Thoughts, writing & snippets

Marguerite Koole, PhD

Research is Ceremony

mkoole, · Categories: E-Research, Indigenous education, Research · Tags: , , , ,

This desk is very similar to the one my grandfather used

I have submitted my thesis to my committee, and now I am preparing for my viva. I’ve decided to re-read some of the key sources that I have cited. And, I have decided to do some reading around and somewhat outside of the works upon which I have drawn.

I have been awaiting an opportunity to read:

Wilson, S. (2008). Research is ceremony: Indigenous research methods. Fernwood Publishing: Winnipeg, Manitoba.

This was a great choice after having done so much concentration on other methodologies and having written up my own PhD research in a standardly more formal Western European style. (Although I must admit that writing from a social constructivist perspective and within an interpretivist paradigm, I used a combination of both first and third person singular.) Research as Ceremony was written using a more inclusive voice. The author, Shawn Wilson, began the book as if he was writing to his sons. He later addressed the reader directly in the second person. This style is very engaging. It is nice to follow. The book reads more like a narrative interspersed with some definitions (epistemology, ontology, axiology, methodology, etc.)

Wilson presents this work about indigenous research in a humble manner, honouring the indigenous voice. For me as an aspiring researcher of European descent, the most striking message is the significance of relationships. Although I took a relational perspective on my own research of identity of doctoral students in networked learning, the nature of relationship as I read it in this book extends much deeper. Respectful and trusting relationships amongst people is of vital importance. But, there are also relationships with the land, other creatures, ideas, and the cosmos. Spirituality seems inherently embedded within this view. All are interrelated.

The narrative style, addressing his sons and introducing other indigenous scholars from around the world, offers a sense of relationship to the reader. Interestingly, I wondered if I had met one of the scholars in St. Paul, Alberta at a workshop I had attended several years ago. He seemed familiar to me. Although not of this tradition, I feel that I started to sense how relationships enrich inquiry.

The author paints a picture of his struggle to work within the dominant paradigm of academic research and the indigenous way. Particularly interesting for me was the discussion of ethics. The research ethics boards with which I have interacted support work in which the participants’ identities remain anonymous. I understand that this protects participants–particularly when the subject of research is sensitive. However, because relationships are so significant for understanding indigenous worldviews, the obfuscation of identities can decontextualize and render the research less meaningful. It could even create misunderstanding. Also, identifying contributors is part of honouring them and recognizing that research is collaborative. I am probably not articulating this as well as I should, but it is such an interesting juxtaposition from what I previously held to be “common sense” research ethics. For me, this shows the richness and value of examining perspectives outside of one’s own. What makes our research meaningful–especially as we take such extreme measures to hide identities and decontextualize our research in an effort to reach some nebulous level of “objectiveness”?

Here is an interesting quote which the author cited from an elder named Eber Hampton:

Emotionless, passionless, abstract, intellectual, academic research is a goddamn lie, it does not exist. It is a lie to ourselves and a lie to other people. Humans–feeling, living, breathing, thinking humans–do research. When we try to cut ourselves off at the neck and pretend an objectivity that does not exist in the human world, we become dangerous to ourselves first, and then to the people around us. (1995, p. 52)

Furthermore, there is a relationship of the research to self: “If research doesn’t change you as a person, then you haven’t done it right”. I like that view. It’s what my own recent research was about: how people change as they do their doctoral studies, as they do research.

Here are the main principles cited from Atkinson (2001, p. 10 cited in Wilson, 2008, p. 59):


Reading this book left me in a reflective mood. Two thumbs up. (I’d give it more, but that’s all I have!)