Monthly Archives: December 2011

Defining a research space

For months now I have been struggling to define a research space, one that is challenging, ethical, culturally sensitive and transformative (both personally and socially). My initial thoughts of working only with Yolŋu women as participants felt very uncomfortable, as it should; questioning, would I be able to hear, comprehend, or even glimpse the philosophy that underpins concepts which are uniquely Yolŋu? Coming from a western world view, was it possible for me to present Yolŋu ideas without changing/simplifying their meaning? 

Verran (2010) and Christie (2010) both write about the challenging task faced by the translator, particularly when they are approaching a language and culture rooted in a different epistemology. With my current level of understanding of Yolŋu languages and cultural concepts, I have felt more inhibited than excited by the prospect of dwelling in this research space. On the flip side, Christie (2010: 69) reminds me of the epiphanies that can explode into my consciousness when leaning about a Yolŋu concept for the first time: 

‘Transcription and translation are for me, mostly enjoyable activities… beautiful new ideas and interesting ways of rendering them in English, and sudden flashes of insight into connections never seen before, now blindingly obvious.’
The idea of writing up a story that is not my own makes me feel like an outsider, a voyeur, a spectator. Something has been tugging at me from deep within to open up my research space, to claim it as my own and share it with others. I imagine this space to be one of shared experience, something we have lived through/performed/created together. Ahhh… I truly feel a deep sense of grounding and relief in even just writing those words. A shift in defining the research space translates my role, my relationality (Wilson, 2008: 80) to participants, place, purpose, into something that I feel more comfortable to claim (maybe a co-participant?).
The space that is generated when non-Indigenous and Indigenous participants create/perform knowledge by being with each other and country is emerging as a context that I feel attracted to explore. Epistemologies and ontologies interacting, are there transformations occurring that are being perceived by participants? Two influential lived experiences in my life, where I have dwelt in this space between/enmeshment of epistemologies and ontologies, are the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail (walking the songline that extends north from Broome with Goolarabooloo) and weaving with Yolŋu women in the Mäpuru homelands. I feel that there is much to write about these experiences, from a number of perspectives, to illuminate the philosophical work that goes on in these spaces. But how to adequately define this space?
Whilst referring to work of Victor Turner, Somerville (2007: 232) discusses the concept of the liminal, ‘the space of becoming’:
‘The liminal period is that time and space betwixt and between one context of meaning and action and another. It is when the initiand is neither what [s]he has been nor what [s]he will be’ (Turner, 1982: 113).
Somerville considers this idea of liminal time/space as fertile ground for emergence. She sees emergence as something that is inherently creative and in referring to the work of Trinh (1989: 59) talks about the ‘undoing, redoing and modifying’ that happens in this space.
So, where do I go from here? There are some key questions surfacing that I am keen to pursue:
Do I conceptualise the philosophical work that is being done as occurring in a space between or an enmeshed space?
Do I relate to being with as acts that are performed in a defined space? If so, do I become an observer/performer in this space? Or, do I look at representations of being with, oral/written stories, art and other modes of expression that have been inspired by experiences in the space?


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Letting things emerge

Back in Darwin and I’m waiting for all the parts of me to integrate. Even a little distance (in time and space) from my recent life is helping for my perspective to open up. I spoke with S the other day and she shared with me the work of Somerville (2007) in Postmodern Emergence. Can this framework offer me the freedom to be experiential and allow themes and issues to emerge in my research? What seems critical in this approach is the need for deep listening and reflexivity – practices/ways of being that seem to be at the heart of what I want to cultivate in my research process. Right now I feel as though the processes are illuminated far brighter than the matter of my research. 

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How we talk about it

Leaving Mäpuru and crossing into a new space, I feel like I am bumping into the edges of other people’s realities. My awareness of how we talk about being in a community is heightened. The othering. The politics. The stories.

My connections here are a few threads that meander through the town of Gapuwiyak to my gurruṯu, many of whom are here visiting from Mäpuru. Wandering the streets of this place I see a footy oval (large expanse of grey cloudy sky above, about to lose its load of rain on the town), hear a rooster crowing, feel sealed road underfoot. I’m reading the textures, colours and sounds to make sense of what this place is and how I feel in it.

A feeling of relief explodes inside me like a water balloon when I hear my märi calling me from across the road, “Bilinydjan!” An acknowledgment, an anchor or connection to feel like something here might grow.  I am reading a book about Indigenous Research Methods at the moment (Wilson 2008). Wilson puts forward that we aren’t so much being in relationships with other people and things, but that we are the relationships we are part of (2008: 80). I am still trying to conceptualise this idea of being the relationship, as opposed to being in relationship with… is it like being märi-gutharra, yothu-yindi? My experience here is so superficial. I need to couch it in my own terms from my own experience and connections. 

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