Authoritative voice  and educational disadvantage: Troubling critical community-based participatory research in Indigenous communities

Year: 2014

Author: Susan, Whatman, Singh, Parlo

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper troubles research approaches such as critical community-based participatory research (CCBPR) in Indigenous communities.  It questions the emancipatory rhetoric and assumptions underpinning this research approach, and examines the contributions that post-humanist agential realism might offer the field.  The paper reports on a case study concerned with identifying stakeholders in health education (HE) for Torres Strait Islander girls, describing the ways in which stakeholders participated in HE decision-making, and identifying the factors that promoted or inhibited community participation in HE decision-making.  In the case study school, situated in a remote, low socio-economic community in Queensland, Australia, HE knowledge was recontextualised from two separate state departments, the education department and the health department and taught across the curriculum subjects of Health and Physical Education, Home Economics, Science and Human Relationships Education. CCBPR claims to ‘speak to a research audience on behalf of research subjects, to empower and give authoritative voice to the concerns of what is often an oppressed group in society’ (Whatman & Singh, 2013: 8). Thus, CCBPR is based on two notions of representation, firstly, representation as political delegation and secondly, representation as political depiction (see Spivak, 1988; 1990). Following, Latour (2004) the paper asks has critique run out of steam, and questions how the apparatus of CCBPR constitutes ‘dynamic (re)configurings of the world, specific agential practices/intra-actions/performances through which exclusionary boundaries are enacted’ (Barad, 2003: 816).  The paper argues that CCBPR and Indigenous Research Protocols are dynamic research doings/actions/practices which re/configure the world of HE curriculum and Indigenous education partnerships to produce emergent practices. CCBPR is not simply a neutral relay or carrier for the voice of Indigenous stakeholders (students, community members, practitioners). The paper also examines the traces that are left behind when the CCBPR project ends.  It challenges the  ‘makeover’ projected by CCBPR around messy, pragmatic, noncoherent and complicated research processes and practices (Law et al., 2014). The paper also examines the ‘modes of syncretism’ enacted in and through the practices of CCBPR. We use the term ‘modes of syncretism’ to describe the ‘more or less messy processes that combine or perhaps secure the temporary coexistence of practices and doctrines from a variety of dissimilar … backgrounds’ – in this case, various stakeholders' knowledge practices, Indigenous research protocols, CCBPR, and the practices of health and education realised in the local school-community-research context (Law et al., 2014: 176).