Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Participatory Action Research and Kaupapa Maori

On a recent fieldtrip I stopped off in Raumati South and found an excellent secondhand bookstore where I bought a copy of William Foot Whyte's "Steet Corner Society: The Social Structure of an Italian Slum" (3rd edition). Whyte's work had influenced the methods of Participatory Action Research, nominated by our RO (Research Officer, sorry that should be "Research Officer"...) as a means to progress our research. Team Leader 2 considers Kaupapa Maori Research (KMR) to be plagiarised from PAR, a nonsense really as KMR is quite specifically positioned as a local response to what New Zealand researcher Russell Bishop has called 'epistemological racism'

I've pinned an extract of my thesis that deals with KM and PAR; needless to say it's a work in progress. I segue this into a discussion on Actor-Network Theory (something I think is way more controversial though usually passes without comment among those who should be most interested...

Kaupapa Maori and Participatory Action Research
Significantly more attention is now given to Maori concerns compared to the early days of systematic research in this country. Whether this is an acknowledgment of previous methodological flaws, or a concession to ideological opponents as distinct from moral maturity, is a moot point. The debate does not progress much beyond a range of ethical provisions that are ideal for any research, regardless of whether or not it involves historically disempowered groups. Broader strategy has focused on reducing the marginalisation of Maori in the conception, execution and incorporation of research, with the view to explicitly empower Maori communities. Concerns have also revolved around methods and protocols for acquiring data and disseminating research that do not ignore Maori perspectives (Tapine, 2000).

I recognise two challenges for this research from the outset. The first concerns have been outlined above, namely the conflict between indigenous peoples and those aspects of state and corporate power that hinder attempts at self-determination. In New Zealand, Maori have cooperated with a relatively benign and stable state although the relationship is often fraught and has been immensely complicated by contemporary devolution and corporatisation (Maaka, 2003; Kelsey, 2002). For some Maori commentators, the ethnicity of researchers is of paramount concern, that (somehow) Maori researchers will not make errors or transgressions of the type non-Maori researchers are accused. Others extend this, maintaining that the project must be centred on Maori concerns and specifically designed to benefit Maori: such empowerment requires the participation of Maori in research (Smith, 2003).

Theme 4 research within NCABT was to proceed with guidance in this first challenge from Kaupapa Maori Research (KMR) and Participatory Action Research (PR). It will be argued this did not occur, indeed could not occur, yet the failure reveals pathways to success. KMR has grown as an explicitly localised response to perceptions and realities of what Russell Bishop terms ‘epistemological racism’ (Bishop, 1999: 1). The grounding in Maori lives, from the use of Maori words and terms to the social and cultural engagement that occurs specific to Maori people and the spaces that they control, presupposes both the legitimacy of matauranga Maori and the value of Maori culture (Smith, 1999). As another Maori research team said, KMR enables research to proceed in a way that is "compatible, and indeed sourced from, who we are as Maori." (Keefe et al., 1999).

The parallels between KMR and Participatory Action Research (PAR) are notable. PAR grew out of social research methodology, community participation in decision-making, and sociotechnical discourse (Whyte, 1991: 7). It involves the active and creative participation of previously marginalised groups in the research process, from the initial design to the final presentation of results (Whyte et al., 1991). In essence, it forces the open examination of relationships between researchers and those groups under study. With regards to Maori, it gives way to Kaupapa Maori principles in the sense Bishop argues, that is as a local response to Maori concerns and interests, which could only happen in New Zealand.

KMR and PAR deal with how we are to treat collaborators and contributors. The second challenge stems from the fact that Maori development, especially through iwi and hapu organisations, cannot escape cultural interpretations or local networks. What techniques are available to researchers to identify, collect and usefully analyse information that is broadly categorised as ‘indigenous’ and ‘local’? In other words, can those aspects that distinguish Maori and their role in agri-food networks be assimilated into databases (i.e. converted to alpha-numeric data) and utilised in research that is useful to those who provide or embody that data? With references to human and non-human participants, to the tangible and intangible, natural and social, and to the past, present and future, what methods enable their examination, analysis and representation?

While ethical guidelines and research frameworks are commonplace if not necessarily effective, I have found methodological guidance for the recognition and treatment of data in this research project to be limited. This is in part due to the often incommensurable nature of Maori and European discourses, as well as the (too readily accepted) gulf between social and scientific research programmes. The speed of technological advances in horticulture further problematises the preference for methodological ‘stability’. Preliminary work for Theme 4 revealed the need for a methodology that enabled the systematic investigation of two materially linked but philosophically distinct networks. The first concerns matauranga Maori perspectives of exotic (South American) root crops with their genealogical, typological and mythological knowledge bases. The second comprises the active involvement of these crops and their Maori growers in advanced agri-biotechnologies within public/private development projects (Massey News, 2003; Roskruge, 2004). How is significant data to be identified, and can it be gathered and interpreted by those techniques which have supposedly been attuned to Maori criticism?

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