aue! this thing they call philosophy…

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I forget now who shared this story with me but at a regional educational gathering, a foreigner shared developments in educational thinking in the developed world and the proceeded to ask the Pacific representatives what the Pacific paradigm was and if there was a shift in thinking. An indignant male PI immediately stood up and said, “I don’t know about you guys but in XXX we don’t have paradigms”.  O.k so at the time I thought it was funny. Then later when I really thought about it I realized the ‘cultural gap’ that is characterized not only by the distancing of education and research from indigenous people’s but the very notion of knowledge and the language of power that defines and expresses it.

And then I got to my own thesis.. so my dear what is your ontological perspective? My what?! Back to the great magical tool of google.. and about 20 articles later.. oh right you mean our understanding of reality and our existence.. hmm.. one reference says it is the study of being.. being what? human? human existence? life in general…

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the origins of thought from another Pacific daughter (on the problems of doing a Pacific PhD)

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The brain is a curious thing.. I often find myself making seemingly random connections that even I cant quite figure out.. so here I am on a Saturday afternoon trying really hard to revisit my literature review. Do I want it systematically arranged in chronological order or do I want it to be thematic? choices.. choices.. and suddenly I am on wordpress searching for Pacific island(er) bloggers who might be blogging on education or the arts/culture.. no such luck only three popped up tagged in Pacific arts and Oceania and not a single hit for Pacific education…That was a bit of a downer given that there are hundreds of thousands of Pacific islanders in the world today (if you add those in the islands and Diasporas) and a lot of them have access to internet (for e.g. see fb). Yes, yes I know blogging is not for everyone. I mean I started a blog (Saumaiafe and the ghazal singer) a few years ago and its been inactive for some time now.. (something I need to rectify)… Getting over that bit of disappointment, I decided to write this entry on the origins of thought.. seeing as I have been preoccupied with ‘ontological’ and ‘epistemological’ framing for the last six months…

The problem with writing a Pacific PhD is that the description itself is contested… so what do you mean a Pacific PhD.. do you mean you are studying in the Pacific? Do you mean you are studying the Pacific? Or are you trying to embed Pacific thinking in the PhD from a Pacific perspective… well for me the answer is yes, yes and yes.. for others (esp. non P.I’s) perhaps just yes, yes and no)… Just like Pacific Art and Pacific Education.. these are seen as mere adjectives to describe rather than define.. and so here I am .. I want to write a PhD from the insider perspective of a Pacific island daughter.. I know there are many who detest the “insider”, “outsider” terminology but what the hell! It’s accurate. Everyone is dually an insider or an outsider so what’s so wrong with acknowledging that a researcher’s own subjectivity and background (cultural and otherwise) informs (a) the conceptual frames; and (b) interpretations and analysis.

So what is my dilemma? Well to put it plainly I feel like I am being boxed in by this whole process of PhDing. I conduct research as part of my scholarly work in education and art/culture development but to get into indigenous knowledge – the research walkway suddenly leads into thick bush. You see –  the perspective of a Pacific islander is one in which “research has become a bad word” (Tuhiwai Smith, 1999) and representative of communities that feel they “…have been researched to death” (Castellano, 2004). There is animosity about being misrepresented, misinterpreted by ‘outsiders’ and today, some view Pacific researchers with equal disdain. My mother who was born and raised in Samoa constantly reminded me that “some things are a privilege to learn” but “their power remains only in keeping them sacred and hidden”. She would tell me genealogical stories and then say “don’t write that down”. It is this notion of closed or secret knowledge that bothers me. Am I doing a disservice to the people I have committed myself to fight for? And the western educated alter-ego self reasons that if it is not documented it may be lost, but the Pacific islander id-persona is doubtful still.

Having said that, my bigger stress-button is the argument of “Western research paradigms” and “knowledge systems” that we must abide by. Granted I have chosen to undertake the PhD which is a ‘western’ construct of higher education and in so doing, I am mindful that I ought to follow the rules of research – and ensure a reasonable rigor while trying to contribute new knowledge. So whats the problem? I hear you say..

The problem is the overwhelming plethora of indigenous writing that has emerged over the last 20 years attempts to decolonize education and research – which is wonderful! I too want to join this club of thinkers.. but at the same time.. how do I as a PhD candidate validate (to myself and to my examiners) that I have adequately framed my research in the expected (yes western) paradigms but at the same time, claimed the process as my own?

So a friend tells me to revisit Edward Said’s Orientalism – yes yes.. make the connections etc etc… but the problem of getting into the “other” box is  that I run the risk of writing another anti-western dissertation that is pre-occupied with “reacting” and calling for a “decolonization of the mind”. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with them – but I don’t necessarily want to write a sequel.

I think my supervisor is right when she says the world has gone mad.. or maybe I have?

Perhaps I ought to stop over-thinking and just complete the damned literature review… the problem with epistemology though will be the subject of my next post…