Tag Archives academics

Gender Studies is yet to make its mark among university students in Pakistan: Findings from a study on perceptions and attitudes towards gender studies among students in Quaid-i-Azam University, Pakistan.

Gender Studies is yet to make its mark among university students in Pakistan: Findings from a study on perceptions and attitudes towards gender studies among students in Quaid-i-Azam University, Pakistan.

Since 2010 I have been working as a lecturer at the Centre of Excellence in Gender Studies at  the Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, Pakistan. I am also pursuing a Ph.D. ...

Epistemic Diversity| Understanding epistemic diversity: decoloniality as research strategy by Olivia U. Rutazibwa

Epistemic Diversity| Understanding epistemic diversity: decoloniality as research strategy by Olivia U. Rutazibwa

How do we make sure that our efforts to diversify knowledge production go beyond a window-dressing/Benetton operation? How can we move beyond merely adding some colour and other markers of ...

Epistemic Diversity | From ‘do no harm’ to making research useful: a conversation on ethics in development research by Karin Astrid Siegmann

Ethical dilemmas are part and parcel of the research processes that researchers are engaged in. This article details a recent conversation between ISS students and staff in which they tried to make sense of some of the ethical issues that researchers face. While the ‘do no harm’ principle was emphasised as an overall yardstick, the discussion went beyond that, raising broader questions about epistemic and social justice.


With thanks to Andrea Tauta Hurtado, Zhiren Ye, Kristen Cheney, Roy Huijsmans and Andrew Fischer.


Scholars in Development Studies are quick to brag about how relevant their research is for the underdogs of society. The reality is that representatives of marginalised groups rarely knock at our office doors to ask for scholarly support. In fact, development research often does harm by justifying economic and social inequalities, reproducing stereotypes and stigma, and misrepresenting or even erasing knowledge about the lives of marginalised people.

How can scholars prevent such harm from being done through their research? This question was discussed by ISS students majoring in Social Policy for Development and staff members in a workshop on “ethical, integrity, and security challenges”. The discussion aimed to prepare ISS students for their fieldwork. While in our conversation the ‘do no harm’ principle was emphasised as an overall yardstick for our research, the discussion went beyond that, raising broader questions about epistemic and social justice.

Challenges to informed consent and ensuring anonymity

Roy Huijsmans’ example from his masters’ research on Dutch school-going children’s employment experiences illustrated that research participants’ informed consent is crucial, but also complicated by the power relations structuring the research arena. Teachers in his former school had facilitated meetings with their students. Several of these students, in turn, had expressed interest in and consented to participating in Roy’s study. When conducting telephone interviews with these children, however, in some cases parents became suspicious: who is that adult male calling their child? Roy’s experience raises the issue of whether it is adequate to understand informed consent individually. If not, what role do we give to the—in this case generational—power relations wherein consent is embedded? Can ethics protocols that require consent from parents or other gatekeepers alongside children’s own answer these questions?

In my own research, class-based power relations motivate special attention to research participants’ anonymity. Referring to a recent study on working conditions in South Asian tea plantations, I flagged that if workers’ and unionists’ statements could be identified, this could lead to their dismissal or worse outcomes. Our research team addressed this concern by not providing names—neither of people, nor of research locations. Andrew Fischer challenged me: would that really prevent identification? It is likely that few people are probably willing to stick their necks out as labour leaders, making those that do more easily recognisable.

One student followed up and asked how she could protect the identity of chemsex users— people having sex while using hard drugs—whose experiences she plans to investigate. Referring to the do no harm principle, Roy encouraged her to reflect on the consequences of research participants’ names leaking out: the Dutch government tolerates illegal drug consumption. Hence, in the current scenario, enforcement agencies are unlikely to arrest users. However, such political priorities can easily change over time. Andrew therefore recommended the anonymisation of transcripts, with their key to be stored outside the computer.

The quest for epistemic justice and diversity

In recent years, I have become increasingly concerned with the responsible representation of the lives, concerns and demands of the people who participate in my research, or, put differently, with epistemic justice. For instance, how will I represent the plantation workers who generously shared their experiences in our tea study? In a way that responds to the academic pressure to publish in highly-ranked journals with specific theoretical fancies? Or do research participants’ concerns guide my writing? This relates to questions that Marina Cadaval and Rosalba Icaza raise in their earlier post on this blog: ‘who generates and distributes knowledge, for which purposes, and how?’

Other participants in the discussion shared this concern for a fair representation. The student who engages with chemsex users’ experiences was acutely aware of the role of race in her research. In exploratory interviews, she learned how race shapes the exercise of power in chemsex users’ sexual relationships and how it either enables them to get support from or bars their access to the healthcare system. How to do justice to participants’ narratives without simultaneously repeating and reinforcing the underlying stereotypes?

For me, one way to deal with this quest for epistemic justice has been to engage in processes of activist scholarship, i.e. in collaboration and joint knowledge production with people who struggle for recognition and redistribution. Activist scholarship involves moves towards epistemic diversity, challenging the widely assumed supremacy of scientific knowledge heavily produced in Northern academic institutions. For instance, I have been involved in the campaign of a Florida-based farmworker organisation for making the Dutch retailer Ahold sign on to their programme for better working conditions in US agriculture. In dialogue with that organisation, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), I have written about lessons from that campaign for how precarious workers can effectively organise. Sruti Bala points out that this implies ‘to listen to articulations radically different from the frameworks that I may be trained in, but more than good listening is required in order for those articulations and insights to translate themselves into what we might call knowledge’. These processes of listening, dialoguing and learning didn’t lead to “consensus-based writing”, though. We had disagreements and I tried to make them visible in my writing.

Besides, there may be internal power hierarchies within the movements with which we collaborate. My colleague Silke Heumann earlier warned that through our decision of who participates in our research and who doesn’t, we run the risk of reinforcing existing power relations and of legitimising an elite’s perspective of a movement.

This approach may not be feasible for a masters’ thesis. What is possible in most cases, though, is to get research participants’ feedback on, critique and validation of how they understood our conversations or my wider observations about their lives. Time is a key resource in this effort to respect their knowledge as experts on their own lives. Taking time for research participants—rather than racing from one respondent to the next—enables us to conduct research in a more responsible manner. I want to integrate this principle more and more in my research due to the belief that this not only helps to prevent harm. Over and above that, it enables me to treat my research participants and their concerns with care. The more time I plan and spend for engagement with those who participate in my research, the greater the likelihood that it will embody epistemic justice.


 

This article forms part of a series on Epistemic Diversity. You can read the other articles here and here

csm_5abd70057687ec5e3741252630d8cc66-karin-siegmann_60d4db99baAbout the author: 

Holding a PhD in Agricultural Economics, Dr Karin Astrid Siegmann works as a Senior Lecturer in Labour and Gender Economics at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam in The Hague, the Netherlands. She is the convenor of the ISS Major in Social Policy for Development (SPD).

Epistemic Diversity | The challenge of epistemic poverty and how to think beyond what we know by Sruti Bala

Epistemic Diversity | The challenge of epistemic poverty and how to think beyond what we know by Sruti Bala

Researchers face the challenge of engaging with the topic of epistemic diversity. We know that we should consider diverse knowledges in our research, but how can this be operationalised? This ...

Epistemic Diversity | “I am where I think”: research and the task of epistemic diversity by Marina Cadaval and Rosalba Icaza

Epistemic Diversity | “I am where I think”: research and the task of epistemic diversity by Marina Cadaval and Rosalba Icaza

Epistemic diversity in research is sorely needed in the academia. But what is epistemic diversity and why is it so important? This post—the first of a series on epistemic diversity— ...

Trump’s ‘doublespeak’—why academics should speak out by Jeff Handmaker

U.S. President Donald Trump in January 2018 delivered his first State of the Union Address (SOTU). At first glance, he sounded more presidential than ever following his tumultuous first year in office. However, his careful words hid an agenda that is hostile to most of us, and to academics in particular. As scholars, we have a responsibility to take notice, and to speak out. 


The SOTU Address – Trump’s doublespeak

During much of his SOTU address, Trump made an effort to reach Americans, beyond his more familiar, albeit dwindling ‘base’ of support, composed of evangelicals, the elderly and whites without a university degree. His presentation was peppered by American proverbs and even managed to come across as compassionate.

But gaps and contradictions blatantly revealed Trump’s doublespeak. While Trump refrained from referring to countries as “shitholes” as he had done a few weeks earlier, his contempt for foreign nations was evident. He praised the Iranian peoples’ “struggle for freedom”, while failing to mention the travel ban in place against all Iranians.

Trump also praised his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a decision condemned by most nations in the United Nations General Assembly. Trump said that “friends” of the US would receive support, while “enemies” would not. While these were not explicitly specified, there was a clear reference to how nations voted at the UN concerning Jerusalem.

Capping off a dizzying array of international law violations, Trump insisted that the notorious detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, associated with torture and indefinite detention without trial, would remain open. He affirmed that the US military would continue its operations in Afghanistan, ominously, under unspecified “new rules of engagement”.

So how is this all relevant for scholars?

The overall response from media commentators to Trump’s SOTU address was disappointing. Most focused on its tone rather than its content. In the Netherlands, some even referred to Trump’s address as “brilliant” and “politically, very clever”. The NRC Handelsblad offered perhaps the best commentary, emphasising its ‘polarising’ content, but this was an exception.

The fact remains that a significant majority of Americans have consistently disapproved of Trump’s job as president. There has been a public outcry in countries around the world, particularly after Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. So why have there been so few critical analysts, particularly in the mainstream media?

In my own observations at academic gatherings in the US and abroad, since Trump first came to office in January 2017, it appears that most academics tend to dismiss Trump, rolling their eyes, ignoring his statements, mocking him, or even suggesting that he doesn’t really have all that much power. A handful of academics have even openly supported him.

There are, of course, notable exceptions. Those in the immigration law field have written persistently on the Trump administration’s persecution of immigrants. Apart from the alternative media, such as Mondoweiss, Democracy Now and MSNBC, The Conversation has produced in-depth articles by scholars condemning the Trump administration’s policies. But even critical media outlets, such as De Correspondent in The Netherlands have acknowledged that, while news outlets have tended to reflect daily indignation, they have rarely produced sustained resistance to the policies of the Trump administration.

A position of ambivalence in these circumstances is not tenable. As Professor Harris Beider has poignantly observed: “we live in an age of volatility and scepticism … As academics we find ourselves in the dock of public opinion too … we as universities and academics can also be part of the problem”.

Accordingly, with the rise of ethno-nationalist administrations in the USA and the United Kingdom, Beider has issued an appeal to academics to be less self-absorbed and “to question received wisdom and follow the people rather than expect them to follow us”.

What Trump says publicly should matter a great deal to us, if only in view of the vast military and nuclear arsenal at his disposal and the message to other world leaders that Trump’s behavior should in any way be regarded as acceptable.

Trump’s specific threats to academics

Alongside general concerns around Trump’s policies, there are at least three specific examples that are pertinent to academics worldwide.

First, Trump’s travel ban on nationals from specific countries has made it impossible, and even dangerous for academics from these countries, some of whom are regarded as scholars at risk, to share their knowledge and in extreme cases obtain safe refuge in the United States. Several vice chancellors (rectors magnificus) of Australian universities have protested Trump’s travel ban, joining thousands of other scholars worldwide.

Second, while Congress has so far pushed back on Trump’s proposals to slash health research, Trump’s refusal to accept the scientific consensus concerning a link between carbon emissions and climate change is having a devastating global impact in restricting access to crucial research funding. Research funding cuts in other areas are also likely.

Third, the harassment of scholars by right-wing groups has been steadily rising against scholars, particularly following the election of Donald Trump. Such harassment is even described as “becoming normal” by the American Association of University Professors, which has set up an on-line platform for reporting incidents of harassment.

6219961958_e15d5cdec6_b
Picture Credit: Newtown grafitti

This would not be the first time scholars have stood up in protest against regimes whose policies have threatened society at large, and academics specifically. This includes South Africa’s persecution of non-whites and critical scholars in the 1980s, the persecution of scholars by the government in Turkey and Israel’s persecution of Palestinian scholars.

Whether as scholars of climate change, international law, race relations or many other related areas, we should all be shocked. Alarmed. Indeed, appalled at Trump’s SOTU speech. And we should speak out at every opportunity, particularly outside our close-knit community that largely holds the same views we do.


Also see: Scholars at risk: precarity in the academe by Rod Mena and Kees Biekart


Picture credit: DonkeyHotey


JeffHandmakerISS_smallAbout the author:

Jeff Handmaker teaches law, human rights, development and governance and conducts research on legal mobilisation at the ISS. He is also an associate member of the Faculty of Law at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, Editor-in-Chief of the South African Journal on Human Rights and a member of the EUR INFAR Project.