussidor and Üstün Bilgen-Reinart, is a true story, the story of the Sayisi Dine people who were relocated – with only a few hours’ notice – by the Canadian government in August 1956. They were moved from their ancestral homelands in remote northern Manitoba to a slum area on the outskirts of Churchill, a frontier town on the shores of Hudson Bay. The Sayisi Dene had had little contact with white people and moved from a life of self-reliant sustainability to being social outcasts. Over the next 17 years, almost one-third of the Sayisi Dene died violently or as a result of their terrible living conditions. Ila Bussidor is a former chief of the Sayisi Dene and Üstün Bilgen-Reinart is a broadcaster and journalist. They worked together to tell this ‘dark story’ and to tell it ‘in hope’. It is well written, but emotionally hard to read because it is so full of injustice and tragedy. Yet there is hope: in 1973 the remaining Sayisi Dene began to assert their independence and leave Churchill to build a new community.

Poetry, too, tells stories. The anthology New Poets of Native Nations, edited by Ojibwe writer Heid E. Erdrich, brings together the work of 21 Indigenous poets from the 21st century. All the poets are from different parts of the lands we currently call America and Canada. The stories they tell are compelling, lyrical, raw, visual, sometimes funny. I didn’t know any of these poets’ work before I read the anthology, and I was particularly taken with Layli Long Soldier. I wanted to reproduce one of her poems here, but I thought I might fall foul of copyright, then I found it online so here’s the link to Obligations 2 which is an astonishing work, unconventional, perhaps the closest to a perfect poem that I have ever read. This anthology is delightfully multi-vocal and insightful.

I also want to learn from single voices and about racism closer to home. I pulled Let Me Tell You This by Nadine Aisha Jassat off the shelves in my last trip to Housmans radical bookshop, which I love to visit when I’m travelling through Kings Cross/St Pancras (I’ll be back when I can travel again, I promise – if you’re in the area with a little time to spare, do go and check it out). Jassat is a young British Asian poet whose voice loves and rages, punches and strokes with deftness and delight. She tells stories of contemporary British Asian life, with an emphasis on women’s and girls’ experiences in family and friendship. Her writing is readable, insightful, and a great teacher. This is her first collection, and it’s an impressive debut; I look forward to finding out what more she has to say in the future.

We’re back to the US for Hot Comb, a terrific collection of graphic short stories by Ebony Flowers, which I found in Waterstones in Cork in February. Regular readers will also know that I love graphic novels and comics, and part of why I love them is for their ability to take me into places I could never go – or, at least, not without causing change by my presence. These stories take me into Black society and let me share and learn from some of the experiences there. They are well written and drawn, with memorable characters. (And I discovered, in finding her link for this post, that Ebony Flowers is also an ethnographer, who uses comics in her research work – yay!!)

One of the best things about all of these books, and others like them, is I get to learn from people of colour without bothering them in person. And another best thing is that they are all so enjoyable to read – harrowing, too, at times, but that’s part of the point of literature for me: to move me emotionally, because that, too, helps me learn. As well as the grief and loss and pain, there is hope and growth and joy in these books, and humanity, and gentle teaching.

If your interests are in other areas, search out books and films that deal with your favoured subjects. If you too are interested in anti-racism, then I recommend any or all of the books described above. And if you have recommendations to share, please put them in the comments.

This blog, and the monthly #CRMethodsChat on Twitter, is funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me at least one working day per month to post here each week and run the Twitterchat. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding from Patrons of $57 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $57 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons and donors also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

I’m on YouTube!

I have a YouTube channel! It’s a new baby one and I intend to grow it into a useful adult channel.

No, not that kind of adult channel…

I thought creating a YouTube channel would be a straightforward process. In fact it has taken me around four years of difficulty after difficulty. First I had to figure out what I wanted to say. Then there was the technical side, working out what equipment to use for recording video and audio. I got organised in my spare bedroom and had a go – and discovered that when I am on my own in a room talking to a machine, I turn into a muppet. Feedback from friends was along the lines of “Why are you doing it like that?” and “Ewww, it’s terrible.” (I have some delightfully candid friends.) So I figured I needed someone to help, but professional video people are eye-wateringly expensive.

Eventually I recruited a student friend. We had a fun time filming, but then she found out there was something wrong with the sound and got discouraged. Last autumn I was having dinner with a colleague and found she was having the same problem, so we agreed to help each other in the spring. And then the pandemic hit. But the good news is, because I can’t get help from anyone else, my partner, who is a sound engineer and a techie, agreed to help me out. Hurrah! So I have uploaded five new videos, and created playlists which also include some other videos of me from the last few years.

Do please visit my channel; I’d love to know what you think. Also, if there are any topics you would like me to cover in a video or blog post, please let me know in the comments.

This blog, and the monthly #CRMethodsChat on Twitter, are funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me at least one working day per month to post here each week and run the Twitterchat. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding from Patrons of $57 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $57 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons and donors also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

In Praise Of Not Knowing

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Perhaps we learned to dread saying ‘I don’t know’ at school, where it didn’t impress our teachers. Or maybe it’s the human desire for certainty and predictability which makes an ‘I don’t know’ so unwelcome. Anyway, we are supposed to know things, us researchers and scholars. There have been times when, involved in a conversation and someone uses an acronym or references a person or organisation I haven’t heard of, I nodded wisely while making frantic mental notes to look it up later. Indeed there is a small industry making money out of this tendency by publishing Bluffer’s Guides to a variety of topics such as social media, wine, cycling and Brexit. These Guides are apparently designed to amuse, inform, and enable the reader to hold her own in any conversation on the subject. By their very existence they discourage the use of ‘I don’t know’.

But think about it: do you know someone who always has an answer for everything? I have met several people like that in my life. Aren’t they annoying?

I think an honest ‘I don’t know’ has a lot going for it. For a start, I think it is useful to acknowledge to ourselves when we don’t know something. Then we can find out, either consciously or sub-consciously. I had an email recently from someone I care about, asking for my help in solving a personal problem. As I read the email, I saw that their problem was quite complicated, and realised I didn’t have a ready answer. I finished reading and turned to a different task. Half an hour later I read the email again – and this time I was able to formulate a response. The part I think of as my ‘back brain’ had been working on the problem while I was otherwise occupied, and had come up with a solution. I love it when this happens. It’s where we get the phrase ‘sleep on it’ – if you fall asleep at night thinking of a problem you need to solve, you may well wake up in the morning with a solution in your mind.

I also think it is useful to acknowledge to other people when there is something we don’t know. In the conversations where someone talks about something I haven’t come across, these days I ask them what the acronym means or who the person or organisation is and why they’re relevant to our conversation. This enables better quality communication and discussion. I also own up to not knowing when I’m teaching. I often teach doctoral students who are, by definition, clever and knowledgeable people. This means they sometimes ask me questions to which I don’t know the answer, and for which there is no Bluffer’s Guide – and anyway, trying a bluff on a room full of doctoral students would not be a good idea. So I say, ‘I don’t know,’ and add, ‘but maybe someone else here does?’ And, very often, they do.

I wonder whether part of the problem with ‘I don’t know’ is that acknowledging it, to ourselves or to others, takes some confidence. Confidence that we can find out; confidence that others won’t think badly of us… Actually, it seems to me that many people respect you more if you are honest about what you don’t know, because then can have more faith in what you claim you do know.

Having said that, it is also important to be flexible about what you know, to allow for the possibility of change. I knew some things when I wrote the first edition of my book on creative research methods in 2015. Then I learned more, including some things that contradicted parts of what I knew before, so in my second edition I acknowledged and explained these changes of mind. I don’t think this invalidates my work. Nobody can know everything, and what we know changes with time as we learn more, just as we learned that the earth is round not flat, and that fatal diseases can be eradicated with vaccines. ‘I didn’t know that’ is part of the ‘I don’t know’ family, and just as valuable.

Not knowing something is the foundation for research, because we do research to find out new knowledge. Students sometimes say to me, ‘I don’t know if I’m doing my research right.’ I say, ‘If that’s how you feel, you probably are doing it right.’ Then they look at me like Luke Skywalker looks at Yoda when he has just said something particularly cryptic, so I tell them all research is built on uncertainty; if they already knew whatever it is they want to find out, there would be no point in doing their research in the first place.

Perhaps the hardest part is the way all of our lives are currently built on uncertainty. When and how will this pandemic end? Who will be alive when it does? What will the world be like? Of course knowing the future was always an illusion, but our plans were often enacted which made it seem real. Now it may feel pointless even to make a plan. More and more people are talking about our current predicament as “the new normal”, and I recognise in this an understandable reaching for certainty. But not much is normal about the way we are currently living, and we may find we can deal with that better if we embrace the uncertainty and face up to what we don’t know.

This blog, and the monthly #CRMethodsChat on Twitter, is funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me at least one working day per month to post here each week and run the Twitterchat. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding from Patrons of $55 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $55 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons and donors also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

An Embarrassment Of Books

This week I find myself promoting one forthcoming series of books I’m co-editing, another series which is underway but we’ve only just started the promo, a sole-authored second edition which will be out next month, and two co-authored books which will be out in January.

How did this happen, you may well ask? Let me explain. Three years ago Pat Thomson recruited me to co-edit the Insider Guides to Success in Academia, short books for Routledge. I also co-wrote the first in the series, Publishing From Your Doctoral Research, with Janet Salmons, and that was published last December. Now there are six books in the series, available to buy or for pre-order, with several more in the pipeline.

The other series happened much more quickly: it’s made up of the Policy Press innovative Rapid Response e-books which address issues raised by the COVID-19 pandemic. I wrote a post on this blog in May about research methods to consider using in a pandemic. My commissioning editor at Policy Press read the post and contacted me to ask if I’d be interested in editing a short e-book on the subject. I recruited Su-ming Khoo and we put out a call for chapters – and got 104 submissions, many of which were excellent. So now we’re co-editing three short e-books on Researching in the Age of COVID-19. Volume 1 is on Response and Reassessment, Volume 2 is on Care and Resilience, and Volume 3 is on Creativity and Ethics. Each book contains 11 chapters by researchers from around the world: UK to Tonga, South Africa to Peru, New Zealand to India. The e-books are very affordable at £6.99 (or equivalent) and best of all, until 31 August you can get a 50% discount on each book by emailing the address on the web page.

Then for most of last year I was working on three full-length books. The second edition of my book on Creative Research Methods has five new chapters and over 200 new references. That alone was a mammoth task – much bigger than I expected when I started work. And it was sole-authored, unlike all of the others where I had collaborators to help when the going got tough. This book is available for pre-order now and will be out next month.

Then I was also co-writing a book on Creative Writing for Social Research with Richard Phillips. He asked me to work on this in mid-2018, we co-facilitated a two-day workshop on the subject in November 2018, and began writing together in early 2019. It was a complex project, with workshop participants contributing short creative pieces of various kinds that we had to work into the book as examples while maintaining some level of coherence – though we drew on queer theory to underpin the importance of valuing an element of messiness. Our collaboration was an absolute joy and I cherished the opportunity to bring together two of my great loves, creative writing and social research.

The other book I was co-writing was Creative Research Methods in Education, with Narelle Lemon, Dawn Mannay and Megan McPherson. This was Narelle’s idea and she pitched it to me and Katy Vigurs, on a hot day in May 2017, when she was visiting the UK. We were keen and started work on it but Katy had to drop out for personal reasons and it took a while to regroup with new colleagues. The work got going again in mid-2019, exactly the wrong time for me because I was already working on two books and a series, but I wanted to work on this book too and I didn’t want to delay it further. So I gave up having weekends off and we got it all done. Luckily all three books were with the same publisher and the commissioning editor was hugely helpful in timetabling the projects so that, for example, I could work on one manuscript while another was being peer reviewed. I really do not advise working on three books at the same time but, if you have to, I recommend them all being with the same publisher. I think if it had been different publishers it would have been very much harder.

So there we are. After this lot I’m only working on two books, one co-edited and one sole-authored, and I’m not taking on anything else until those are done. Apart from anything else, I think I’ve written quite enough books for the time being!

This blog, and the monthly #CRMethodsChat on Twitter, is funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me at least one working day per month to post here each week and run the Twitterchat. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding from Patrons of $53 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $53 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons and donors also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

Decolonising Methods: A Reading List

decolonising booksA couple of years ago I compiled a reading list on Indigenous research methods which proved surprisingly popular. So here’s a follow-up, focusing on decolonising methods and methodologies. Again, it is what I have on my shelves; books I have read, used, and found worthwhile. I am not presenting this as any kind of an exhaustive or authoritative list. It doesn’t include some books I would love to have, because they are too expensive. As an independent researcher with no academic library nearby, I do buy books regularly, but my budget is limited so I have a ceiling of £30 or equivalent per book. Also I prefer not to buy secondhand as I know how much hard work goes into writing a book and how little authors make from their books; I don’t want to make that ‘little’ even smaller. On the plus side, I now write for three academic publishers which means I get author discounts. So, from one of them, I have ordered the second edition of Bagele Chilisa’s Indigenous Research Methodologies, as well as a book recommended by a commenter on my previous reading list post, Alternative Discourses in Asian Social Science by Syed Farid Alatas. Also, I just broke my own rule! Ever since it came out I have wanted a copy of Indigenous Research: Theories, Practices and Relationships, edited by Deborah McGregor, Jean-Paul Restoule and Rochelle Johnston. But it’s over £60 everywhere, so I scrolled on by. However, I just had another look and saw that it’s 950 pages long – which is at least three books, right? So now that’s on order too.

All of which means there will be another update to this reading list in time to come. But now, back to this one. As I’m focusing on decolonising methods this time, I’m not only featuring Indigenous literature, but also subaltern literature. ‘Subaltern’ is used in post-colonial theory to mean individuals and groups who do not hold power. So, it could be said that Indigenous peoples are also subaltern, but subaltern peoples may not be Indigenous. Please note that this is only one option: these terms (like all those in this field) are contested, and self-definition always counts for more than externally applied categories. What this does illustrate is that decolonising methods is a project that implies scrutinising and decolonising a whole load of other things too, because methods don’t exist in isolation.

I’ll start with Decolonizing Educational Research: From Ownership to Answerability by Leigh Patel (2016). This is a beautifully written book which interrogates the ways in which Euro-Western educational systems support colonialism. Patel demonstrates that even apparently ethical concepts such as social justice can ‘become a vehicle for settler logics and heteropatriarchal racist capitalism’ (p 88). She shows us how to imagine possible futures and assess them for settler or decolonising qualities, in the interests of focusing education right back on learning.

An edited collection follows: Decolonizing Interpretive Research: A Subaltern Methodology for Social Change, edited by Antonia Darder (2019). This builds on the work of Patel and others. Darder introduces the key concepts: how a decolonising methodology and ethics can work, and the importance of centring subaltern voices and naming the politics of coloniality. Then five chapters by current or former doctoral students from subaltern groups serve to exemplify these concepts in practice, and a useful afterword by João Paraskeva pulls together the themes of the book.

Another edited collection is Research as Resistance: Revisiting Critical, Indigenous, and Anti-Oppressive Approaches (2nd edn) edited by Susan Strega and Leslie Brown (2015). This was also outside my budget (Canadian books are so expensive!) and was bought for me by Christine Soltero whose daughter reads my blog. I’m hugely grateful to her because it’s a very useful book. The only annoying thing about it is it doesn’t have an index – I wish academic publishers wouldn’t do that… Anyway, the chapter authors are Indigenous, feminist, and community-based researchers, and the editors promote the idea of a move from resistance to resurgence ‘of knowledges founded in a diversity of spiritualities, philosophies, languages and experiences’ (p 12).

A third edited collection is Research Justice: Methodologies for Social Change edited by Andrew Jolivétte from the US (2015). The cover design includes these words, in a circle: ‘Research justice is achieved when communities of color, Indigenous peoples, and marginalized groups are recognized as experts, and reclaim, own and wield all forms of knowledge and information.’ The first chapter is by the editor, and focuses on radical love as a strategy for social transformation. The second is by Antonia Darder, and all the contributors reflect usefully on how research methodologies can contribute to social change. I wrote a full review of this book for the LSE Review of Books in 2015.

And a fourth edited collection is Towards a New Ethnohistory: Community-Engaged Scholarship Among the People of the River, edited by Keith Thor Carlson, John Sutton Lutz, David M. Schaepe and Naxaxalhts’i (Albert “Sonny” McHalsie) (2018). Ethnohistorians work across the disciplinary boundary between anthropology and history, two disciplines that have tarnished records in the colonial past and present. This book covers a new, decolonising approach that has been used for over 20 years in the lower reaches of the Fraser River which runs through the city of Vancouver to meet the Pacific Ocean. In this approach, academic staff and students work with Indigenous scholars and Indigenous peoples to forge new ways of undertaking community-based ethnohistorical research.

A sole-authored book is Indigenous Storywork: Educating the Heart, Mind, Body and Spirit by Jo-ann Archibald aka Q’um Q’um Xiiem. For many Indigenous peoples, stories are a key teaching tool. Stories also have a potentially wide range of roles to play in research. This book outlines those roles and advises on how stories can be used effectively and ethically, using the seven principles of storywork: ‘respect, responsibility, reciprocity, reverence, holism, inter-relatedness, and synergy’ (p ix). For the Stó:lō and Coast Salish peoples of Western Canada, these principles form a theoretical framework for making meaning from stories.

The final book in today’s list is Decolonizing Solidarity: Dilemmas and Directions for Supporters of Indigenous Struggles, by Clare Land (2015). This book from Australia is by an Indigenous ally and supporter, about being an Indigenous ally and supporter, for Indigenous allies and supporters. It is based on the author’s doctoral and other research and activism, and offers a moral and political framework for non-Indigenous peoples’ solidarity with Indigenous people.

I am also committed to citing these works whenever they are relevant, to do what I can to amplify Indigenous and subaltern voices. However, I hadn’t realised, until I pulled together this list, how biased it would be towards Canadian literature. Another recommendation from a commenter on my previous reading list was the work of Aileen Moreton-Robinson, an Australian Indigenous academic. I want to read her books too, and lots else besides. I am not and never will be an expert on these topics, I am a student of this literature and these methods and approaches. So if you have other works on decolonising methods to recommend, please add them in the comments for everyone’s benefit.

This blog, and the monthly #CRMethodsChat on Twitter, is funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me at least one working day per month to post here each week and run the Twitterchat. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding from Patrons of $54 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $54 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons and donors also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

Research Ethics for Independent Researchers

Research Ethics in the Real WorldThis post was requested by people in the Facebook group of the National Coalition of Independent Scholars (NCIS – actually an international organisation despite its name). You don’t have to be an NCIS member to join the Facebook group, and if you’re an indie researcher or scholar I would recommend joining one or the other, both if you can. NCIS offers a range of benefits to members including an open access peer reviewed journal, networking opportunities, and grants.

Independent researchers often don’t have access to research ethics committees (aka institutional review boards in the US). These committees and boards are set up by institutions such as universities and health authorities. I studied this as background for my book on research ethics, and found that a minority do try to help researchers work more ethically, but the majority are focused on institutional protection. This post is not about the rights and wrongs of institutional protectionism, so I will just say that I think committees or boards that focus on institutional protection should be called ‘institutional protection committee/board’ not ‘research ethics committee’ or ‘institutional review board’.

I am interested to see that some communities and some organisations are setting up their own systems of ethical review, such that researchers who want to work with them have to satisfy the community or organisation’s ethical requirements. Indeed, I’m delighted to be advising some organisations on how to do this in a way that meets their needs. There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to research ethics, and each community and organisation is best placed to figure out what constitutes ethical research practice for them.

There is also, interestingly, an independent research ethics committee: the New Zealand Ethics Committee (NZEC), set up in 2014. NZEC is run by volunteers to provide expert ethical advice for community-based researchers and others without access to an institutional ethics committee or board. Initially it offered its services free of charge, but it proved unexpectedly popular, so it is now charging a negotiable rate while it seeks sustainable funding.

Many professional bodies have their own codes of ethics that independent researchers can follow. I belong to the UK and Ireland Social Research Association (SRA), and my clients often feel reassured when I tell them I follow the SRA’s ethical guidelines. In fact there are loads of free open access research ethics resources online and new ones appear from time to time. I’ve been working on the EU’s PRO-RES project, to create an ethics resource for all non-medical researchers. This is still in development but the website already contains a lot of useful information.

If you’re an independent researcher, you already know your work involves a lot of thinking for yourself. If you want policies and procedures to follow, you either have to find ones you like or write some of your own. The same applies with research ethics. OK, we rarely get the chance to spend days filling in a massive form to be challenged or approved by a committee. It might be showing by now that I’m not fond of the current research governance system, and I think its absence offers an important opportunity for independent researchers: we can do research that is more ethical than research done by institutions. If we choose, we can attend to the ethical aspects of research that research ethics committees rarely consider. These begin with the generation of a potential research question. Is it ethical to ask that question? Can the research to investigate be done ethically? And they span right through to aftercare for participants, data, findings, and researchers ourselves. Of course being independent also means we can operate scams, cheat, defraud people and be as unethical as we like. Which means it is vital for every independent researcher to think and act as ethically as possible, to uphold and improve our collective reputation.

There are no absolutes with research ethics. In fact there isn’t even an agreed definition; research ethics is a collection of diverse theories and practices. This is partly because context is a factor: what is ethical in one context may not be ethical in another. Slicing open someone’s belly with a knife? Definitely not ethical – unless you’re an accredited surgeon in an operating theatre, in which case it may be life-saving and therefore highly ethical. Context is crucial, and that is why we all need to learn to think and act ethically throughout our research practice. And that learning is never finished, because every research project is different and the world is always changing. So independent researchers need to be ethical ninjas: knowledgeable, skilled, responsive, and good at solving ethical problems.

This blog, and the monthly #CRMethodsChat on Twitter, is funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me at least one working day per month to post here each week and run the Twitterchat. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding from Patrons of $54 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $54 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons and donors also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

Taking a Break in Lockdown

reading on holidayA friend asked me a while ago if I was going to have a break this summer. I couldn’t really see the point when I would only be where I’ve already been for months. But then I realised I was getting tired and, actually, a break from work, at least, would be a good idea.

I realise that even having the option to take a break is a sign of considerable privilege. But I do have that privilege, and that option, so the next questions were: where, and how?

It doesn’t feel safe or sensible to try to go to a hotel in the current climate, or to a restaurant or pub, or to anywhere really. (I made an experimental trip to a café last weekend, but I had to write down my contact details even though I was sitting outside, and when I thought about what a pain it would be if I had to self-isolate for another 14 days, I decided not to repeat the experiment.)

So that’s the where: at home. However, I didn’t just want to sit around in my house all day. I don’t have a helpful hobby; I like to cook for friends, and socialise, and travel, none of which I can do at the moment. I felt a little envious of one of my Instagram friends who is taking a break with a very clear mission: to knit and read crime novels, both of which she loves. I used to knit and crochet but my hands went wonky which put paid to that, and I don’t have an equivalent passion. Writing is my hobby now, but it’s also my work.

An old friend who lives alone, and needed a week’s break from her intense job, had a genius idea. “I’m packing my suitcase,” she told me, grinning from the screen. “What – but – hang on – eh?” I spluttered. She explained that she had her suitcase out on the floor, as usual when packing for a break, and she was putting in lots of lovely things for her holiday: books she’d like to read, DVDs to watch, art and craft supplies, special holiday snacks, and so on. Then during her holiday, when she began to wonder what to do next, she would go to her case and choose from the available resources. For my friend, this created the joyful anticipation of a much-needed break, and helped her week off feel really different from the weeks when she was working at home. “I enjoyed that more than I thought I would,” she told me afterwards. “I’m going to do it again!”

I love her idea – but it didn’t feel right for me, and for a while I couldn’t figure out what would feel right. Then, in my office one day, a teetering pile of books caught my eye. My to-be-read pile of work books had grown, over the last year; there were 12 books I either hadn’t read or hadn’t read properly, which I was waiting to find time to tackle. That’s it, I thought to myself – I can have a reading week! Universities have those so I can too. Reading is also my work, but it’s a part of my work that doesn’t get enough attention, and one I find relaxing and pleasant.

So, this week, that’s what I’m doing. On Monday I read two books (they were short, I read fast, and skip-read bits I’ve already read or that aren’t relevant for me). On Tuesday I only read one chapter, but I also did an online exercise class, made muffins and a salad, had a distanced picnic and walk in the park with a good friend I haven’t seen for ages, and wrote this blog post. And anyway I was never going to read 12 books in a week – some are quite long – and it’s more about having a break than getting through the list. It’s relaxing and delightful having time to read, properly, and think.

This also got me wondering about other creative approaches people may have taken to having a break at home. If you too have been in this lucky position, and you’ve done something that might provide inspiration for others, please let us know in the comments.

This blog, and the monthly #CRMethodsChat on Twitter, is funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me at least one working day per month to post here each week and run the Twitterchat. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding from Patrons of $53 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $53 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons and donors also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

Research Work In Lockdown

podcast-5227930__340This week’s blog is a short podcast produced by the lovely people from Policy Press and featuring an interview with me about research work in lockdown. The podcast was featured earlier this week on the Policy Press blog, Transforming Society, which is well worth a follow, not only for its excellent content but also because followers get a hefty 35% discount on all Policy Press books. You can listen to the podcast on Soundcloud, Apple Podcasts or Spotify – just click on the link for the platform you prefer.