This is the transcript of Lata’s spoken word contribution. You can listen to it, or read on.
Tackling the question of whose ideas count is central to efforts to decolonise knowledge. Participatory methodologies then are, at least in theory, one way to address concerns that some ideas and the people with whom they are associated, might matter more than others. So widening participation to include more diverse people and views makes intuitive sense. The hope is that this will lead, at least partially, to counting the knowledge and ideas of more people. Surely, this is a good thing. In my short piece here, I’d like to unpack a participatory research process to consider not just which ideas count, but who gets to express them and how they need to express those ideas in order for them to be counted.
Recently, I participated in a panel that was convened at LSE dedicated to the topic of decolonising African knowledge systems. The panel members, who included also Prof Akosua Adomako Ampofo from the University of Ghana and Dr Wangui wa Goro, were invited to trace the progress made to-date in decolonising Africa’s knowledge systems and to explore how these systems may be rethought, re-framed and reconstructed to rid them of the hegemony of western Euro-centrism. I’d like to share some of the key points of my presentation with the network of Convivial Thinking to call for a more organised effort toward decentring the current epistemology.
“How do we lift the words on a page that describe how we ought to conduct ourselves, to connect more directly with the intention of those ethical principles and practices in concrete, meaningful ways?”. Bannister (2018)
As PhD students in the early phase of our academic careers we are struggling to address this type of questions in our research projects. Seeking guidance we are reading formal codes of ethics such as the Code of Ethics of the International Society of Ethnobiology. Much has been written on this area particularly on the application of the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (e.g. Medinaceli 2018). Even so, ethical research is much more than a set of rules and codes, and it not restricted to specific practices such as consent forms (Wilmé, at al., 2016). We believe that, if we aim to do research that truly breaks the colonial power dynamics, we need to do it from the earliest steps of the research process. We should carefully consider the power structures that we are producing and reproducing in the decisions we make about our approach, research questions and methods.
Researchers David Mwambari and Arthur Owor question the effect of money in producing knowledge in post-conflict contexts and argue that it restricts independent local research. These insights were developed at the ‘Silent Voices’ workshop at Ghent University, which brought together Ghent-based researchers and a group of researchers, commonly called “research assistants”, from post-conflict and developing regions. The aim of the workshop was to have a profound reflection on the challenges and dynamics of doing research together ‘in (and beyond) the field and resulted in a manifesto and series of blogs with reflections of researchers.