- Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoplesby Linda Tuhiwai Smith
In May 2012 the highly anticipated second edition of Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples(2012) was released by Zed Books. In the thirteen years since it was first published, Decolonizing Methodologieshas been translated into a number of languages and read widely, consulted by both activists and scholars alike— surely making it one of the most influential and oft-cited works [End Page 458]in contemporary social science research and discourse. I urge those who have not yet found this text and would wish to work or collaborate with minority-status communities, especially with native or indigenous peoples, or who are intrigued by the possibilities opened up by indigenous perspectives—to take a look at this book. It is a must-read text. To those who have read the first edition, I urge you to pick up a copy of this new edition, as it features new, updated, and revised materials.
In evoking the politics of decolonization in her title, Linda Smith is explicit in her message: this is a book about power. Originally written for an indigenous audience, intending to help other indigenous researchers think through community-based research initiatives with indigenous communities, Decolonizing Methodologiesis neither a technical book nor a revolutionary manifesto. Instead, Smith uses this text to disrupt the dehumanizing gaze of “objective” research. She is deliberate with her language, theoretical concepts, and arguments to explain how historically, “research through imperial eyes” has worked to oppress indigenous peoples and suppress indigenous knowledges. However, with Decolonizing Methodologies, Smith teaches us that decolonizing is not about the tools, per se, but is instead about one’s approach and relations to research—whether it is called that or not. 1Reframing these conversations as research methodologies, Smith is able to provide a touchstone between these two worlds—research and indigenous peoples. By repositioning these relations, she is able to use Decolonizing Methodologiesto center community—and culturally derived assumptions about the nature, importance of, and relations to research as one’s relations to others—thus (re-)affirming the importance and value of research for indigenous communities and other communities “in the margins.”
While working primarily in the realm of the theoretical, Smith’s purpose for the material in part I is to provide her readers with both a foundation and a contextualization of an indigenous paradigm. She uses chapters 1–6 to simplify the complex connections among imperialism, writing, history, theory, and the larger projects of modernity. Tracing how native peoples have been integrated within these systems and relations of power, Smith demonstrates the inherently political nature of research. From its informal beginnings as travelers’ tales to its more insidiously developed forms of biocolonialism in the neoliberal era, research—especially as far as indigenous peoples are concerned—is not and has never been neutral in its gaze or objective in its examinations [End Page 459]of the “Other.” For Indigenous peoples, who have not only been Other-ed but also commodified, the relations between who studies and whom or what is being studied reflects only one aspect of a larger and quite lucrative imperial project of “trading the Other” (2012: 92–93).
Because of its theoretical insights and rigor, part I has been popular among (western/non-indigenous) scholarly audiences. However, Smith’s overall purpose is not simply to challenge—deconstruct—the presupposed objectivity in social science research. While an imagination is needed by both researchers and activists to “see” struggle, the imagination on its own is not enough for emancipation, nor is it politicized at its inception. Instead she instructs her readers on the necessity of action—a “doing”—to transform this theoretical imaginary into a politicized consciousness. And as she demonstrates in part II, the imaginary and the political must connect to confront the imperialist impulses of the west—we need imagination to see struggles; and struggle, sometimes aided by research, can be successful in effecting transformative social change for indigenous communities. To make this connection for...