21 June 2017 — Exploring Research: Voices, Culture & Identity

Published June 21, 2017

Work is underway for my study abroad experience in Winter & Spring 2018. This page outlines the academic work I’m doing the Autumn quarter prior to my departure to Samoa.

The theme this quarter is “Exploring Research: Voices, Culture & Identity.” Why this theme?

As a U.S. American Pacific Islander student, I am quite aware of the under-representation of Pacific Islanders in mainstream academia. Nevertheless, the fact that I am a University of Washington student positions me within an institution that maintains a colonial relationship with the areas and groups I am studying, even if I can—individually, of course—claim a different relationship to same places and groups. By understanding my positionality this way, I become better aware of the possibilities and potential limits of my work. Through my exploration of the social sciences at UW, I only began to grasp how mindful I need to be when I discuss “research” surrounding marginalized communities, as “research” carries many connotations and implications in ways we might not expect.¹ I worded my quarterly theme the way I did, because I wanted to acknowledge the uneven power relationships between the researcher and the researched. Ultimately, I am envisioning an exploration of ways that communities drive research rather than the other way around—that is, how communities build relationships through engagement in research rather than become subordinated to the interests of the researcher.

Three pieces of the puzzle, one pilot project.

My study abroad project has two parts. The first essentially covers design and scoping work. The second covers refinement and actual execution of the project. The “three pieces” refer to the substantive, methodological, and theoretical components of a research discipline. During the first part of my study abroad project, the work I do will eventually lead to the design and execution of a mini pilot research project. This allows me to determine and refine the scope of my larger research project come 2018.

About “Re-imagining Anthropology in Micronesia”

What does it mean to be an “anthropologist” in Micronesia? What does it mean to be a “social scientist” in the Pacific Islands? As you might imagine, there is not one monolithic set of ways to be any of these. When considering the context in which I do my work, my positionality matters, and thus, the questions become critical for understanding how I build relationships with the Pacific Islander community as a researcher. In this course, I hope to learn about the ways anthropology is done in the Pacific Islands, as well as examine approaches to research that take into account uneven power relationships between anthropologists and Pacific Islanders.

About “Foundations of Social Inquiry” and “Different Ways of Knowing”

Trust me, these are courses about research design, formulation and epistemology (e.g. the “nuts n bolts”). There’s not much information an ordinary onlooker would be interested here, although I will say that without these courses, I would have a pretty hard time getting the ball rolling.

About “Sociology of Culture”

According to the instructor who will be teaching this course: It’s quite ironic that, while the ASA has a whole body of professionals dealing with the sociology of culture, not much about it is taught at the University of Washington. For me, this is an opportunity to examine the sub-discipline and determine what works and what doesn’t in my approaches to culture. This course deals with the substantive and theoretical aspects of the sociological study of culture. Ultimately, my work in the course culminates into a 5-week pilot project that will help me refine the scope of my larger research project in Samoa. In other words, this pilot project will be a…

Precursor to “Social and Environmental Change in Oceania”

Basically, what I presented is an outline of the work I am doing to prepare for the academic aspect of my big semester abroad. There are bits and pieces that go together to make my time abroad that of growth and relationship-building (which will be covered in a separate blog). As such, research is only one part of what I am doing in Samoa—exploring my identity as a U.S. American Pacific Islander is another, perhaps more important part.

For my big research project, 30% design occurs in Week 5 of Autumn quarter, followed by 60% design at the conclusion of the calendar year 2017.

You can support my study abroad project by following my Community and Study Abroad pages. And remember, academics are not all that I do on a regular basis.

¹See Chapter 2, “Research through Imperial Eyes” in Decolonizing Methodologies by Dr. Linda Tuhiwai Smith (2012).