Smith (2012). Research through Imperial Eyes. (Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples.)

Smith, L. T. (2012). Research through Imperial Eyes. In Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (Second edition, pp. 44-60). Dunedin: Otago University Press.

“Positivism takes a position that applies views about how the natural world can be examined and understood to the social world of human beings and human societies. Understanding is viewed as being akin to measuring. … From an indigenous perspective Western research is more than just research that is located in a positivist tradition. It is research which brings to bear, on any study of indigenous peoples, a cultural orientation, a set of values, a different conceptualization of such things as time, space and subjectivity, different and competing theories of knowledge, highly specialized forms of language, and structures of power.” (p 59)

“Stuart Hall makes the point that the West is an idea or concept, a language for imagining a set of complex stories, ideas, historical events and social relationships. Hall suggests that the concept of the West functions in ways which (1) allow ‘us’ to characterize and _classify_ societies into categories, (2) condense complex images of other [page break] societies through a _system of representation_, (3) provide a standard _model of comparison_, and (4) provide _criteria of evaluation_ against which other societies can be ranked.1” (p 59-60)

[“The Cultural Formations of Western Research” (p 61) …]

“Foucault also suggests that the archive reveals ‘rules of practice’ which the West itself cannot necessarily describe because it operates within the rules and they are taken for granted.” (p 61)

“… colonized peoples share a language of colonization, share knowledge about their colonizers, and, in terms of a political project, share the same struggle for decolonization. It also means that colonizers, too, share a language and knowledge of colonization.” (p 62)

[“The Intersections of Race and Gender” (p 62) …]

“Medieval literature and art represent fabulous monsters and half-human, half-animal creatures from far-off places. According to Goldberg, concern about these images led to ‘observers [being] overcome by awe, repulsion and fear of the implied threat to spiritual life and the political state’.8 Goldberg argues that whilst these early beliefs and images ‘furnished models that modern racism would assume and transform according to its own lights’, there was no explicit category or space in medieval thought for racial differentiation.9 What did happen, according to Goldberg, was that the ‘savage’ was internalized as a psychological and moral space within the individual that required ‘repression, denial and disciplinary restraint’.10” (p 62)

“Different historical ideas about men and women were enacted through social institutions such as marriage, family life, the class system and ecclesiastic orders.12 These institutions were underpinned by economic systems, notions of property and wealth, and were increasingly legitimated in the West through Judaeo-Christian beliefs. Economic changes from feudal to capitalist modes of production influenced the construction of the ‘family’ and the relations of women and men in Western societies.” (p 63)

“Several different and differentiated sets of ideas and representations are to be ‘retrieved’ and ‘enunciated’ in the historically specific context of this claim. In summary these may be classified as: (1) a legal framework inherited from Britain, which includes views about what constitutes admissible evidence and valid research; (2) a ‘textual’ orientation, which will privilege the written text (seen as expert and research-based) over oral testimonies (a concession to indigenous ‘elders’); (3) views about science, which will allow for the efficient selection and arrangement of ‘facts’; (4) ‘rules of practice’ such as ‘values’ and ‘morals’, which all parties to the process are assumed to know and to have given their ‘consent’ to abide by, for example, notions of ‘goodwill’ and ‘truth telling’; (5) ideas about subjectivity and objectivity which have already determined the constitution of the Tribunal and its ‘neutral’ legal framework, but which will continue to frame the way the case is heard; (6) ideas about time and space, views related to history, what constitutes the appropriate length of a hearing, ‘shape’ of a claim, size of the panel; (7) views about human nature, individual accountability and culpability; (8) the selection of speakers and experts, who speaks for whom, whose knowledge is presumed to be the ‘best fit’ in relation to a set of proven ‘facts’; and (9) the politics of the Treaty of Waitangi and the way those politics are managed by politicians and other agencies such as the media.” (p 64)

[“Conceptualizations of the Individual and Society” (p 64) …]

“Classical Greek philosophy is regarded as the point at which ideas about these relationships changed from ‘naturalistic’ explanations to humanistic explanations. Naturalistic explanations linked nature and life as one and humanistic explanations separate people out from the world around them, and place humanity on a higher plane (than animals and plants) because of such characteristics as language and reason.14” (p 65)

“The separation between mind and body, the investing of a human person with a soul, a psyche and a consciousness, the distinction between sense and reason, definitions of human virtue and morality, are cultural constructs. … Descartes developed this dualism further, making distinctions which would relate to the separate disciplines required to study the body (physiology) and the mind (psychology). His distinctions are now referred to as the Cartesian dualism. Hegel reasoned that the split was dialectical, meaning that there was a contradictory interplay between the two ideas and the form of debate required to develop these ideas.” (p 65)

“Christianity, when organized into a system of power, brought to bear on these basic concepts a focus of systematic study and debate which could then be used to regulate all aspects of social and spiritual life.” (p 66)

“Western philosophies and religions place the individual as the basic building block of society. The transition from feudal to capitalist modes of production simply emphasized the role of the individual. … Hegel’s dialectic of the self and society has become the most significant model for thinking about this relationship. His master [page break] -slave construct has served as a form of analysis which is both psychological and sociological, and in the colonial context highly political.” (p 66-67)

“Rousseau … highly romanticized and idealized view of human nature. … linked the natural world to an idea of innocence and purity, and the developed world to corruption and decay.” (p 67)

“A major sociological concern becomes a struggle over the extent to which individual consciousness and reality shapes, or is shaped by, social structure. During the nineteenth century this view of the individual and society became heavily influenced by social Darwinism.” (p 67)

[“Conceptions of Space” (p 68) …]

“Similar claims can be made about other concepts, such as time and space. … the Maori word for time or space is the same. Other indigenous languages have no related word for either space or time, having instead a series of very precise terms for parts of these ideas, or for relationships between the idea and something else in the environment.” (p 68)

“Foucault’s metaphor of the cultural archive is an architectural image. The archive not only contains artefacts of culture, but is itself an artefact and a construct of culture.” (p 69)

[“Conceptions of Time” (p 71) …]

“The links between the industrial revolution, the Protestant ethic, imperialism and science can be discussed in terms of time and the organization of social life. … a working-class evangelical movement which linked work to salvation contributed to a potent cultural mix. In Africa, the Americas and the Pacific, Western observers were struck by the contrast in the way time was used (or rather, not used or organized) by indigenous peoples. Representations of ‘native life’ as being devoid of work habits, and of [page break] native people being lazy, indolent, with low attention spans, is part of a colonial discourse that continues to this day.” (p 71-72)

“The connection between time and ‘work’ became more important after the arrival of missionaries and the development of more systematic colonization. The belief that ‘natives’ did not value work or have a sense of time provided ideological justification for exclusionary practices which reached across such areas as education, land development and employment.” (p 72)

“Progress could be ‘measured’ in terms of technological advancement and spiritual salvation. Progress is evolutionary and teleological and is present in both liberal and Marxist ideas about history.” (p 73)

“What has come to count as history in contemporary society is a contentious issue for many indigenous communities because it is not only the story of domination; it is also a story which assumes that there was a ‘point in time’ which was ‘prehistoric’.” (p 73)

“Through the controls over time and space the individual can also operate at a distance from the universe. … Distance again separated the individuals in power from the subjects they governed. It was all so impersonal, rational and extremely effective.” (p 74)

Selected References

  • 1. Hall, S. (1992). The West and the Rest: Discourse and Power. In (Eds S. Hall and B. Gielben) Formations of Modernity. Polity Press and Open University, Cambridge.
  • 4. Foucault, M. (1972). The Archaeology of Knowledge. Trans. A. Sheridan Smith. Pantheon, New York.
  • 6. Goldberg, D. T. (1993). Racist Culture, Philosophy and the Politics of Meaning. Blackwell, Oxford.
  • 12. Erler, M. and Kowaleski, M. (1988). Women and Power in the Middle Ages. University of Georgia Press, Athens.
  • 14. Brennan, J. F. (1991). Racist Culture: The History and Systems of Psychology (Third edition). Prentice Hall International, New Jersey.
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