Potts & Brown (2005). Becoming an Anti-Oppressive Researcher.

Potts, K., & Brown, L. (2005). Becoming an Anti-Oppressive Researcher. In L. Brown & S. Strega (Eds.), Research as Resistance: Critical, Indigenous and Anti-oppressive Approaches (pp. 255–286). Canadian Scholars’ Press.

[“Beginning with Choices, Assumptions, and Tenets” (p 255) …]

“Being an anti-oppressive researcher means that there is political purpose and action to your research work. … It means making a commitment to the people you are working with personally and professionally in order to mutually foster conditions for social justice and research. It is about paying attention to, and shifting, how power relations work in and through the processes of doing research.” (p 255)

[“A Bit about Us” (p 256) …]

“… qualitative research, as a general category, was still often laden with positivist assumptions about epistemology.2” (p 256)

[“So, a Bit about You, Our Assumed Reader” (p 257) …]

“We believe that anti-oppressive research — the art of asking questions, building relationships, seeking answers, and coming up with [page break] more questions — is in the art of daily life.” (p 257-258)

“Secondly, we need you to see yourself as potentially both oppressor and oppressed. We ask that you believe in your capacity for ‘agency’ — that is, your capacity to act and alter the relations of oppression in your own world.” (p 258)

“… doing anti-oppressive research is a commitment to a set of principles, values, and ways of working, and that you can carry out these principles anywhere — it’s a matter of choice amid various constraints.” (p 258)

“We believe that all of us have ‘agency,’ that ability to act which separates us as subjects from objects. Often when we label ourselves as ‘clients’ or have been labelled as ‘clients’ (or students), and have been treated as objects for so long, our ‘agency’ is a bit rusty and needs a bit of nurturing.” (p 259)

[“A Bit about Theory” (p 259) …]

“For the purpose of this paper, we see anti-oppressive theory7 as an extension of Marxist, feminist, and most predominantly critical theory.8 Critical theory informs our conception and practice of anti-oppressive social work and research. In addition, poststructural and postcolonial thought, feminist, Indigenous, queer, and anti-racist theories have contributed to our understanding of anti-oppressive approaches.” (p 259)

[“Three Emerging Tenets of Anti-oppressive Research” (p 259) …]

[“Anti-oppressive Research Is Social Justice and Resistance in Process and in Outcome” (p 260) …]

“As anti-oppressive researchers, we recognize that usually the first target of change is ourselves.” (p 260)

“… there is an epistemological difference between such social justice research, grounded in reclaiming positivism, and what we are describing here as anti-oppressive research.” (p 260)

“Choosing to be an anti-oppressive researcher means choosing to do research and support research that challenges the status quo in its _processes_ as well as its outcomes. … anti-oppressive researchers have the challenge of continually reflecting, critiquing, challenging, and supporting their own and others’ efforts in the process of research and knowledge production to transform the enterprise of research, social work, and ultimately the world in which we live.” (p 260)

[“Anti-oppressive Research Recognizes That All Knowledge Is Socially Constructed^10 and Political” (p 261) …]

“… knowledge does not exist in and of itself, isolated from people. Rather, it is produced through the interactions of people, and as all people are socially located (in their race, gender, ability, class identities, and so on) with biases, privileges, and differing power relations, so too is the creation of knowledge socially located, socially constructed. … in anti-oppressive research, we are not looking for a ‘truth’; we are looking for meaning, for understanding, for the power to change.” (p 261)

“… anti-oppressive researchers recognize that knowledge is political; it is not benign as it is created in the power relations between people.” (p 261)

“Therefore, anti-oppressive research is not a [page break] process to discover knowledge, but a political process to co-create and rediscover knowledge. Through anti-oppressive research, we construct emancipatory, liberatory knowledge that can be acted on, by, and in the interests of the marginalized and oppressed.” (p 261-262)

[“The Anti-oppressive Research Process Is All about Power and Relationships” (p 262) …]

“‘Instead of power being a ‘thing’ which persons, groups, or institutions possess to a greater or lesser degree, … we should think in terms of power relations, with ever-changing ‘balances’ or ‘ratios’ of power between individuals and social units … and that all human relationships are essentially relations of power.’ (van Krieken, 2003, p. 118)” (p 262)

“In anti-oppressive research, a number of key relationships and power relations are foregrounded; that is, relations between: the knower and known; groups of knowers; knowers and any outside researchers; researchers and external institutions and ideological paradigms” (p 263)

“… our way of saying ‘no research without relationships.’ We do not approach relationships as time-specific, beginning and ending, throw-away relationships. Rather, we approach them as if we may be in relationship with people for life.” (p 263)

[“Rethinking the Researching Process: Anti-oppressive Practice in the Process of Inquiry” (p 263) …]

“You are likely familiar with this linear [page break] process: (1) pose a question; (2) design a plan to study it; (3) collect some information; (4) analyze the information; (5) draw some conclusions and pose new questions. We contend that research is not as linear as this model implies. In fact, this linear problem-solving model reproduces the dominant Western scientific method(ology) of constructing knowledge.” (p 263-264)

[“Questioning” (p 264) …]

“‘Who says this is a question that needs to be studied anyway?'” (p 264)

“This initial stage of questioning involves finding out what others know about the topic. … Being an anti-oppressive researcher means critically reading existing knowledge to understand how it was constructed, by whom and for whose benefit, and therefore how it will affect our construction of research about the issue. … lived experience of self and others can also provide a valid point of departure for a research topic.” (p 266)

[“Designing and Redesigning a Plan to Study the Questions” (p 267) …]

“Significant thought and relationship building are integral to the designing and planning of emancipatory methods.” (p 267)

“… the actual process of the research becomes an intervention for change rather than relying only on the impact of the research outcome …” (p 269)

“‘Sampling’ in anti-oppressive research is seldom random. … Ideally it is a community of participants/insider researchers who do the inviting/including.” (p 269)

“Although most ‘informed consent’ processes have become institutionalized for purposes of avoiding liability, we have reclaimed the concept of ‘informed consent’ to be a formal contract of our obligations to research participants, and a declaration of their ownership of the data, their right to a transparent research process, and their right to as much involvement or control as they choose.” (p 269)

“From an anti-oppressive perspective, we see data as a gift that participants bestow and we work to respect those gifts and treat them [page break] ethically. … There are at least three voices in interpreting data: the participant who gives the story, the writer/researcher who records and retells it, and the reader who interprets it (Marcotte, 1995).” (p 269-270)

[Note: This article written prior to TCPS2-2014, Chapter 9. –oki]

“It is the operationalization of ‘quality’ that will make your research credible, publishable, actionable, and worth listening to.” (p 271)

[“Collecting Data: Seeking, Listening, Learning” (p 271) …]

“Staying on top of the ebb and fl ow of relating is a time-consuming and challenging part of doing anti-oppressive research.” (p 272)

[“Making Meaning” (p 272) …]

“While we have found that being connected with and reflecting upon the data is critical in every stage of a research project and that it needs to be shared with co-researchers/participants, it is a particularly useful task to incorporate in the meaning-making process. This means that the participant-researcher(s) have to step back from the analysis for a while in order to reflect upon the data, the analysis, and the destination of the research.” (p 275)

[“Posing Conclusions and New Questions, and Taking More Action” (p 275) …]

“Formal written report form is commonplace and although useful, it is almost inherently classist, exclusionary, and appropriative in that it requires translating marginal knowledges into the language of the elite.” (p 276)

“Posing conclusions brings us to ask the critical question, so what? How will the research be used, and by whom? Who else could make use of it, and how? What uses could it have that were not intended? … [page break] … What is the professional obligation of the researcher in ensuring that the research is used for social change, not only throughout the process of conducting the research but after the research is concluded?” (p 276-277)

[“Credibility, Action-Ability, and Trustworthiness: Reclaiming Reliability and Validity” (p 277) …]

[“Putting the Tenets to Work: One Student’s Experience” (p 278) …]

“She asked the people labelled as ‘clients’ in the day home where she worked if any of them would like to be researchers into why professionals sometimes treat them so badly. Several said yes. She helped them learn about research, design their own interview questions, and they chose the professionals whom they would interview (‘researching up’ on the power ladder).” (p 278)

[“Foes and Allies: Relating Other Approaches to Anti-oppressive Research” (p 281) …]

“Cora Weber-Pillwax poses several principles that underlay such a methodology. These include:

‘(a) the interconnectedness of all living things, (b) the impact of motives and intentions on person and community, (c) the foundation of research as lived indigenous experience, (d) the groundedness of theories in indigenous epistemology, (e) the transformative nature of research, (f) the sacredness and responsibility of maintaining personal and community integrity, and (g) the recognition of languages and cultures as living processes. (Weber-Pillwax, 1999, p. 31)'” (p 282)

“… narrative approaches potentially compatible with anti-oppressive principles. Other chapters in this book pick up on ethnography and other approaches. Such qualitative methods, however, are not inherently anti-oppressive, so critical consideration of ethnographic methods, heuristic methods, grounded theory methods, phenomenological methods, narrative methods, discourse analysis, and so on are necessary.” (p 282)

“Other alternative methodologies … include critical ethnography, life histories, narratives, and autobiography.” (p 282)

“If anything, we are arguing that anti-oppressive research is not methodologically distinctive, but epistemologically [page break] distinctive.” (p 282-283)

[“A Few Concluding Thoughts … for Now” (p 283) …]

“Just when we think we’re getting it right, we realize we’re only getting it better.” (p 283)

Selected Notes

2. Definitions of epistemology: ‘The philosophical theory of knowledge — of how we know what we know’ (Marshall, 1998, p. 197). ‘That branch of philosophy which deals with the theory, nature, scope and basis of knowledge, or which investigates the possibility of knowledge itself . … The critical study of the principles, hypotheses and findings of the various sciences’ (Macey, 2001, p. 114).

7. For a more thorough discussion of anti-oppressive theories, please see the earlier chapter by Mehmoona Moosa-Mitha in this book.

8. Critical theory: ‘Critical theory springs from an assumption that we live amid a world of pain, that much can be done to alleviate that pain, and that theory has a crucial role to play in that process’ (Poster as quoted in Lather, 1991, p. 3).

9. For us, social justice means transforming the way resources and relationships are produced and distributed so that all people can live dignified lives in a way that is ecologically sustainable. Our critical view of social justice includes social sustainability, intergenerational equity, global justice, and eco-centric justice (Ife, 2002, pp. 75–78). It takes direct aim at the sources that reproduce structural disadvantage, whether those are through institutions, like income security, or through human relations, such as racism. It is also about creating new ways of thinking and being, not only criticizing the status quo. Social justice means acting from a standpoint of those who have the least power and influence, relying on the wisdom of the oppressed (Ife, 2002, p. 88).

Selected References

  • Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, & Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. (2014). Research Involving the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples of Canada. In Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (pp. 109–137). Ottawa, ON: Secretariat on Responsible Conduct of Research. Retrieved from www.pre.ethics.gc.ca
  • Ife, J. (2002). Community development: Community-based alternatives in an age of globalization (2nd edition). Frenchs Forest, NSW: Pearson Education Australia.
  • Lather, P. (1991). Getting smart: Feminist research and pedagogy with/in the postmodern. New York: Routledge.
  • Macey, D. (2001). The Penguin dictionary of critical theory. London: Penguin Books.
  • Marcotte, G. (1995). Métis c’est may nation. ‘Your Own People,’ comme on dit: Life histories from Eva, Evelyn, Priscilla, and Jennifer Richard. Paper prepared for the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.
  • Marshall, G. (Ed.). (1998). A dictionary of sociology (2nd edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • van Krieken, R. (2003). Norbert Elias. In A. Elliott and L. Ray (Eds.), Key contemporary social theorists. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Weber-Pillwax, C. (1999). Indigenous research methodology: Exploratory discussion of an elusive subject. The Journal of Educational Thought 3 (1), 31–45.
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