Decolonizing Research

John Traxler

There is considerable work around ‘decolonising’ in education. There is, for example, much work on ‘decolonising the curriculum’. It is happening within the institutions of the UK and Canadian education sectors, exploring how every minority community is fed through a curriculum dominated by the ideas, values and personalities of the historical metropolitan, white, European majority, and it is happening in those ex-colonies of not just Britain, but also Spain, Russia, Portugal, France and Holland, not to mention Ottoman Turkey and Czarist Russia, exploring how settler, conqueror or colonialist ideas, institutions and structures still dominate local, indigenous and regional cultures. It is however also happening, or beginning to happen, as academics and activists question the dominance of anglophone global digital technology corporations over even the most powerful education systems. 

 It also has resonance with repatriation movements, for example of Benin bronzes to Nigeria and the Parthenon frieze – known of course as the ‘Elgin marbles’ after their colonial expropriator - and criticism of governments and corporations in their appropriation and exploitation of indigenous knowledge, in for example Australia and South Africa, with for example traditional remedies. In the Canadian context, Indigenous groups are in the process of repatriating significant cultural artifacts from museums--including the Vatican museums.


This ‘decolonising learning spaces’ project focuses is looking at research tools and techniques and how to review and replace mainly white-European tools and techniques with ones hopefully more appropriate to a developing global network of indigenous and marginal communities. It grows out of Marguerite’s work with some First Nations colleagues and communities in Canada and from John’s work with various groups across Africa. Our project team is also concerned to explore research project ethics and research project governance in these contexts.


There is however a different and additional challenge to some research projects, namely those projects seeking external funding. That challenge is ensuring that project partners and individual researchers are rewarded and recompensed in ways that recognise their different cultures, situations and values.


The following discussion illustrates an ongoing attempt to ‘decolonise’ the ways we approach non-Western European partners and those researchers, professional or emerging, working outside the established forms of research employment when we build our project consortia. It is an attempt to avoid imposing European values and processes on other diverse and different communities. In the background however we must continue to recognise funders’ requirements in terms of probity, oversight, documentation, audit trails and the avoidance of financial exposure and risk.


The position is that many of us work on networks, bids, projects and programmes with overseas research collaborators in the global South. We hope that developing these will embody and enhance fairness and transparency, that no-one involved in these collaborations feels themselves treated unfairly in terms of workload, remuneration, reward, risk or promotion. However, many potential Principal Investigators (PIs), working in the universities of the global North, hoping to build consortia and hoping to access international development funds, wanting to deal fairly with potential colleagues in the global South, do not know the answer to questions such as,


·       How will your work on the proposed project be rewarded? Will your university pay you extra or reduce your other workload? What is the usual practice at your university? How do your colleagues engage with externally funded projects?

·       Is research recognised as a route to promotion at your university? What kind of support do you need to promote the impact and importance of your work on our proposed project? 

·       What is a reasonable rate of pay for your contribution to the project? Are there established or formalised rates? Are there precedents from comparable projects? Are there problems with inflation, exchange rates and prompt processing of payments?

·       How might your work on the project enhance your career and promotion? Do you need research publications or conference presentations or membership or press coverage? Are exchanges and visits useful for your career or support with research degree fees?

·       How will your university administer the project finances? Will you have any administrative support? Will your university take financial responsibility? Is it familiar with auditing requirements? Would all of the project funds be made available to you and under your control? What sorts of expenditure, expenses and per diems can you claim for working on a proposed project?


Ignorance of the answers to these kinds of questions amongst potential PIs in the global North makes it difficult and sometimes embarrassing to build equitable consortia. We are developing an open, transparent and accessible forum and knowledge base that will capture the circumstances and situations of researchers and academics in the global South and their institutions, their ministries, their donors and their regulators in order to build much greater equity into relationships and transactions amongst the research community. We hope that the decolonisation of the ways in which in which we fund and reward individuals and communities can go hand-in-hand with initiatives to decolonise educational technology, and research methods, ethics and governance.


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