Indigenous Research Methodologies

Chilisa, B. (2019). Indigenous Research Methodologies. Sage Publications, Incorporated.

Chapter 1: Situating Knowledge Systems


Before explaining the decolonization of Western research methodologies, I appreciated Chilisa’s defining of the concepts relevant to decolonization.
  • Imperialism: The period of acquisition of overseas colonies by European empires and the creation of a dominant West and subordinate Other. Othering (coined by Spivak) is the process where Western knowledge establishes itself as the norm and displaces other knowledges as inferior. The West itself, as defined by Hall, is not purely geographic: it is “a set of ideas, historical events, and social relationships” (pg. 7).
  • Colonization: The subjugation of one group by another, which historically has been the process of two thirds of the world being invaded and controlled by the West (generally France, Britain, Germany, Spain, Italy, Russia, the US). She names differing and intertwined forms of colonialism. Political colonialism is the “occupation and external control of the colonies”; scientific colonialism is the “imposition of the colonizers’ ways of knowing … and the control of all knowledge produced in the colonies” (pg. 7). The colonized mind is the adoption of colonialist ideology due to Western knowledge systems, beliefs, behaviors, and racism.
  • Globalization: An extension of colonization where “first-world” Western colonizing countries invest capital into Other, generally “third-world,” previously colonized countries. Multinational corporations focus on acquiring indigenous ideas or resources for profit.
  • Postcolonial: A contested but popular term. Some dislike the term implying colonialism has ended, but others use the term to “include people with diverse and qualitatively different experiences with colonialism” (pg. 9). It is generally used to denote how those who suffered colonialism resist suppression of their knowledge.

Dimensions of Indigenous Researc

Indigenous research: Indigenous for Chilisa is defined as what is non-indigenous to Euro-Western societies, and what is indigenous to those colonized by them. She highlights four dimensions of indigenous research:
  • “It targets a local phenomenon instead of using theory from the West to identify and define a research issue”
  • “It is context-sensitive and creates locally relevant constructs, methods, and theories derived from local experiences and indigenous knowledge”
  • It may combine Western and indigenous theories
  • “Its assumptions about what counts as reality, knowledge, and values in research are informed by an indigenous research paradigm” (pg. 10).

Indigenous research captures:
  • Relationality: Building relationships with communities, stakeholders, and partners during research. Honoring the relationships that people have with land, living, and nonliving.
  • Responsibility: The role of the researcher in pursuing justice, resisting dominant ideologies that silence communities, and contributing to the community.
  • Reverence: Recognizes spirituality and values as important ways of knowing.
  • Respect: Everything in the research process, from start to finish (dissemination), should be community focus. The community has ownership of the data collected. The research should benefit the community.
  • Reflexivity: Researchers reflect on their position and imagine other perspectives.

Decolonization Process

Decolonizing western research practice is the process of conducting research to center those who have suffered long histories of oppression, so that they can communicate their continuously silenced perspectives. This also involved researching how established western disciplines have Othered non-western communities and shaped knowledge about them. It allows the colonized Other, whose own relationships with their cultures and histories, have been shaped by colonization (the colonized mind).

The decolonization process includes:

  1. Rediscovery and Recovery: The colonized rediscover and recover their own culture, history, and identities.
  2. Mourning: The colonized Other mourns the assault on colonized identities and realities which allows for healing and ideally the research would then allow for a positive difference to be made.
  3. Dreaming: The colonized Other can explore their own knowledges and worldviews and imagine other possibilities. Researchers might imagine other ways of doing research.
  4. Commitment: Following dreaming, researchers commit to community development and become political activists aimed at uplifting the colonized voices to improve local material conditions.
  5. Action: Dreams and commitment become strategies of social transformation through participatory research methods that promote “empowerment, inclusive, and respect” for the Colonized other (pg. 14). Action is taken to address community concerns.

Chapter 2: Research Paradigms

Chilisa highlights calls for a new fifth paradigm to add to the existing paradigms (postpositivist, constructivist, transformative, and pragmatic): an indigenous paradigm. Some believe that indigenous research methodologies can not simply align with other paradigms, like transformative methodologies, because they would be subsumed by the dominant Western epistemologies and methodologies. Including an indigenous research paradigm would be focused on “value systems … place, people, past, present, future, the living, and the nonliving” (pg. 20). Held argues for a separate indigenous paradigm because:

  • The four major paradigms and ingenious research “are based on different assumptions about the nature of reality, knowledge, and values”
  • “Indigenous paradigms are universally characterized by axioms that are all relational:
  • “The transformative paradigm is based on a Western worldview, while the indigenous paradigm is rooted in a holistic localized worldview”
  • “The transformative paradigm emerged as a Western research pathway making it unsuitable for radical decolonization” (pg. 20).

Chilisa states that Western knowledge systems and indigenous methodologies can be integrated. Sandoval calls for a “coalitional consciousness” where all work together for change, including the mixture of ideas, knowledge, and theories. Chilisa also notes a scale of indigenizing methodologies, from least indigenized to third-space methodologies. The least indigenous approach applies a universalized Euro-Western lens that pays little attention to decolonizing relationships. The integrative/adaptive approach connects knowledge paradigms but the decolonization intent is explicit. Western and indigenous perspectives are integrated. A predominantly ingidenous framework is derived from ingidenous epistemologies and is viewed as distinct from Western systems of knowledge. Finally, third space methodologies contest and invalidate Western paradigms and interrogate indigenousness using the voices of the most marginalized.

Ways of Knowing

  • Ontology: In an indigenous paradigm, a relational ontology investigates the connections that human beings have with the living and nonliving. Reality is shaped by the view that people are being with many relationships, with the living and nonliving, with earth and the land, with animals and other beings. Indigenous ontology emphasizes an I/we relationship in contrast with Western I/you (individual) narratives. Reality is existing in a set of relationships.
  • Epistemology: In an indegnous epistemology, the questions to not solely revolve around knowledge and truth as provable fact. They also question: “Is belief true knowledge? Or is knowledge on that which can be proven using concrete data?” (pg. 24). A relational epistemology views systems of knowledge as built on relationships. Western epistemologies generally view knowledge as an individual entity where the researcher is an individual searching for knowledge and that knowledge is gained and therefore owned by that individual. An indigenous paradigm instead views knowledge as relational in that it is shared with all of creation (not even just between two people or one community).
  • Axiology: The analysis of values to better understand their meaning, characteristics, origins, purpose, acceptance as knowledge, and influence on daily experience. Relational axiology is built on the four R’s from chapter 1 (relational accountability, respectful representation, reciprocal appropriation, and rights and regulations during the research process).

Discovery and Rediscovery: Reading and Conducting Research Responsibly

Postcolonial and critical race theories provide methods for critiquing colonialism, imperialism, and globalization.

  • Postcolonial theories are specifically focused on these three concepts and provide frameworks for resisting imposed knowledge systems. It is focused on power and power relations between researchers and participants, and how race intersects with class, gender, age, and ability. A critique of postcolonial theory from indigenous peoples is that it “can easily become a strategy for Western researchers to perpetuate control over research related to indigenous peoples and the colonized Other in general, while at the same time ignoring their concerns and ways of knowing” (pg. 54). Historical exploitation has been used to pathologize poverty, poor health, etc.
  • Critical race theories use race as a tool of analysis to reveal how race functions to systematically disadvantage certain people. It is transformative in its approach in reconsidering “practices, methods, approaches, tools of data collection, and modes of analysis and dissemination … [to] promote justice” (pg. 66). Race-based methodologies include:
  • Challenging dominant ideologies
  • Interdisciplinary approaches
  • Emphasis on experiential knowledge
  • Focusing on race and its intersectionality with other marginalizations
  • “History as the foundation of knowledge, the body of experience, and voice from which to work” (pg. 66)
  • “Rethinking language as a source of knowledge” (pg. 66)

Research Aims

Research aims of postcolonial theory are:

  • Researching back: Historical examinations aimed at “deconstructing how postcolonial subjects have been theorized, produced, and reproduced and reconstructing the present and the future, which carries some hope for the oppressed” (pg. 54-55).
  • Theory-driven: Conduct contextually relevant and theory-driven work. Indigenous perspectives may be adopted to a Euro-Western paradigm, etc.
  • Liberatory and transformative intent: Action research outcomes aimed at benefiting everyday lived realities.

Methodological and Academic Imperialism

Chilisa calls the domination of Euro-Western research “methodological imperialism” and “academic imperialism.” She describes how methodological imperialism, the methodological rules that carry with them Euro-Western assumptions, have been historically resisted by colonized Others. Those being researched have mediated research, even protecting themselves by providing unreliable data. In some parts of Africa, entry to a research site must be granted by the chief.

Academic imperialism defines how the global economy determines who can know, who can create knowledge, and whose knowledge can be bought; how scholarly circles often denigrate alternative ways of knowing. She recommends using Blaut’s theory on the colonizer’s model of the world to analyze misconceptions, prejudices, racism, and stereotypes when reviewing academic work. Specifically, a reader can employ the binaries present in research to find damage-focused assumptions in work.