CfP: Beyond the Master’s Tools: Post- and Decolonial Approaches to Research Methodology and Methods in the Social Sciences

Call for Papers

Beyond the Master’s Tools: Post- and Decolonial Approaches to Research Methodology and Methods in the Social Sciences

University of Kassel, 14-15 January 2016

The contention that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” (Lorde) translates into a major critique of Social Science research. Accusations regarding the continuation of “episte-micide” (Santos) highlight the dangers of an occidentalist or Eurocentric research agenda. Post- and decolonial perspectives point to colonial continuities embedded not just in the epistemic foundations and thematic concerns, but also in the actual practices, i.e. the craft of research as canonised in re-search methods and methodologies. A decolonising approach to Social Science research is necessarily twofold: the deconstruction of existing methodologies and methods that (re)produce the coloniality of knowledge; and a reconstruction and/or reinvention of research practice. The conference aims to bring together scholars to discuss methodological and methodical critiques as well as potentially post-/decolonial ways of doing empirical research.

Academic knowledge production has become a highly diversified field. Various turns (argumentative, ethnographic, spatial, practice, intersectional etc.) claim to offer epistemological lenses that allow for a more pluralist, contextualized and enriched understanding of the social world. While these deve-lopments may point to a desirable ‘mainstreaming’ of heterodox and critical approaches, we can still observe that the “right to research” (Appadurai) as a universalized hegemony over knowledge produc-tion remains the reserve of a minority marked by privileges linked to the history and present of colo-nialism. “Researching back” (Smith) appears to be a necessary but difficult process. The conference aims to discuss and learn from different approaches that strive to decolonize the field of academic research, i.e. the epistemological conceptualization and selection of research objects and research designs (Mato).

The methodological reflection of ongoing entanglements regarding hegemonic power/knowledge complexes leads to the reflection of decolonial methods and research practice. Feminist, anti-racist and decolonial scholars have focused on developing methods for power sensitive research in order to deconstruct what still appears to be a hegemonic and positivist research paradigm by putting forward concepts such as positional reflexivity, standpoint feminism, situated knowledge or critical whiteness. Analyzing everyday life practices or stories in ethno-methodological methods, reflecting on ‘writing culture’ (Clifford/Marcus) in cultural anthropology, focusing on counter-narratives in biographical research, conceptualizing gaps and silences in discourse analysis or addressing complexity in situati-onal analysis are all approaches that provide useful tools for decolonial research. Furthermore, parti-cipatory research methods such as popular education (Freire) or participatory action research (Fals-Borda) open up perspectives for horizontal and collaborative research processes.

While university regulations might require researchers to follow formal guidelines for ethical research – for example, participant information sheets, informed consent, and right to withdraw at any mo-ment –, post-/decolonial critique requires a more profound recognition of ethical issues. It urges us to account for the positionality of the researcher in relation to the field, the people investigated, and the “geopolitics of knowledge” (Mignolo) more broadly. Rather than perpetuating the obscuring stories of how we stumbled across field sites „by chance“, it is necessary to bring to the forefront the ways in which researchers are “historically and socially […] linked with the areas we study” (Gupta/Ferguson). First and foremost, a de-/postcolonial research ethics demands that we choose sides and step away from any pretense of neutrality, objectivity, and impartiality – while we still try to to reach an intersub-jective understanding of the world. We thus have to ask (and answer) the highly political question of who benefits from our research. Postcolonial research ethics might even go further and say that it is not up to academics to decide on relevance, but that it should be up to the people fighting the decolo-nial struggles on the ground. It is not an easy feat, but – in spite of itself being predominantly Western, white, male, bourgeois, heterosexual, and able – academic research needs to be “existentially and poli-tically committed to decolonisation” (Decoloniality Europe).

We invite contributions which engage with the following set of questions:

* How do the prevalent geopolitics of knowledge production shape social science research? How do they become productive – and which privileges/visibilities/capacities or marginalisations/invisibili-ties/ways of silencing does this entail?

* How do post- and decolonial perspectives challenge the Eurocentric grounding of research methods, methodologies, and ethics? What (new) empirical approaches, lenses and tools for research do these approaches offer or imply?

* What are the implications of decentering or decolonizing methodology? What does this imply in terms of research agendas, research cooperation, case studies, academic discourse and dissemination? How does this relate to traditions of academic writing? How can new forms of expression be mobilised (e.g. story-telling, oral history, auto-ethnography, action-research)?

* How can research designs and field access be realized without reproducing power complexes, but enable a process of „studying with“ (Mato) marginalised actors and social groups?

* How do requirements of decolonial research ethics clash with academic regulations and guidelines? Are such clashes necessary and to be welcomed; or are there innovative ways to pretend to play by the rules?

* If the researcher abandons her*his privileges to select the problem to be analysed and leaves the decision to the decolonial social movements: who decides which social movements are decolonial and according to which criteria?

*Is it possible for privileged researchers to unlearn their privileges and conduct research with margi-nalised groups in a political and ethical manner? If so, how? What are the implications for processes of research and knowledge dissemination?

Our conference welcomes a variety of forms of academic presentation. Research will be discussed in panels and roundtables as well as in a poster session. The latter format is particularly suitable for dis-cussions on research design and ’work in progress’ by both junior and senior researchers. Please send abstracts of no more than 250 words to beyondthemasterstools@uni-kassel.de by 15 August 2015.

Further information can be found on https://www.uni-kassel.de/go/beyond-the-masters-tools

Keynotes (confirmed):

* Gurminder K. Bhambra, University of Warwick (UK)

* Aida Hernández Castillo, CIESAS (Mexico)

* Siba Grovogui, Cornell University (USA)


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