In this chapter, I begin to examine some reasons for the harsh reactions we are increasingly hearing against western academic incursions into other--especially indigenous--cultures. In this and the following four chapters, I examine western (particularly academic) ways of understanding the world, our attitudes toward it, and the actions that result from them, to try to ascertain what continues to bring these criticisms to bear and what validity they have, and thereafter, I hope, what we can do to change the situation. Chapter 3 will address western academic (personal and institutional) conceptions of our purposes in carrying out studies and the means we use in undertaking them. I wish to make it clear at the start that the source of my wish to pursue this investigation is not a wholesale dismissal of the value of western scholarship but a personal recognition that the time has come for deep re-evaluation of what we are doing.
We have seen that, as western academics, we continue to stand accused, especially among indigenous critics, of elitism, racism, colonialism, self-centeredness of vision, and ethnocentrism--a continuing colonial insistence, in other words, on the primary value, even necessity, of our own cultural perspectives. Often this insistence is not baldly stated, but these failings are destructive in and of themselves and need remedial attention within the cultures of western and western-trained scholars since they damage both those of us who practice within these cultures and our students. I argue that the colonial nature of the academy is internal to the higher educational system (as it is also within elementary and secondary education) and therefore, the individuals in it carry out colonial actions by being part of the system. In the tide of choices and decisions--what to vote for, who to pass, who to fail, who to hire--the individual can also lose sight of the larger shape of the vehicle s/he is riding. Although many good changes may be made, the overall direction of the institution remains colonial in that it continues to ready students for participation in a global corporate enterprise. Fortunately, these aspects of academic process are more noticeably destructive when brought to bear on cultures colonized by our own. I say "fortunately" because by paying practical attention (i.e., attention with deep- and far-reaching personal consequences) to specific criticisms of indigenous scholars like Edward Said, Paula Gunn Allen, Manu Meyer, Vilsoni Hereniko, Linda Tuhiwai Smith, and Epi Enari (and other indigenous academics who have an outside as well as an inside view on the effects of values and practices we take for granted), we have the opportunity to take a critical look at these assumptions and practices and to make fundamental change a priority. Even though the scholars I mention here work within western academies, they have, as Gunn Allen points out (Chapter 2 above), an understanding that arises from within their own cultures and that gives them an outside view of the western academy useful in assessing our role in colonialism.
The first point concerns intent or purpose, which can be divided into two parts--personal intent and the purposes of the larger academic body. I speak generally here, even in the case of the individual researcher, because personal differences can be acknowledged within a larger common matrix--the purposes of the individual scholar are limited by criteria for acceptable purposes of research. Purposes from an individual researcher's point of view in the mainstream western academy, may be to satisfy the desire to know more, perhaps to solve mysteries, and to uncover and speak supportable (whatever that means in the discipline in question) public truths (endnote 1) within her area of expertise and according to the magnets of her personal interests. She sees herself working to advance knowledge in her field, and speaking truths is confined within the field she works in.
Although specific criteria for determining what is true, developing specialized languages or jargon to delineate research results, and so on, are particularized within disciplines, and although each individual experiences the induction in a different way, becoming an academic is still very much a process of being inducted into a larger self-contained society, and the process of induction can be likened to learning to function in a new sub-culture with its own rules for proper behavior. (endnote 2) The process of assimilation to the academic cultural milieu begins in graduate school, and the trainee finds herself adopting a new language, being pressed to change class loyalties if she is not already from an academic family, doing what is necessary to become comfortable and/or accepted. Having passed through demanding rites of passage, such as being assessed for years, taking grueling area exams, and writing a dissertation, loyalty of the mainstream western researcher usually turns to the academy, and the intent of the researcher is confined to improving and adding to knowledge within the context of academic culture. As Mary Louise Pratt comments in "Fieldwork in Common Places," it is "the larger agenda of European expansion in which the ethnographer, regardless of his or her own attitudes to it, is caught up...that determines the ethnographer's own material relationship to the group under study" (42).
What drives academic research at a personal level and at an institutional level may be different and are, for the most part, hidden from each other, particularly since individual scholars tend to be insulated from the consequences of their research on those they study. Originating in the work of radical scholars to preserve academic freedoms during the McCarthy era, attaining tenure also now serves as protection against pressure on the researcher/teacher from big money/capitalist interests. Today, however, tenure is also threatened, and the push of corporations to engage scholars in economic globalization encourages academics who are thinking about such things to renew a stand for scholarship that stands against multinational corporate visions of globalization and works against it with, for instance, discussions of what alternative grassroots globalization might mean.
Such discussions within the academy, however, may turn academics inward into a self-contained conversation among themselves, partially to safeguard against involvement in imperialism. But, as Linda Tuhiwai Smith points out, so much has western scholarship been embroiled in imperialism that indigenous scholars look on any western academic research with suspicion (1). Many avoid participation because whatever new forms it takes are "viewed as the convenient invention of Western intellectuals which reinscribes their power to define the world" (Decolonizing Methodologies 14). Rotuman scholar and playwright Vilsoni Hereniko asks western scholars to recognize our implication in the larger colonial purposes of the institutional academy: "The researcher in the Pacific who is not committed to empowering the native people as they struggle to transform social injustices and inequalities is, ultimately, an agent of the status quo" ("Indigenous Knowledge" 88). Indigenous people are particularly disempowered by misrepresentation, no matter whether in tourist-luring caricatures or in academic treatises. We need to consider, as Abu-Lughod says quoting Riesman, "'that we are using other people for our own purposes all the time,'" and "using the knowledge they give us for goals they would never imagine themselves" (159).
Linda Krumholz has asked, "[I]s it possible for white or non-Indian literary critics, or any critics in white academic institutions, to resist a reading practice that appropriates and diffuses Native American literature and its potentially subversive differences?" (109). Hereniko offers one answer: "[T]heory serves only the needs of the researcher, and sometimes the dominant culture that he or she usually represents. It will no longer do to claim 'objectivity' or 'impartiality' in the name of academic integrity" (88). We see that although the colonial-driven purposes of the academy can be separated from the intent of individual scholars, they cannot be separated entirely. The placement of western scholars in the production of knowledge, particularly in description of the cultural products of other cultures, is compromised by our positions of power (privilege in voice, economics, prestige) in the western academy. However underprivileged we may feel, western and western-trained academics inhabit a privileged buffer between the lower echelons of society and the very wealthy upper echelons. We are part of an economic class system, a fact that it is embarrassing and therefore difficult to acknowledge. It is challenging to stand upon claims of being a radical scholar while holding on to the quite substantial privileges that go with being faculty at a university. The university pays the bills, and the department forms a familial culture of its own that puts the academic under pressure to conform to the intent of the whole. The advantages are solidly economic as well as prestigious; they are material in the most literal as well as psychic and psychological ways. This is so however much we may choose to believe we are underpaid.
As western and western-trained scholars, then, we cannot ignore our embroilment in the larger purposes of universities, their economic and philosophical affiliations with colonizing government bodies, corporations, and endowments. It will be necessary to investigate what "being committed to empowering the native people as they struggle to transform social injustices and inequalities" might mean.
My second point has to do with the means used to undertake scholarship. The means a western-trained literary (in the wider meaning of "literary" discussed in the Introduction) scholar uses to progress in his work will include reading commentaries, including unpublished manuscripts, talking to other western scholars, conducting interviews, attending relevant events, and so on, and then applying his academic training and understanding to the object of his focus.
For a successful paper to be published within the western academy, it is not necessary that the western or western-trained scholar enter the culture of the writer he is studying in any other way than by reading. His means of scholarship can be completely exterior to the culture he is studying. It is usually the academic work community of the scholar which is the audience and beneficiary of his study, not the community which was or which produced the content of his work, and this separation of the scholar from the context in which the text was produced deeply affects the means used in conceiving of the problems to be studied, forming ideas, and drawing conclusions. As David Gegeo points out in "Cultural Rupture and Indigeneity,"
The individualistic, careerist approach of Anglo-European scholarship often means that after publishing a few articles or maybe a book on a topic, the scholar moves on to something else....The perspective of a growing number of us Pacific Islands scholars, however, is to approach research from a communitarian perspective, that is, research that is...carried out for the good of the whole community and emanates from the community's Indigenous epistemology/ies and methodologies. For us... who follow this path, then, a problem like 'development' is laid to rest only after it has been truly solved in a manner that meaningfully benefits the community, especially rural people. (492)
Inseparable from the conduct or means of the research, the western or western-focused scholar will be concerned with advancement in his field, the reputation of his institution, collaboration with academic colleagues and concern for their esteem. Linda Tuhiwai Smith says in her Introduction that the academy can amount to an encircled fortress because of focuses such as these which separate the default methods a western scholar pursues from the world of the community being studied, though she also acknowledges attempts of western scholars to work with indigenous communities in partnership (17).
Another related separation within the academy is that the area of study, for a western scholar, will usually encompass no more than her work. In western culture, work, play, spirituality, and home and family life are often sharply separated. The line between them is ideally to be kept distinct, although in more humanitarian academic work places--U.H. Manoa English Department being one--mothers and fathers can bring their children to work. The scholarly work itself, however, should not (a "should" that is impossible in practice but which underlies and shapes means) be affected by the other parts of her world and vice versa. That the objectivity of it "should not" be affected by one's rage over injustices one is writing about, or by low pay, or by embroilment in a bad relationship, or by a run-in with someone from the culture one is writing about, or...or...or..., affects how, as scholars, we go about our studies and how we go about our lives. Part of the implication of David Gegeo's quote above is that study and life must become integrated if scholarship is to be useful to those being studied.
There are further separations within the academic workplace, as Wendy Bishop points out in her article, "Learning Our Own Ways":
[P]rimarily when we move into that rarefied air of our professional lives...we give ourselves over wholeheartedly to what Mary Savage describes as 'academentia.' At that moment, our carefully negotiated and necessarily composite personality shivers, cracks, faults, and folds under, and we resay ourselves, becoming decontextualized as a 'Shakespearean,' a 'Melville specialist,' or, in the lesser ranks, a 'feminist,' 'compositionist,' 'fiction writer' or 'poet.' (339)
Because of the requirements of objectivity (see Chapter 4) in western scholarship, together with separations between different areas of our lives, the inclusion of a scholar's spiritual or political beliefs in scholarship is particularly taboo, since objectivity requires temporary removal from those parts of one's self that have feelings, that claim faith, that root for athletics teams or political parties, that are partial, from the study. As Lila Abu-Lughod writes, "it is the language of those who seem to stand apart from and outside of what they are describing" (150).
In fact, such separations are part of the way language works in western culture (endnote 3), where divisions between the languages of scholarship and e.g., spiritual, political, personal relationship, is not superficial, as Ludwig Wittgenstein has shown at length in his discussions of language games in Philosophical Investigations, On Certainty, and other places. The internal logic of the language games (not to take the metaphor too far, as some do, and suppose language games to be real games that we can choose to play or not to play (endnote 4)) of religion in western cultures, for instance, will produce claims, beliefs, and so on that logically cannot be addressed in the language games of science and vice versa. Religion and science in the west have sharply separate paradigms on which they rest and, consequently, sharply separate criteria for judging truth, assessing good work, and so on. If the two kinds of utterances are mixed--a not uncommon occurrence since both fields of thought have areas of language in common and we tend not to realize when the same words are being used in very different ways and with very different areas of reference--confusion and nonsense result, as when scientists use scientific method to show the existence or non-existence of God and when religious thinkers address the claims of science from within a religious framework (for instance, see Philosophical Investigations #65ff, 136 and pp.225, 221, 174 and On Certainty #47, 65).
To illustrate language game confusion, an article in the Washington Post, "Tracing the Synapses of Our Spirituality," documents current scientific research on "What creates that transcendental feeling of being one with the universe?" and answers "It could be the decreased activity in the brain's paretal lobe, which helps regulate the sense of self and physical orientation" (Vedantam A01) (endnote 5). In this case, "what" in the scientific question "What creates that transcendental feeling..." is not the same as the "what" in a spiritual seeker's version of the question. The criteria and expectations for answering are completely different in the two different language games, and the words "what" in the two questions have very different areas of contextual coverage, which cannot be ignored without creating what Wittgenstein calls "nonsense" because the scientific (in this case biochemical) language game, to be recognized as scientific, excludes the language game components of spirituality, even though some of the words may be the same. (endnote 6)
In the above quote, it is not what we call "spirituality" but the scientifically described workings of the brain that are being described. In Science News, a neurologist who experienced "an eternal state of affairs" after studying Zen meditation for eight years and spending a sabbatical year at a Zen center, explains her experience by investigating "brain processes that underlie spiritual or mystical encounters" (Bower 104). Accepting an experience as spiritual involves believing in the existence of the experience independent of the chemical workings of the brain. The neurologist's scientific explorations are not investigations of her spiritual experience, and her findings will not explain that experience. They may only explain, as she says, what goes on physically while such experiences are happening. In examinations like this, where Bruce Bower looks at how "[s]cientists confront the hazy realm of spiritual enlightenment," spiritual enlightenment is only "hazy" if examined through the lens of the scientific criteria for "clarity" (99). There is a mixture of language territories going on that confuses an experience of enlightenment (spiritual language) with chemical (and other physical) processes in the body (scientific language). One cannot explain the other as Wittgenstein shows in relation to a similar problem in philosophy--the temptation to explain thinking/thought via questions that are framed by natural science:
109. [O]ur considerations could not be scientific ones. It was not of any possible interest to us to find out empirically "that, contrary to our preconceived ideas, it is possible to think such-and-such"--whatever that may mean....And we may not advance any kind of theory. There must not be anything hypothetical in our considerations. We must do away with all explanations, and description alone must take its place. And this description gets its light...its purpose, from the philosophical problems. These are...not empirical problems; they are solved...by looking into the workings of our language....Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language. (Phil. Investigations 47e)
Humanities discourse in the west is coincidental with scientific discourse, not, for instance, with spiritual or religious discourse, in that the criteria we use for judging satisfactory scholarship--such as objectivity, empirical (endnote 7) verifiability, separation of subject and object, and cause and effect (see discussion of the MLA Handbook in Chapter 4)--are also expected in the humanities. In the means we employ, the public work of a western-trained scholar (though not indigenous scholars employing indigenous epistemologies, as I shall show in Chapter 7) is often separate from the spiritual, emotional, and other parts of her life. This is so even for scholars passionately involved in their disciplines since intellectual passion can be and is often divorced from feeling empathy with the "objects" of one's study. This has important implications for how a scholar sees the ethics of her profession, as Paula Gunn Allen and Linda Smith point out. Gunn Allen writes,
Ethically, a professor is responsible to provide students with the most complete, coherent information available, and in teaching Native American literature providing the best information includes drawing from ritual and mythic sources that have bearing on the text....But to use the oral tradition directly is to run afoul of native ethics, which is itself a considerable part of the tradition. Using the tradition while contravening it is to do violence to it. The ethical issue is both political and metaphysical.... ("Teaching Silko" 379)
Indigenous scholars such as Lynette Cruz, Keala Kelly, Noenoe Silva, and Paula Gunn Allen, Jon Osorio, Linda Tuhiwai Smith, and Manu Meyer know themselves under obligation to proceed with respect for what can and cannot be said, for protocol, and, as Gegeo says, for the good of the community as defined by the community.
Linda Smith comments,
[T]he West can desire, extract and claim ownership of our ways of knowing, our imagery, the things we create and produce, and then simultaneously reject the people who created and developed those ideas and seek to deny them further opportunities to be creators of their own culture and own nations. (Decolonizing Methodologies 1)
The required separation between parts of our lives in western academic culture makes it not only acceptable but necessary to stay aloof from involvement in the life of what we are studying. "Aloof" from the life of what one is studying does not necessarily mean without passion, as I say above. Colonizers have surely sometimes been passionate people who, however, suffer from a lack of emotional and spiritual empathy with those they colonize. Such a distancing separation is what makes it possible for a western-trained scholar to see no theory in a discussion of writing in the Pacific by the writers themselves. No theory is perceived because the theory arises from within the practice; it is part and parcel of the whole lives of the writers, not separate from it, as in western academic scholarship.
This separation of experience from theory is akin to arguments between theorists and practitioners in the field of composition, where theorists often fail to see the ongoing theoretical developments that take place in classroom practice because to them, theory is by definition something separate from practice. Practitioners object to theory removed from practice because such theory fails to take into account the reactions, interactions, connections, etc., the lived contexts of the human beings involved in what they are talking about. Marilyn Cochran-Smith and Susan Lytle in a 1990 article point to two models of research in education, one of which (the majority of studies take this form) views teaching as a "primarily linear activity wherein teacher behaviors are considered 'causes,' and student learning is regarded as 'effects.' This approach emphasizes the actions of teachers rather than their professional judgments and attempts to capture the activity of teaching by identifying sets of discrete behaviors reproducible from one teacher and one classroom to the next" (2). The other mode of research they mention does take into account classroom interactions but, "like more traditional interpretive research, [it] often constructs and predetermines teachers' roles in the research process, thereby framing and mediating teachers' perspectives through researchers' perspectives" (3).
Aware that the means western and western-trained scholars use to pursue their studies tends to separate those studies from everyday lived experience, Kanaka Maoli educational theorist Manu Meyer compares placing "utility, spirituality, and context at the core of what it mean[s] to be aware, to engage in things of purpose, and to be shaped by what is meaningful" with what she calls "frivolous knowledge" that has "no meaning" because it is removed from that very utility, spirituality and lived context ("Liberation" 137). In this she echoes what Paula Gunn Allen (page 33 above) says of the separation western academic methods create between lived meaning within a community and scholarly commentary on it: "the data has lost its meaning by virtue of loss of its human context....[whereas] traditional materials, sacred or social, have meaning within the traditional, day to day context of the people who live within it" ("Teaching" 382). The differences between these and other values in the western academy and the values held by indigenous students makes it very difficult for indigenous students to succeed in negotiating academic culture.
Meyer herself is an example of pushing back against the separation between academic relevance and relevance to the community. She has made sure that the Ph.D. on "Native Hawaiian Epistemology" she received from Harvard in 1998 has continuing and increasing hands-on use among those she interviewed for it. In a February 2002 talk at Windward Community College, she recounted the difficulty with which she negotiated the very different expectations and values she encountered at Harvard and how she wrote her dissertation against those values and expectations to support her own views of the world. She brought the knowledge and experience she gained back to Hawai'i to make changes here. In a similar way, Kenyan writer and critic Ngugi wa Thiongo made the decision in the early 1980s to return to his native language Gikuyu in his books and plays, returning his works to the site of their inception.
Meyer quotes Hawaiian language instructor, writer and kumu hula Pua Kanahele: "If I teach a chant just to be teaching a chant, then that's kinda abstract to me. If I'm going to teach a chant because we're going to do ceremony with this chant, then that's functional, that's more lifestyle, but this other way where I have a class of chanting, to me that's like the education system, that's not functional" (137). Utility and ethical use of information--its connection to the daily life of those with whom it originates--are what, according to Meyer, save knowledge from being frivolous and worse, from being used for wrong ends because they are not kept within the context of the original community the information arises from. I believe that respecting and keeping information in its proper context would follow naturally from acting as a friend rather than as an observer.
As I have said before, it is the kind of separation described above that causes Gunn Allen to call academic scholarship witchcraft (endnote 8) because to cut off connection with the life of what one is studying removes life from it, makes friendship impossible. A recent, extreme but relevant experience comes to mind. I was present when a friend whose husband is in the U.S. Marines asked another friend whose husband is a Marine Colonel to call her husband and reassure him about a project she is interested in. The wife of the Colonel said she could not comply because a Colonel cannot fraternize with men underneath him in this way. The reason, she explained, is that he may have to order them into battle where they may be killed. I bring this up because it is an instance of a cultural imperative we accept where one human being may not become involved with another because he may have to order him killed. We may not become involved in the life of what we are studying because in studying it, we remove it from its lived context and thereby remove the life from it. We make it an "it" as the Colonel makes his men "it." We are accused, as Smith reiterates, of being able to kill cultures and the people in them by a similar removal from involvement necessitated by our understanding of what it means to be a good scholar in the west.
To conclude this chapter, both purpose and means in western academic culture are determined on the problematic side by parameters such as conformity to a milieu we have worked to become part of; separation of the academy from everyday life in the community (especially from those that Euroamerican countries have colonized), and of academic theory from the context-integrated theories of practitioners. Such separation from engagement is seen as necessary because of the requirements, for one, of objectivity, which is the subject of the next chapter.
1 For an interesting discussion of "truth" criteria in different situations, see Peter Winch, "Im Anfang war die Tat," 38-39). Winch quotes Wittgenstein to point out that "Really 'the proposition is true or false' only means that it must be possible to decide for or against it. But this does not say what such a decision is like." He goes on, "The equivalence thesis gives us all we can say in general about 'true', but the real work is done by a detailed examination of how it is applied in particular cases, and such an examination yields different results in different cases" (39) [Italics added]. In other words, whether a finding is true in a particular field rests on all kinds of contextual conditions, including what the criteria are for truth in that field. See also Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations 241.
2 In a 1978 study, psychologist Donna Cashell found that "female graduate students...shift their style of communication toward 'male' norms as they advance to higher academic levels" and noted that some male students changed their style as well. She argued in her Introduction that the power of viewpoint embedded in language has serious effects on both the way we experience the world and on the way we view ourselves and thus that the change in language also implies a change in world view: "linguistic meaning is fundamentally a reflection of life experience" (37, 41-44, 61, 135). See also Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations 23, 244, and p.174, and Peter Winch, "Im Anfang" 49-51, for support of this statement. As Gunn Allen points out, academic culture, for instance, considers all information equally available for gathering and analysis--not a given even among westerners outside the academy. Kanaka Maoli Political Science professor Noenoe Silva finds that, like women but to a greater degree, indigenous students find it much more difficult to make the adjustments required for entering academic culture because of the paradigmatic nature of these kinds of values in the academy.
3 In some indigenous cultures, as Mary Churchill says of the Cherokee, these divisions do not exist (7). See Chapter 6 on "Fact and Fiction" for further discussion.
4 Wittgenstein calls them "games" because the way he explained why we call all kinds of different ways of speaking by one word, "language," is similar to the reason we call all kinds of different ways of playing "games," even though there is no one thing they all have in common. They are grouped together by a way of life or ways of life in which they have "family resemblances" (Philosophical Investigations #65ff.).
5 Wittgenstein wrote: "What a curious attitude scientists have-:
'We still don't know that; but it is knowable and it is only a matter
of time before we get to know it! As if that went without saying.--"
(Culture and Value 40e). Of religious belief, he says,
6 This separation raises another question relevant to this dissertation: does it make sense to call the social sciences, anthropology, psychology, and so on "science?" See English philosopher Peter Winch's The Idea of a Social Science (1990 second revised edition) for a discussion of whether calling disciplines that involve human beings "science" is a distortion.
7 For a definition of "empirical" here, I look to Manu Meyer: "the philosophical belief that all knowledge comes from experience and that experience is shaped by our five senses." Following from this, she says, "I believe that if our senses are culturally shaped, then empiricism, itself, is a cultural notion shaped by environment, mores, values, cosmology" ("Our Own Liberation" 147). See also Chapter 4, pp.113-114.
8 I am using this word here in a negative sense because that is how Gunn Allen uses it in her paper, in Pueblo and other Indian contexts. It has other non-negative meanings in other contexts, such as Wicca.