Too Many Deaths: Decolonizing Western Academic Research on Indigenous Cultures
By Gabrielle Welford
A dissertation submitted to the Graduate Division of the University of Hawaii in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in English, May 2003
© 2003 Gabrielle Welford (welford@hawaii.edu)

Chapter 7 - Modes of Thought, Effects

 
Main
 

Title Page, Acknowledgements, Abstract, Table of Contents, Preface

 
Chapter 1 - Introduction
 
Inbetween I
 
Chapter 2 -Approaching Scholarship
 
Inbetween II
 
Chapter 3 - The Western Academy Described: Purpose and Means
 
Inbetween III
 
Chapter 4 - Objectivity
 
Inbetween IV
 
Chapter 5 - Externalization of Viewpoint Unwillingness to be Affected
 
Inbetween V
 
Chapter 6 - Fact and Fiction Written vs. Oral Linear Argument
 
Inbetween VI
 
Chapter 7 - Modes of Thought Effects
 
Inbetween VII
 
Chapter 8 - Examples
 
Inbetween VIII
 
Chapter 9 - What Are Our Options?
 
Inbetween IX
 
Chapter 10 - Conclusion Responsibility
 
Bibliography

 

 

CHAPTER 7
MODES OF THOUGHT
EFFECTS

Chapter 7 will cover ways of thinking that distinguish western academic method and effects western academic research and teaching has on those we study and on ourselves.

Western modes of thought

A ninth element in describing western academic scholarship is what forms we are drawn to as we organize information. Deep implications follow from adoption of western academic forms of thought (see for instance what I have said about objectivity above). I bring in below poet/philosopher David Antin, and philosophers Heidegger and Wittgenstein to this discussion because all three study thought/thinking.

I begin in this section by examining the critique of Fredric Jameson by Aijaz Ahmad in "Jameson's Rhetoric of Otherness and the 'National Allegory.'" I do not ascribe a monolithic style of thought and research styles to "the west," as though there were not very distinct and different cultures and thus different languages and ways of viewing the world that make it up, anymore than I would do for non-western cultures. However, I do, as does Ahmad, insist there are common characteristics of western academic ways of thinking that can serve as pointers in an effort to locate differences and therefore problems in description and commentary (10). I discuss three distinguishing ways of organizing knowledge in the western academy mentioned by Ahmad. The first is binarism or the tendency to oppose constructed extremes against each other, in doing so ignoring what philosopher Elise Peeples calls "the Between," a middle ground of contradictions and/or overlappings which finds only difficult expression in the either/or language dominant in the university (Emperor 206). Although oppositional thinking has been critiqued by Wittgenstein and by Derrida and other deconstructionists, what Wittgenstein views as a temptation to fall into binary thinking and other absolutist strategies has not abated with their critiques. The necessity of talking through and around such temptations continues. The second, related tendency is generalization or positing a "supposedly unitary object" to which characteristics are attached (Ahmad 4). Both are related to the third, theory building.

To summarize Ahmad's critique, he finds serious problems to do with theory building, generalization, and binarism in Jameson's article "Third World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capital." Jameson, Ahmad says, constructs a totalizing "theory of the cognitive aesthetics of third-world literature," using which, he is able to homogenize all third world literature under the category "national allegory" (3). After pointing out serious problems (which do not arise, he says, when talking of a more unitary first world) with talking about "third world literature" as "an internally coherent object of theoretical knowledge," Ahmad goes on to problematize the binarism inherent in Jameson's consequent comparisons of first and third world literature (4-5). He continues by showing that assumptions Jameson brings to his theory--of a unitary third world constituted by imperialism, and of nationalism being the only resistance for colonized countries--can only produce the conclusion he draws: "there is nothing else to narrate" (9). As Ahmad points out, following these assumptions, only texts which fall within Jameson's category of national allegory will be called "true" narrative (11).

Ahmad (only after directing high praise to Jameson for his work) recoils from Jameson's undertaking, where the term "third-world" becomes monolithic and self-serving in a project that directs "description" along lines pre-ordained by his theory. As Ahmad points out, the ease with which Jameson falls into constructing hugely generalized binary oppositions for the health of the theory, disables him from seeing the multiplicity of differences in both third-world and mainstream western cultures (3).

Ahmad begins by saying that he had counted Jameson among his allies, describing the two of them as "birds of a feather" but he realized, when Jameson proceeds to announce, "all third-world texts are necessarily...," that "what was being theorized was, among many other things, myself." Ahmad goes on,

I was born in India and am a Pakistani citizen; I write poetry in Urdu, a language not commonly understood among US intellectuals. So, I said to myself: "All?... necessarily?" It felt odd. Matters got much more curious, however. For, the farther I read the more I realized, with no little chagrin, that the man whom I had for so long, so affectionately, even though from a physical distance, taken as a comrade was, in his own opinion, my civilizational Other. It was not a good feeling. (3-4)

Ahmad has recognized an instance of seemingly unconscious western academic racism (endnote 1), an "othering" which appeared, in this case, in the guise of Jameson's default mode of thought--making sweeping statements in order to wrap ideas into neat categories that arise out of a constructed theory through which he then describes the world. Lila Abu-Lughod remarks on the tendency to generalize: "There are two reasons...to be wary of generalization. The first is that, as part of a professional discourse of 'objectivity' and expertise, it is inevitably a language of power. [Secondly], it is the language of those who seem to stand apart from and outside of what they are describing" (150). She goes on, "The very gap between professional and authoritative discourses of generalization and the languages of everyday life (our own and others') establishes a fundamental separation between the anthropologist and the people being written about that facilitates the construction of anthropological objects as simultaneously different and inferior" (151).

Differences between Ahmad's position and Jameson's, together with Ahmad's erstwhile unquestioning acceptance of Jameson's theorizing, are not superficial. The hegemony of the western academic ways of thinking Ahmad recognizes in Jameson, on the contrary, has been a primary tool in the western drive to colonize other parts of the world. Ahmad acknowledges that, in making Jameson a model for his own thinking prior to recognizing Jameson's assumptions, he had internalized Jameson's view of Ahmad as "other," accepting the binary he comes to reject in his article. Lila Abu-Lughod regards "the self/other distinction [as] central to the paradigm of anthropology" and adds that this distinction is one of domination (138-139). Cultural studies shares permeable borders with anthropology, also creating us/them separations which divide the subjects of studies from themselves. Linda Tuhiwai Smith writes, "Much of what I have read [in academic texts] has said that we do not exist, that if we do exist it is in terms which I cannot recognize, that we are no good and that what we think is not valid....in which words such as 'we', 'us', 'our', 'I', actually exclude me" (35).

Wittgenstein also recognized a tendency of thought that constructs such rigid oppositions, generalizations, and exclusions as common among western philosophers and he included it in his descriptions of and attempts to relieve what he called "mental cramp."

You thought that there was one possibility, or only two at most. But I made you think of others. Furthermore, I made you see that it was absurd to expect the concept to conform to those narrow possibilities. Thus your mental cramp is relieved, and you are free to look around the field of use of the expression and to describe the different kinds of uses of it. (Malcolm 50)

Although this seems to gloss over the idea that there is no theory-free perception--describing too, as Ahmad points out, carries a position--to say no position is theory-free does not mean that all describing necessarily arises from constructed theory of the kind Ahmad discusses. The theory Jameson applies to third world literatures is not the same as paradigms that underlie a worldview. Underlying paradigms make the formation of such theories possible. In fact, use of the word "theory" for the idea that all seeing, speaking, writing, etc., is positioned is confusing since it takes a word used for purposeful construction of a system and uses it to describe unformulated and possibly unseen positions held due to our daily existence within a culture. The idea that "everything is theorized" falls into fallacy because of this confusion. Use of the word "ideology" is also confusing here since it too implies constructed and/or purposely held beliefs.

It is a matter of logic that theories we intentionally construct rest on positions (not theories) we hold by virtue of being part of a culture. As Peter Winch says in the Preface to his 1990 second edition of The Idea of a Social Science, "Unless there is a form of understanding that is not the result of explanation, no such things as explanation would be possible" (x). Theories rest on what we might call "assumptions" that are not theorized. This is why it is so hard, if not impossible, for us to decide to be politically correct and honor knowledge that we cannot be objective in our academic work. As I pointed out in an example on page 70, paradigms are so difficult to move that we still "see" the sun rising and setting rather than the earth turning. This seeing is not a choice. We would have to be continuously aware of our attitude to make the change.

Ahmad is using the term "theory," in describing Jameson's work, as that which is purposefully constructed as a tautological system with internally defined terms:

If this "third-world" is constituted by the singular "experience of colonialism and imperialism," and if the only possible response is a nationalist one, then what else is there that is more urgent to narrate than this "experience"; in fact, there is nothing else to narrate. (9)

This "there is nothing else..." is a statement of logic, not a statement of fact because the theory determines what can and cannot be said in terms of its own system. Theory building of this kind defines its territory and determines it, as Ahmad shows Jameson's construction of a theory for "third-world literature" has done, defining the terms of discussion, what goes into it and how its contents are to be understood. Such a theory, as Wittgenstein saw, says precisely nothing that is not already determined by the terms of the theory. It is tautological. Wittgenstein says:

4.46 Among the possible groups of truth-conditions there are two extreme cases.

In one of these cases the proposition is true for all the truth-possibilities of the elementary propositions. We say that the truth-conditions are tautological....

4.461 Propositions show what they say: tautologies and contradictions show that they say nothing. A tautology has no truth-conditions, since it is unconditionally true.... Tautologies and contradictions lack sense....(For example, I know nothing about the weather when I know that it is either raining or not raining.) (Tractatus)

As Ahmad observes, "one is not quite sure whether one is dealing with a fallacy ('all third world texts are' this or that) or with the Law of the Father (you must write this if you are to be admitted to my theory)" (12). Namely, it is not clear whether Jameson is making logical mistakes or whether he is carrying on a colonial tradition of writing how the third world (in this case) is to think of itself. Ahmad concludes he is doing both.

Deciding whether a western academic argument is fallacious or colonial is not helped by inscrutable styles of writing (I may be guilty myself) that I believe go along with the attempt to come across as objective and external to oneself. Vilsoni Hereniko writes, "The tendency to write in an aloof, detached, and jargonistic style is a smoke screen that disguises academic biases, ignorance, and insecurity" (89). Namely, the fact that most outsider academics do not know the indigenous cultures they are writing about (and how much we do not know) can be camouflaged by the academic style of writing--its distance and stance of objectivity, its style of presentation. Again, style may not seem the correct term for what I am talking about here, but the aloofness, detachedness and use of jargon that Hereniko refers to are reflections of underlying unquestioned ideologies of objectivity, externalization of viewpoint, and ethnocentricity that I have been discussing.

As I discussed in Chapter 4 (pp.113-114), in the west we do not question our separation from the world we see about us or that we can make objective judgements about it from that distance. These "assumptions" (which we do not in fact assume since we hardly think about them) determine the way we move in the world, how we describe it, what we see. As Ahmad also points out, if we see the world in a way that has certain populations designated as lesser than us, we will "describe" them in ways that support our experience (6). Jameson's "theory" rests on "othering" cultural paradigms that Ahmad has finally seen revealed in the fault lines of Jameson's generalizing and binary building.

Poet/philosopher David Antin argues against theory building as a way to knowledge. He sees the kind of theory building Ahmad accuses Jameson of undertaking as pre-determining and describes Martin Heidegger's philosophy in a way that relates it to Jameson's. He sees Heidegger not as a discovering but as already having determined what can and cannot be said, how it can be described in the terms of his theories:

[I]f thinking is travelling it's not on a track--laid down--over and over. Anyone who starts with "Being" as a goal has already reduced the possibility of traveling. He always it seems knew what Being was and could produce it from his hip pocket when necessary. ("Correspondence" 623-24)

In a proposal for an alternative methodology, Antin suggests what he calls "tuning" (an all-sensory--including the sixth sense Manu Meyer and others refer to--version of listening) to one's surroundings. He compares it to "brute technology" of theory building, tuning being displayed in the way "the Australian desert people inhabit a territory where rainfall is sporadic and sparse" (endnote 2) and theory building by a "a kind of Vietnam war against the earth" (644). Insistence on following an already pre-determined path in investigation involves unawareness of the possibilities of "tuning" according to Antin and results in a point of view that obliterates a multiplicitous (and what poet/critic Joan Retallack calls an as yet unintelligible, unknowable) reality, one we have to become "unintelligible" to perceive (Retallack 345-346, 359). Ahmad comments on what could be characterized as Jameson's inability to tune, which Ahmad shows results from the very structure of theory-building. Theory calls for freeway building: "One knows of so many texts from one's own part of the world which do not fit the description of 'national allegory' that one wonders why Jameson insists so much on the category 'all.' Without this category, of course, he cannot produce a theory of third-world literature" (Ahmad 12).

As an alternative to theory building, what "tuning" could offer in the academy has to hang on a kind of open-endedness, a willingness to listen and to acknowledge ourselves lacking in understanding, as Linda Krumholz suggests (pp.12 and 15 above), when we are told by those we are studying that what we are doing is wrong. I believe that even if one person says this, we have to stop and try to understand. Keala Kelly has told me she is dubious about non-indigenous people being quiet and listening to indigenous people, because there are those who be quiet and listen and then go away and publish something anyway, or set themselves up as teachers, without really understanding what they have heard (Conversations). However, what I am suggesting is that we also stop publishing and teaching without being asked and/or assisted, at least for a while, and also that we ask questions or just hold back and watch instead of acting as though we always understand what we are hearing. I suggest we become aware moment to moment that we might not be grasping what we are hearing.

The multiple starts, stops, turnarounds, and collapses that have characterized the writing of this dissertation are an example of tuning, I hope--not at all a comfortable process (and sometimes a very reluctant one!) but one that is based in deep personal relationships with the people who are most affected. Sometimes I have wanted to run and hide, give up all thoughts of completing, go back to Cornwall where I was born and live in the woods. But the importance of saying these things is too great; my friends are saying, "Finish, finish; we want to cite you!" Too late to turn back and write "normally" about my friend Mary TallMountain's writing and Joyce's and Joe Balaz'.

***

Effects

Because of these problems with our methods, my tenth point arises: most western scholars do not think of the effects our scholarship will have on the cultures we focus on. Even where it might look as though we are concerned (as in sociological studies), the focus and the result in the world is in fact most often to increase the understanding of other members of the academy and promote one's own career, not to improve, in the community's own estimation, the lives of those who are objects of the study. Protests from within indigenous communities (Native Hawaiian and Samoan, for instance) here in Hawai'i to academic studies supposed to help local communities but which are undertaken without experiencing the life of the community or consulting them for their concerns are to the point. (endnote 3) The academic demand for objectivity and therefore separation in such studies generally means that researchers do not take into account the relationship of the researcher to the community under study and therefore that the research is experienced as invasive and/or damaging rather than collaborative and helpful by the focus group. Paula Gunn Allen says,

If people die as a result of preserving tradition in the white way of preservation, for whom will the tradition be preserved?....Because of the power of language...one singer warned Toelken [a white folklorist] himself that he was flirting with becoming a witch or being seen as one. ("Teaching" 380-381).

Within the lived context that produces a whole meaning for many people, real deaths result from a way of proceeding that removes indigenous spirituality, political reality, understanding of relationships to one another and the material world from their lived contexts by approaching understanding and description from a western academic ethnocentric point of view that claims a universal view of reality. One only has to look at the history of Hawai'i--where, to the hundreds of thousands of deaths from disease, one has to add thousands more from loss of culture, hopelessness that came and still comes from losing the foundational system of reference Wittgenstein speaks of--to understand how this is so.

Linda Tuhiwai Smith comments that although currently, western scholars are aware that such obvious objectification as Elsie Clews Parson's in 1924 is unacceptable, recommended protocols are sometimes seen only as necessary nuisances. They are still not recognized as an integral part of what is being studied:

Some methodologies regard the values and beliefs, practices and customs of communities as 'barriers' to research or as exotic customs with which researchers need to be familiar in order to carry out their work without offence. (15)

What Smith says here suggests that some shows of respect for studied communities' beliefs and practices are given only as a necessary tool to achieve the "higher goal" of western academic research. The anthropologist mentioned on page 135 above, for instance, complained about the restrictions put on his good intentions, his work, by requirements of the island community he had visited with his family and is an example of this kind of technical respect shown as a preliminary to getting on with the work. Such academics continue to see their evaluations of what "needs to be done" as paramount over the expressed needs of a community.

The task of and therefore philosophical boundaries for criteria in envisioning desired effects for a piece of research are confined to the academy. The welfare of the communities from which the information comes is generally not taken into account. This is as true in sociology, economics, political science and anthropology, as it is in the field of literature, including cultural studies, where the intended effect of scholarship is also usually enlightenment of other scholars more than empathy with the people studied.

In her essay, as I have quoted above (pp.35-36), Gunn Allen details effects studies of anthropologist Elsie Clews Parsons had on Pueblo people. The effects she mentions are not ones most of us in western academia would/will be able to imagine (to "see" as) counting as effects of our methods of study. We would have to undergo a (perhaps too enormous) mental and spiritual shift to begin to see what Gunn Allen depicts as results of our inappropriate treatment of sacred materials. But what do we think are the effects of the thoughtless (or planned) treatment of one culture by another culture? If we pay attention to and honor the studied culture's own values and tenets, we cannot deny that we are producing the effects they claim. It is only within our own cultural values that we can claim innocence. We do recognize, I believe, that colonization (which is another word for such imposition of one culture upon another) is incalculably damaging to colonized cultures. But we are slow to recognize when our own superimposition of culturally defined values has such materially disastrous effects on the cultures we are studying.

Gunn Allen talks about such denials of validity by western scholars in her essay and elsewhere. The effects, from within her culture, are what she says they are. Denials from outside Pueblo culture and proclamations of good intent do not connect with what happened since they are given in a language that does not encompass (and may be destructive of) the people and traditions that were run over. It would require longterm lived engagement in Pueblo culture to approach such an understanding. The spiritual life of the Hawaiian people too has been and continues to be forbidden, denigrated, and ruthlessly wiped out assisted by research. In Chapter 4, "Displacing Pele," of his book, Houston Wood details how the experience of Kanaka Maoli of the crater of Kilauea continues to be denied and overridden by a western vision of things, whether it be scientific research, tourist propaganda, travel literature, or descriptive writing.

Recently, similar outcry has come from Kanaka Maoli concerning the treatment of the summit of Mauna Kea, treatment not just by the astronomers who occupy the telescopes there but by state and county authorities, visitors, and property owners who are also oblivious and worse to Kanaka Maoli experience of the mountain as a sacred being. Los Angeles Times science writer Usha Lee McFarling wrote in a recent article (I quote at length because I think it vital that we understand how much our perhaps well-meaning intentions affect those whom we don't see from our positions within the western academy, even if we have lived here in Hawai'i for years, even most of our lives):

MAUNA KEA--When Ed Stevens drives the dusty track to this wind-swept summit atop Hawaii's Big Island, he tries hard not to see the gleaming white and silver telescope domes set starkly amid this dormant volcano's red rock.

He tries not to see where precious cinder cones--homes to goddesses--were flattened and paved for the hulking Western machines. He tries not to see a blindingly white radio antenna dish within a stone's throw of an ancient rock shrine that resembles Stonehenge.

"I go up there and I don't see them. Because if I see them I get angry," said Stevens, 70, who regularly drives two hours from his house in Kona to worship at Mauna Kea. In the naturalistic religion of Hawaiians, Mauna Kea--the White Mountain--is the highest temple in Polynesia, where, amid the snow, Hawaiians placed shrines and practiced burial rituals so secret that it is taboo to speak of them to outsiders. (Section A, Column 1)

Although this article itself, through its language ("naturalistic" religion, "taboo"), perpetuates an exotic portrayal of Hawaiian spirituality, it does function to point out that Kanaka Maoli live in a westernized world that is constantly eroding their still strong cultural beliefs and practices. McFarling goes on,

On the way to her high-tech job, [telescope technician Kealoha] Pisciotta would take part in an age-old Hawaiian tradition. She would stop to worship on the flanks of the mountain, bringing small offerings to her family stone, or aumakua. But that stone has been desecrated. Once, it was taken to the town dump. Once, it was carted off by a fellow telescope employee. And once it was overturned, strewing Pisciotta's aunt's ashes on the ground. Now the stone is missing for good, and Pisciotta, angry that astronomers did not do more to protect her stone, has resigned her position at the telescope....

The mountain holds more than 90 shrines and burial sites. None is at the very top, which is considered too sacred even for shrines and certainly for Western machines. A 1996 fire that killed three workers building the Subaru telescope on the mountain was seen by some as a curse, an ominous warning from the gods.

In the article, many astronomers respond entirely from within their own cultural context:

Proud of what they do, and convinced of its importance, many mainland astronomers chafe at the way they have been represented by islanders.

"It annoys me to see astronomers portrayed as tyrants who come in to exploit Mauna Kea. That's very unfair," said Richard Ellis, a cosmologist at Caltech who uses the Keck to study the origin and evolution of galaxies. He recently turned down the directorship of the Institute for Astronomy because he believed that political issues, including the Mauna Kea dispute, were compromising the ability to do first-rate science there.

"We're searching for truth and knowledge, the kinds of things that have motivated countries for centuries. We don't need to apologize. We need to explain what we do."

There are other astronomers who claim to have some inkling of the damage, who are at least aware there is a problem with their presence:

"It comes as a shock, but there's an element of truth there, isn't there?" said Robert A. McLaren, a Canadian who oversees astronomy on Mauna Kea for the University of Hawaii's Institute of Astronomy. "Just because you have a noble purpose and you don't mean [to cause] any harm doesn't mean you don't."

But the clash over the mountain's use, arising out of the gulf between cultures (one indigenous and one occupying a colonial position of power in Hawai'i), continues.

And distress over the way the mountain has been and continues to be regarded and treated by non-Hawaiians is only a part of the general distress experienced by Kanaka Maoli over the displacement of their culture:

In 1970, when Kealoha Pisciotta was born and the mountain bore just three small telescopes, Hawaiians weren't allowed to speak their own language in schools. And their voices, even when it came to protecting their precious Mauna Kea, were muted.

"Native Hawaiian self-esteem was so low, they didn't know how to argue. They didn't know how to object," said Nainoa Thompson, 47, a modern Polynesian navigator who has re-created the long-distance ocean voyaging techniques of his ancestors, navigating by the stars among Hawaii, Tahiti and Easter Island.

Through these journeys, Thompson has become a potent symbol of the resurging pride in Hawaiian culture. But he still cringes when he recalls that his grandmother was beaten for speaking her native Hawaiian language in school.

Pualani Kanahele, the daughter of a revered cultural leader on the Big Island, cringes too, and weeps openly when discussing the mountain. She won't even look up at Mauna Kea now, because she did nothing to stop the telescopes, which she, like many here, call pimples. "I have to stand up to my grandkids," the anguished Kanahele said at one hearing, "and say, 'I never did anything.' "

Telescopes may seem an unlikely bonding agent for a budding indigenous political movement. But the fight against development on the mountain is bringing together Hawaiians of all types, not only cultural practitioners, activists and environmentalists, but also grandmothers, students, engineers and even retirees who pledge to throw their bodies in front of construction equipment....

Hawaiians are still fighting to regain control of 1.8 million acres of ceded lands that once belonged to Hawaii's queen.

The Mauna Kea Astronomy Precinct sits squarely on those ceded lands.

The battle over telescopes has become a chance to reclaim, symbolically and practically, ground that their people lost long ago.

"Mauna Kea is the center of our spirituality," said Thompson, who also sits on the University of Hawaii's board of regents. "For it to be the place we debate this issue is not by chance."

Chaffee, the director of the Keck, agrees. "This isn't about astronomy," he said. "We're just the most visible thing. We're a lightning rod for years and years of distrust."

McFarling concludes:

Still, an almost unfathomably deep culture clash remains. The very traits that make for a successful scientist today--a dispassionate, detached view of the world and an extremely narrow focus on a single question--are characteristics that many Hawaiians mistrust.

"You can't have a one-track mind; all you want to do is look up in the sky at those things and not care about anything else," said Larry Kimura, an assistant professor in the budding Hawaiian language program at the University of Hawaii at Hilo who helped head the committee that drafted the master plan [for oversight of the mountain's use]. "You don't just start plopping things all over the place--your million-dollar machines--without thinking of giving anything back."....

Hawaiians are not the only ones frustrated by cultural differences.

McLaren is among astronomers who feel blindsided by Hawaiian complaints that did not surface when the telescopes were being planned. (Objections raised initially in the 1970s and '80s centered on environmental issues and access to the mountain for hunters and hikers.)

"With our Western ways, we speak up. That's not necessarily the Hawaiian way," McLaren said.

But he does admit that the astronomers who planned the mountain should plead guilty to cultural ignorance.

"They didn't put those [telescopes] up there because science is more important than Hawaiian culture," he said. "They put those things up there because they didn't think of Hawaiian culture at all."

Astronomers are scientists, so it might be suggested that the cultural clash is confined to differences between the world view of science and that of lay people, including scholars from non-scientific disciplines. This is not so. Whether the non-indigenous-published and -taught reality comes from Astronomy or English, imposition of one culture upon another occurs. Edward Said points out, in Orientalism, that there is a collaboration (conscious or unconscious) between science and the humanities in shifting a colonized people toward the invaders' way of seeing the world:

The interchange between the academic and the more or less imaginative meanings of Orientalism is a constant one, and since the late eighteenth century there has been a considerable, quite disciplined--perhaps even regulated--traffic between the two....[a] corporate institution for...making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching about it, settling it, ruling over it. (3)

As Linda Smith adds, "In these acts both the formal scholarly pursuits of knowledge and the informal, imaginative, anecdotal constructions of the Other are intertwined with each other and with the activity of research." Smith continues,

Many researchers, academics and project workers may see the benefits of their particular research projects as serving a greater good "for mankind', or serving a specific emancipatory goal for an oppressed community. But belief in the ideal that benefiting mankind is indeed a primary outcome of scientific research is as much a reflection of ideology as it is of academic training. It becomes so taken for granted that many researchers simply assume that they as individuals embody this ideal and are natural representatives of it when they work with other communities. Indigenous peoples across the world have other stories to tell which not only question the assumed nature of those ideals and the practices that they generate, but also serve to tell an alternative story. (2)

I am quoting at length here too because I wish to document the reaction of many non-western people to the imposition, via scholarly readings and interpretations, of western academic values on their communities. Effects are not just psychic discomfort, though that is not at all to be dismissed. They are material, as Gunn Allen, McFarling, Smith, and Wood describe, because such psychic damage results in negative material consequences within a worldview in which all things are connected.

Material effects include differences in the ways people are treated within a colonial system often informed by western protocols and theories. Following is an example of replacement of western psychological methods--often harmful or unhelpful to indigenous peoples--with an indigenous model. According to Honolulu Magazine writer Les Peetz, the results are beneficial when western models are replaced with indigenous ones within the community:

Malcolm Chun defuses serious conflicts involving Native Hawaiian children and their families. His work is based not upon Western psychology but on ho'oponopono, a Hawaiian word which means roughly "to make right." Because Hawaiian culture is traditionally social rather than individualistic, Chun's work in therapy depends upon the active involvement of the entire group. This means, he says, that the emphasis in treating family problems, no matter how bitter they are, is the good of the entire group. The question of who is right or wrong--one which is seen often enough in courtrooms and shrinks' [therapists] offices--is secondary and often irrelevant to healing. (33)

In examining effects of western scholarship, I cannot ignore effects it has on us who undertake it. I have already mentioned problems of self-objectification as we engage in or live with emotional distance about the cultures, artifacts and persons of others. In "Silenced Knowings," Lorenz and Watkins use the term "percepticide" (coined by Diana Taylor writing about the "dirty war" in Argentina) to describe "the effects of violence on individuals, the erasure of one's own perceptions and knowledge." They say, "[W]hen we live in an environment where violence, hatred, and exclusion are the rule, what losses does each individual sustain in the realm of spontaneity, openness, and creativity?" Though it might seem that percepticide is too extreme a term to use on our own numbing, Lorenz and Watkins use it to query the effects on those of us in colonizing societies after "500 years of colonialism... a history of multiple genocides in Africa, Asia, and the Americas," including, of course, in Hawai'i, where outcry against ongoing genocide is a daily occurrence (3).

We receive reverse fallout, I believe, in the form of numbing, from a procedure that Gunn Allen says, "In accordance with...academic training...objectified, explained, detailed and analyzed their lives as though they were simply curios, artifacts, fetishes, and discussed the supernaturals as though they were objects of interest and patronization" ("Teaching" 383-384). To treat others and their cultures from a position of emotional removal, to objectify them, we cannot escape objectifying ourselves, cutting off the connections within ourselves that make us healthy emotional beings. To turn away without acknowledgment from those who are making such accusations is to remove ourselves from full perception. There are current attempts to resolve similar situations.

The process of restorative justice as practiced in South Africa, New Zealand and other places (endnote 4) is a way of making things right between violator and victim, including between colonized people and their colonizers. The process recognizes that if a person commits a crime against another individual, he is not allowing himself to acknowledge an equal human relationship with the victim. To appropriate from those of another culture, one has to block off sensibilities in oneself that would allow relationship to grow. The perpetrator is damaged as well as the victim.

Restorative justice is an alternative judiciary system that recognizes this balance of wounding between one who has cut off from empathy in order to commit the crime and one who has been treated as an object by him. Restorative justice deals with crime by facing the perpetrator directly with the victim without the intermediary of a hierarchical punitive judiciary in order to allow restoration of relationship between the parties and by recognizing the importance of community. It is a change in the perception of what "justice" is that has been used in South Africa as an aid in decolonization (Tutu 7). (endnote 5)

In Restorative Justice: Healing the Effects of Crime, New Zealand prison chaplain and justice campaigner Jim Consedine describes the indigenous model he works with:

Restorative justice is a philosophy that embraces a wide range of human emotions, including healing, mediation, compassion, forgiveness, mercy, reconciliation as well as sanction when appropriate. It also recognizes a world view that says we are all interconnected and that what we do, be it for good or evil, has an impact on others....[C]rime is no longer defined as an attack on the state but rather as an offence by one person against another. It is based on the recognition of the humanity of both offender and victim....There will be less alienation, stronger bonding among family members, a greater degree of personal and social empowerment. (183-184)

Within the international system of colonization which Bishop Desmond Tutu in the Foreword to Consedine's book recognizes as responsible for alienation that produces much crime, the state has historically introduced itself as a controlling third party. Through the institution of laws, licensing, and so on, the state becomes broker in all relationships (marriage, childbearing, ownership of houses, cars, etc.) and inserts itself as an external structure to replace the internal relational structure of reciprocity that has in the past regulated dealings between individuals within a culture. (Charlie Isaacs describes relational organization along with the state sponsored legal apparatus that replaced it in Hawai'i in his paper, "A Kanaka Maoli Perspective," mentioned in Chapter 6.)

Where a people have been colonized, the state positions itself to adjudicate relationships so it can enforce the colonized population's subjugation. Sally Merry (in Colonizing Hawai'i: The Cultural Power of Law) and Houston Wood (in the "Coda" to Displacing Natives) amply document the legal changes made once Euro-American colonists decided to settle for good in Hawai'i. Merry quotes Kanaka Maoli historian Samuel Kamakau's Ruling Chiefs of Hawai'i:

A learned man [William Little Lee] had arrived with knowledge of the law, and the foreigners who were holding office in the government hastened to put him forward by saying how clever and learned he was and what good laws he would make for the Hawaiian people. The truth was, they were laws to change the old laws of the natives of the land and cause them to lick ti leaves like the dogs and gnaw bones thrown at the feet of strangers, while the strangers became their lords, and the hands and voices of the strangers were raised over those of the native race. (6)

For instance, adultery was made illegal in the mid-1800s, and it was the Kanaka Maoli population, whose cultural norms of sexual relationship were multiple and complex, who suffered most from imprisonment under the new laws. Women were particularly affected as Christian values began to replace those of Kanaka Maoli culture. In the year 2000, I helped type the civil and criminal code of the Hawaiian Kingdom on the web, which meant entering page after page of laws. One thing that stood out was that whenever a person was sent to prison or declared mentally ill, their property was put in trust for them and used to pay to keep them in jail. If they stayed in jail or died there, the land remained in trust. Much land must have changed hands in this way. The laws effectively changed Kanaka Maoli culture by punishing anything that differed from the western Christian model while at the same time transferring much Kanaka Maoli property to haole hands.

We are not unaware, it seems, of the personal dangers of emotional disconnection resulting from objectifying others. Scientists have been made ludicrous, if not monstrous, in media since Swift Gulliver and before. (Consider portrayals in Frankenstein, The Borrowers, Dr. Caligari's Box, Dr. Jekell and Mr. Hyde, Pygmalion and its successor My Fair Lady, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, and countless others.) Usually they are portrayed as clueless about practical things, callous and/or unseeing of human feelings, bent on uncovering the secrets of nature at the cost of misery for themselves and others, coldly loyal to a program of unbendable law. The fact that these are caricatures does not invalidate observations about what happens when a human being separates and encapsulates some of their relationships to the world from other relationships. These portraits of scientists are repeated in representations of scholars of all sorts, whose failings are seen as mainly lack of connection to the intimacies of human relationship and relationship to the natural world.

While I cannot pretend that the extremes of this portrait apply to the academics I know, love, and am, it is nonetheless true that we are pressured to conform to a model that expects emotional and spiritual cut-off, removal of personal involvement, an ability to compartmentalize allegiances, visualizations, and conceptualizations, and an assumption that we are removed and separate from the world we study. As I said in Chapter 1, these attributes of academia have been a problem for me as I moved through the expectations of this degree. I believe they are problems that have the potential for severely damaging effects on those of us who choose to continue and pursue careers as scholars.

Helene Shulman Lorenz and Mary Watkins discuss these effects in "Silenced Knowings," where they push for a unilateral use of what they call "liberation psychology," namely, psychology that links the individual with the community, with history, culture, and social realities (5). What has to be done, they say, is to cease regarding the individual in isolation from those relationships. Such a disassociation produces

disincentives to reflect on the psychological correlates of being involved in oppressive structures. For those in colonizing cultures, colonial ideologies have contributed to dissociating the personal from the cultural, lending us a sense of interiority that is strangely disconnected from context, historical and cultural (13).

I see it as vital that those of us from colonizing cultures past and present, come to a point where we can "be in relationship with all those disowned parts of ourselves connected with shame, humiliation, degradation, and sadness left over from both a personal and a cultural past that we have never learned to mourn" (10). In the wake of the 9/11 disaster, where national grief and mourning was cut short by almost immediate calls for retaliatory violence, we have an opportunity to see this phenomenon more clearly. John Trudell refers to the toxic effects of an un-dealt with colonial heritage when he says the tribes of Europe have been psychically mined to the extent that the only thing they know how to do is to mine others. Part of our forgetting of who we are is our enclosure and self protection from "silenced knowings" of our complicitness in a system that oppresses the peoples we study.

In the final chapters of this dissertation, I will outline some of the ways through and ways around and paths among that I have followed and am still following to try and find solutions to these problems. Chapter 8 examines examples of non-indigenous commentaries on indigenous work, indigenous commentaries using western theories, and indigenous commentary relying on indigenous knowledge; Chapter 9 explores avenues and options for alternatives to western scholarship; and Chapter 10 concludes the dissertation.

In the next chapter, I will examine some specific examples of colonial scholarship and specific alternatives to those examples. Hopefully these examinations will begin to give some bulk to what I have been saying on a theoretical level in this and the previous chapters.


1 In a 1988 article, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., comments on hidden instances of racism--white theorists referring to themselves as knowing nothing about ethnicity, the "long way to go before older white academic critics begin to read the great theorists of the black traditions in the same way that we read their 'theories'," and accusations of essentialism from ally and foe alike against formation of alternative canons and subjectivities ("On the Rhetoric of Racism" 20 and 21). Gates says racism on U.S. university campuses is the material effect of a more theoretical level. From news reports, it appears that campus racism is alive and well, hand-in-hand with the dismantling of affirmative action across the country, suggesting that theoretical sources are also alive and well.

2 Or in Hawai'iby the appeals of Kanaka Maoli activists against the building of the H3 freeway through Halawa Valley, the bombing by the U.S. military of Kaho'olawe and Makua Valley, and many other actions claimed as "necessary" under a western model and experienced as devastation by those who hold the land as a relation and sacred.

3 For instance, an audience member at a series ("Overcoming Colonial Violence") held by graduate students in the University of Hawai'i at Manoa Anthropology Department expressed anger over the way sociologists from the University tend to ordain programs from outside the community without taking pains to understand what the problems of the community really are from the inside. I also recall a conversation with two Native Hawaiian Psychology Ph.D. candidates at the Honolulu-based American Institute for Psychology. Both confirmed a scholarly invasion felt by indigenous communities in Hawai'i from psychologists who fail to consider they may not understand the values people have in the communities they think they are serving or even that there is something beyond their own perspective to be taken into consideration.

4 Restorative Justice (called Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa) is an alternative justice system that National Institute of Justice Visiting Fellow Thomas Quinn defines as focusing "on restoring the health of the community, repairing the harm done, meeting victims' needs, and emphasizing that the offender can--and must--contribute to those repairs" and doing these things from within the affected community rather than with the aid of a removed and hierarchical justice system (1). "Both Tongan and Samoan communities have a tradition of restorative justice when it comes to offending in the community....Maori have a tradition...still in effect in many rural areas, whereby the restoration of all concerned--the victims, the offenders, the whanau, the iwi--is the principal objective" (Consedine 9-10). In Hawai'i, the process of ho'oponopono functions in a comparable way, where the focus is restoration of wholeness and harmony to the entire community in question.

5 The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission works to achieve reconciliation between perpetrators and victims of violence by giving amnesty to those who admit to and disclose their crimes and by "establishing and making known the fate or whereabouts of victims and restoring their human and civil dignity by granting them an opportunity to relate their own accounts of the violations, and recommending reparation measures in respect of them" in order to heal both perpetrator and victim by re-establishing relationship (Justice Center Website 1). The TRC has done this to help heal the wounds created by a colonial system that relegated Black South Africans to a sub-human position--in the minds of the white minority Black South Africans were not capable of relationship and therefore could be recipients of torture, rape, theft, murder, dispossession of land and culture (TRC Final Report Introduction 1).

     
   

From:
Too Many Deaths: Decolonizing Western Academic Research on Indigenous Cultures
By Gabrielle Welford
A dissertation submitted to the Graduate Division of the University of Hawaii in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in English, May 2003
© 2003 Gabrielle Welford (welford@hawaii.edu)