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Indigenous Narrative Methods: A Hawaiian Perspective

21 Mar

Noelani Ka'opua

We’re now up to the ninth post in our consistently excellent methodology and narrative mini-forum, and this one was contributed by Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻōpua. Noelani is an Associate Professor of Political Science, with an emphasis in Indigenous Politics, at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. She has published on issues of identity, indigeneity and praxis in Hawai’i. Her first book, The Seeds We Planted: Portraits of a Native Hawaiian Charter School, was recently published by the University of Minnesota Press. Her second book, Ea: Hawaiian Movements for Life, Land and Sovereignty (Duke University Press, forthcoming), is a collection co-edited with Ikaika Hussey and Kahunawai Wright that explores late-20th and early 21st century Hawaiian organising for justice and self-determination. More recently, she has also become interested in the intersections of energy and food politics with Indigenous social and political health.


Ka'opua - Kaneohe Bay

Kāneʻohe Bay

Native novelist and scholar, Thomas King, reminds us that “stories are wondrous things. And they are dangerous.” In The Truth About Stories, he argues that’s all we are: stories. Empires are built on great stories. But on the other hand, anti-imperialist movements have also been motivated and sustained by narratives of personal and collective experience.

In my own home—Hawaiʻi—we lived for almost a century with the narrative that the US takeover was legitimate and that Kanaka Maoli (Indigenous Hawaiians) did not resist the US annexation of the islands. This story is even memorialized in a statue of US President William McKinley that fronts the public high school in Honolulu named after him. He is portrayed stately holding a document. If one were to climb up onto that eight-ton statue and peer over McKinley’s shoulder, she would see ‘Treaty of Annexation’ carved into the bronze. And this is one of the dangers of stories; sometimes they are completely false. In fact, an approved Treaty of Annexation never came to President McKinley’s desk for his signature.

The groundbreaking work of Noenoe K. Silva, in her book Aloha Betrayed, demonstrated that through a massive organized effort, Kanaka Maoli successfully defeated attempts to push a treaty through the US Congress in the mid-1890s. Over 38,000 Hawaiians defended their political sovereignty and recognized independence by signing petitions against the merging of the Hawaiian Kingdom and the United States. It was only when scholars began taking the narratives in Hawaiian language newspapers, Native oral histories and in Hawaiian songs and chants seriously that a century-long fiction was peeled back. The recovery of these stories has been incredibly generative for a new generation of scholars and activists who are now describing the relationship between the US and Hawai‘i as a prolonged, military occupation.

Narratives can be powerful because they have material consequences. Stories can be written on the lands that we inhabit. I grew up flanked by the consequences of the ways imperial narratives are made reality and Indigenous narratives dismissed as archaic. I grew up alongside the largest sheltered body of water in the Hawaiian Islands, Kāneʻohe Bay, approximately 12.7 kilometers from farthest northwest and southeast points and about 4.3 kilometers wide. Kāneʻohe Bay contains one of the only barrier reefs in the Hawaiian Islands and can be quite shallow in parts, filled as it is with coral reefheads and sandbars. As such, it was Pearl Harbor, rather than Kāneʻohe Bay, that became the US Navy’s center in Hawai‘i because of the Navy’s need for deep water portage for its massive warships. However, the south side of Kāneʻohe Bay is shielded by Mokapu peninsula and upon that headland, the US built a Marine Corps base complex that includes airfields, military housing, training and recreational facilities. For Native Hawaiians, the name Mokapu speaks to the significance of the place. “Mokapu” is a contraction of the words “moku kapu,” literally a “sacred and reserved land,” and it is known in Hawaiian mo‘olelo (narratives) as a site of godly creation and of human burial.

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“Across Oceans To Hear”

20 Mar

Naeem InayatullahThe eighth post in our Methodology and Narrative mini-forum, this time from Naeem Inayatullah. Naeem teaches at Ithaca College. His research locates the Third World in international relations. He shows how the history and theory of international relations are formed against ideas about “Indians”. He demonstrates how classical theorists such as Smith, Hegel, and Marx construct their arguments via comparisons to non-European peoples. His conceptualization of political economy as a capitalist global division of labor aims to reveal how contemporary conditions of wealth and poverty emerge from historical capitalism. In addition, he works on the relationship between autobiography and theory construction as well as on how popular culture – especially music and television – expresses theoretical tensions. With David Blaney, he is the co-author of International Relations and the Problem of Difference (Routledge 2004), and Savage Economics: Wealth, Poverty, and the Temporal Walls of Capitalism (Routledge 2010). He is the editor of Autobiographical International Relations: I, IR (Routledge 2011). He is currently working on materials that consider the overlap between pedagogy, psychoanalysis, and writing.

Pablo adds: He is also an incisive and funny responder to student criticism.


Too often my eyes glaze over when I am reading the theory section of our professional papers. At conferences and workshops, my ears search for other frequencies when I hear theory speak. But not always. When “my theorists” are engaged, I can filter out and hone in. Otherwise, though, I glide away. When I do so, I discipline myself into attention by mocking my hubris. I don’t wish to take that posture here. Instead, I want to use this space to defend and substantiate my drift. I am not sure I will do so, however, with an explicit argument.

Our discipline is faddish, no? Product differentiation requires graduate students and established scholars to move from theorist to theorist – searching for profit from all the pores of the earth.[1] And yet, new debates seem like old debates. Things, times, and theorists change but our foundational questions probably remain less than a dozen. My favorite theorists – dead and alive – negotiate these questions. As do yours. I no longer have it in me to sift through the jargon and make the translations.

And yet, there is always something to be had in these workshops and conference papers. Something buried in the theory speak but which the author/speaker hides in plain view. She/he is speaking now. A mind/body configured uniquely by the particular path of this particular life. But structured by forces mundane, ubiquitous, and universal. Such bodies speak and write. They hide what they try to learn. But they also reveal bits of the real. I am trying to pay attention.

—–

Claire Turenne-Sjolander relates her husband’s sudden death. She conveys what forced her to write her grief and to rage against the medical profession. She describes her negotiation with the editor of a journal over what needs to be added. She marvels at the outpouring of responses she receives from readers. Her story contains a universal equivalent. It presses others to reveal their own particular grief and anger. She sketches the stakes in all this. Writing is grief work, a kind of mourning — I take her to imply.

Jennifer Riggan says, “I fell in love with a man from Eritrea.” My mind races. Continue reading

Oxygen: Impressions from the Workshop ‘Critical Methodologies: Narrative Voice and the Writing of the Political – The Limits of Language’

19 Mar

Oded LowenheimPost seven in our ongoing mini-forum on methodology and narrative in (critical) IR. This time it’s the turn of Oded Löwenheim, who is Senior Lecturer at the Department of International Relations, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  His interests lie in the field of emotions and politics, autoethnography and IR, and investigating the peculiarities of power, so to speak, in various issue areas and fields. He is the author of Predators and Parasites: Persistent Agents of Transnational Harm and Great Power Authority (The University of Michigan Press, 2007), and The Politics of the Trail: Reflexive Mountain Biking along the Frontier of Jerusalem (The University of Michigan Press, forthcoming in 2014). His articles appeared in International Studies Quarterly, Security Dialogue, Security Studies, International Political Sociology and the Review of International Studies. At the Hebrew University he teaches courses on science fiction and on politics and autoethnography and IR.


The two days of the workshop were very intensive for me, in terms of both the many talks and conversations we heard and had, and in terms of the emotional weight I felt during these discussions. Some of the talks we heard were not easy to hear: people told about their personal experiences of places such as the “highway of tears” in British Columbia, Hawaii as a colonized space, or escape from worn-torn Eritrea. Other stories dealt with personal loss and the political meanings of grief; or, of opening up to the inner world of what I, and many other in the West, call “suicide bombers,” while they consider themselves as martyr soldiers; or, of the pain of Inuit people in Canada. But despite the sometimes difficult stories and realities, I felt I am full lungs breathing. I felt that the stories and the responses to them fill me with oxygen, almost literally.

We talked about the way stories and narratives can bridge gaps between people and enable us to reach out to the humanity of others. Yes, stories can be fabricated, manipulated, or exploited to reproduce hegemonic or dominating orders, some of the colleagues in the workshop reminded the participants. Stories can also serve a claim for authenticity, by virtue of the author/teller “being there,” while in many manners, there cannot be such a “there” from the outset. But stories, nonetheless, can create a strong sense of community, I felt. The more I heard the various talks, I realized that we live in a world that values distance and objectivity, but these values also contribute to human loneliness and atomization of societies. Narrativistic research not only challenges the traditional methods of writing in order to highlight various power structures that these methods ignore or do not capture fully. It can also have the potential to restore and to rebuild some sense of community among authors and their readers. By community, I do not mean only a professional community of academicians, which is often a small and closed one, but also a larger human community. Narrativistic writing, I felt during the workshop, can help people resist this institutionally – and structurally – imposed loneliness that is so characteristic of our times, both in academia and in broader society. Lonely people are easier to govern than people with a strong sense of belonging, connection, and community.

One of the most interesting conclusions I took from this workshop was Jenny Edkins’ comment (I hope that was indeed what she meant …) that while the state’s sovereign narrative is about completeness and continuity, a linear story in which there is a clear beginning and a path along which history continues, a path which the state – and I may add in a Foucauldian manner, its admirers/reproducers in academia – purport to know, in many political and historical situations reality is wounded and full of gaps and crevices. Narativistic writing acknowledges these gaps and irregularities, disrupts the linear narrative, but at the same time offers some comfort by engaging in a process of writing about the wound and, no less important: letting the wound write us back.

Indeed, writing about my own wounds and letting them write me back is an essential part of my autoethnographic work. Continue reading

In Praise of Question Marks: Reflections on ‘Critical Methodologies: Narrative Voice and the Writing of the Political – The Limits of Language’

18 Mar

Jennifer RigganThe sixth post on critical methodologies and narrative, by Jennifer Riggan. Jennifer is an Assistant Professor of International Studies in the Department of Historical and Political Studies at Arcadia University, where she began teaching in 2007.  She holds a Ph.D. from the Education, Culture and Society program at the University of Pennsylvania, where she received training in political and educational anthropology and African Studies. Her ethnographic research addresses a variety of issues including nationalism, citizenship, state formation, militarism, development, and education. She has published on the changing relationship between citizenship and nationalism and on the de-coupling of the nation and the state. She is currently working on a project entitled The Teacher State: Militarization and the Reeducation of the Nation in Eritrea which explores the role of teachers in state-making in the east African nation of EritreaThis research has been funded by a Fulbright research fellowship, a Social Science Research Council International Dissertation Field Research Fellowship and a Spencer/National Academy of Education Postdoctoral Fellowship. Dr. Riggan earned a B.A. in English from Trinity College in 1992 and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Eritrea from 1995 to 1997.


Alienation

I show up at the workshop on October 26th, not quite sure what to expect. I have gone through the ritual preparations for a conference. I have crafted a carefully cultivated appearance—professional, but not formal attire. Light makeup, hair blown dry, hopefully neat but not overly coifed. Glancing around the room, I’d say many of us have made the same preparations. This is a conference. We all know how to perform ourselves for this venue. The ritual is familiar to us. Notebooks at the ready. Cups of coffee in our grips. A firm handshake of greeting when we meet someone. A socially acceptable hug or kiss if we know someone well. Small talk about our institutions, our research, our teaching. Occasionally our children make a brief appearance in the conversation. When we sit down to introduce ourselves, my voice emerges from my mouth, confident and assertive. I hear myself speak and I don’t recognise the sound, even less the tone. How certain this person sounds, I think, I could be convinced by this person.

For me, the ritual is essential to make me believe in the performance. After all, I have no idea why I’m here and I assume, as usual, that some mistake was made when they invited me. Do they really know who I am? The preparatory rituals, the carefully calibrated appearance, the performance of being academic acts as a talisman against someone pointing the finger at you and crying, “imposter!” I say it to myself all the time. But in an odd form of ritual alchemy, I become what I perform. I fake it until I make it and then I actually believe in this ‘I’ that I barely recognized a moment before. I have become the performance. But when I get lost in my performance, where have I actually gone?

Question Marks

We are here to talk about stories. Some of us tell stories. Some of us make arguments about stories. Stories, like academic rituals, are performances. Are they any less alienating than the ritualization of self? The most honest of us raise questions about stories or tell stories that ask questions. Himadeep Muppidi’s poignant and simple assertion, “empire tells amazing stories,” has stayed with me since that day like a song whose words you can’t get out of your head. We are all penetrated by the empire’s stories. They make us cry and fill us with pride or righteous indignation. They have answers. But how do we tell stories that perform less and question more? This is hard to do in a world, and a profession, that prefers periods or exclamation points to question marks. Our language limits us. What is the point of a question without an answer? What do we become in the absence of our performances of certainty?

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Narrative, Self, Agency: Reflections on a Workshop

17 Mar

Richard JacksonRichard Jackson offers the fifth post in the Methodology and Narrative mini-forum. Richard is Professor of Peace Studies and Deputy Director of the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Otago, New Zealand. He is the author of Writing the War on Terrorism: Language, Politics and Counterterrorism (Manchester University Press, 2005), Conflict Resolution in the Twenty-first Century: Principles, Methods and Approaches (Ann Arbor MI: Michigan University Press, 2009; co-authored with Jacob Bercovitch), Terrorism: A Critical Introduction (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2011; co-authored with Marie Breen Smyth, Jeroen Gunning and Lee Jarvis), and numerous related articles. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of the journal, Critical Studies on Terrorism. He blogs at Richard Jackson Terrorism Blog, where part of this post originally appeared.


Any scholar who has ever reflected on their academic career can identify a number of key transformative turning points along the way – those moments when some new insight or experience turned you from the path you were on and sent you in an exciting new direction. It may have been a particular lecture, a book, a chance conversation, a teacher. Either way, it altered your thinking and set you on a new course. Reading Joseba Zulaika and William Douglass’s Terror and Taboo in the days after September 11, 2001 was one such turning point for me. I never would have become interested in critical terrorism studies if I hadn’t found a sale copy of that book in the Otago University Bookshop exactly when the world seemed to be going crazy about the ‘new’ threat of terrorism. The books I later wrote, the journal I helped to start, the conferences and panels I helped to organise – all that might not have happened if I hadn’t picked up that particular book when I did. Sometimes our lives turn on a simple moment that seems utterly ordinary at the time.

Attending a workshop on ‘Critical Methodologies: Narrative Voice and the Writing of the Political – The Limits of Language’ organised by Elizabeth Dauphinee, has proved to be another of these important turning points in my academic career. It has transformed me to a degree I never imagined; I feel that I am no longer the scholar or person I was before I went to Toronto for what I thought would be just another interesting but not necessarily out of the ordinary kind of academic workshop. I’m on a different path now. I want to do different things than I did before. It’s not that I have it all mapped or know where I will end up. I just know that I don’t want to continue to be the same kind of scholar I was before or pursue my work and academic career in the same way.

In preparing for the workshop, and during the workshop discussions, I had a genuine moment of revelation about how powerful narrative can be – as a mode of thinking, a way of writing, a method of teaching, a way of seeing and being in the world. I hadn’t really grasped it before, but I learned that narrative can help you connect more deeply with students in teaching situations, and also help them to learn in new ways; it can engender deeper levels of affective understanding and insight of subjects like war and politics; it can help to de-subjugate silenced voices and knowledges; it can challenge dominant political narratives and reveal the operations and effects of discipline and power; it can make your work more interesting and accessible to the reader. During the workshop, we discovered a great many reasons for considering narrative as a powerful tool and approach to IR which ought to be more widely used and legitimised in our discipline.

In relation to critical terrorism studies, the field I am most deeply involved in, I had already started to think that we needed other forms of production apart from scholarly books and articles to make a greater impact on the wider culture – such as films, novels, plays, art, music and so on. However, until I met the other writers and scholars at the workshop and heard their stories and experiences, and how narrative has affected them and impacted on their research, I hadn’t really understood just how powerful and transformative narrative writing could be.

Among other things, perhaps the most important revelation for me was when I came to see that narrative writing – especially auto-ethnographic narrative writing – can be an important step in understanding how your own subjectivity has been constructed, and how in turn, this can be an essential step towards greater individual agency and a kind of personal emancipation. For example, soon after the workshop I began to reflect upon, and write about, how my experiences had shaped my academic and political outlook, leading me down a particular path – and also how those experiences had enriched my understanding of some of the political phenomena I study as an IR scholar. Partly as a result of this auto-ethnographic reflection, I subsequently ‘came out’ in relation to my pacifist beliefs. I wrote the following piece not long after the workshop and published it on my blog.

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To Yahya

15 Mar

The fourth in our mini-forum on critical methodology and narrative (the full series is here). This entry is authored by A—, a student and activist who shall remain nameless, the political realities and personal dangers of our world being as they are.


To Yahya,

I remember your eyes, your fearful and tired eyes. Your shaking voice is in my ear, repeatedly asking “do you think they want to kill me?” And my desperate answer “no they won’t; we will not allow them”. I am sorry Yahya. When I came to Canada there was no information about you, they had removed you from the…. And took you to an unknown place. We had tried so hard to find you but we could not. I am sorry. I know you thought I forgot you, but I did not. After I heard you were executed I was devastated. Your and other political prisoners’ (who we were trying to help) death embedded in me an incredible pain and weakness. I lost everything that I had believed before, my power, my self-esteem. Everything seemed hollow and reasonless. I lost my faith in humanity, International Law, NGO’s, the UN, Human Rights, the media… and all the places I wrote to and never got any response or any practical help. I see my weakness and I understand that beyond that hollow propagandas nothing actually exists that can do something. After that, I hated all of them, I hated the government and I hated the world for not seeing your pain, for not hearing your voice. Yahya, I hated myself as well. You were such a young and bright man that I could not tell you the truth: that we could do nothing to stop them. That our effort is useless, a waste of time, a waste of life and it does not come from power it only came from the fact that we wanted to make the world see what is happening here. “So what?” you might ask and I do not have any answer for you except to say I am so sorry, I am so terribly sorry.

When I came to Canada, I deliberately tried to keep you and the memory of other prisoners in the distance to avoid the pain. However, your face, your eyes, your fear, your anxiety, are embedded in my mind and will not leave me alone. It creates such a guilt that even If I feel that I am happy for a second, I feel terrible afterward. You come to my mind and I nag myself “shame on you!” and then I think: ‘how afraid were you when they were taking you to hang? Did you scream? Did you cry? How did you feel, Yahya? Because I feel an unimaginable pain in my chest when I think about it. Then everything goes black again and nothing remains to make me happy. Afterward, I feel good about myself, “you had better grieve, A–” I tell myself, “you did not do anything, you deserve to grieve”. Yahya, do you hate me? Do you hate me that I am still alive and you are dead? Do you hate me that you were being tortured but I have not?

When I talk to my fellow students about political prisoners in Iran I try to be so mature and rational to not make them think I am wounded or emotional. However, I wonder if you guys would hear me in that moment and think that I lost my emotions about you. Sometimes I curl up in a corner of the room and start to create creepy voices as if I am dying, pretend to be dead, just to see if I understand you and others’ feelings when you were being hanged and could not breathe. I am not saying these things to you in self- pity. I am just saying them to make you understand that I did not forget you, I won’t. Your voice is here, all over my head, and I do not want it to disappear, I want to yell and cry out your words, but they stick in my throat and only tears come out.

I am writing this letter to let you know that I am so sorry, that I am in pain as well, that I want you to stay and have a voice. I left my loved ones, Yahya. I know it is not comparable with your pain. But I was punished as well. I forced to be alienated from all that is familiar to me and isolated from all the kindness of my loved ones. I remained breathless like you did Yahya, but my breathlessness was only emotional while yours was both physical and emotional. I was punished like you, for seeking my rights, for helping you, and for having a voice. How odd it is for the people here, you know? How odd it is for an eighteen-year-old boy here to do what you have done. To sacrifice his life for a political purpose. When I see a young boy in my school I remember you. Then, I feel terrible for so many beauties in the world that you did not see, for all your ambitions that you could not achieve, and for all your dreams and lost opportunities. How cruel was the cord that took your breath away and how cruel is the world to not care about that action.

I want to shout, Yayha, that you are always remembered, that you are always part of this world and that you are always part of a beautiful chapter of my narrative. I could not save you but I can save your voice. At least I promise you this time…

—–

I sit on my coach, lean back with a pen and paper on my hand, staring at my white piano that I have not touched for few months. “Where should I start?” I think. I am repeatedly asking this question of myself but every time I try to write I find myself overwhelmed with a painful ache in my heart and tears in my eyes. “Let’s try looking through some pictures,” I think, they could inspire me. I take my phone from the table, and I start looking at my pictures. “I did not take very many pictures in Canada,” I wonder why; maybe I do not have enough time. Suddenly, I stop by the picture of Sahand (a mountain in the northwest of Iran, near the city that I used to live). I took the picture from the airplane while I was coming to Canada, it is the picture of its highest peak surrounded by clouds. My eyes get wet again. When you are being forced to leave a place that you were born and raised, everything about that city or region gets a sacred place in your heart. When you understand that you might not see them again you start missing them so much. Sahand is the highest mountain in the province where I lived (East Azerbaycan) and it is called ‘the beautiful mountain’ because it is full of shaghayegh (Anemone Coronaria) in spring. Shaghayegh is the symbol of dead people in Iran. People in my region take a full fist of the soil of the graves of their dead and spread it on the Sahand to turn their loved ones to flowers, so they can be born again all over the Sahand’s body. My tears start to drop again. Yes, I missed Sahand, but it is something more. Something is digging at me from inside. A sense of being useless, or being guilty. My purpose here is to narrate my own past activism to free political prisoners who were sentenced to death, but something is preventing me. Guilt, this is the emotion, I could not let go. Will I be able to finally forgive myself? To stop punishing myself and to truly justify my deeds? Maybe I am starting from the wrong side, maybe I should justify myself to you, may be I should beg forgiveness from you. Then I could rest, then I could forgive myself…

Narrative, Politics and Fictocriticism: Hopes and Dangers

14 Mar

Anthony Burke

The third post in our mini-forum on critical methodologies and narrative in IR, now from Anthony Burke. Anthony is Associate Professor of International Politics at the University of New South Wales, Canberra, Australia. His works include Beyond Security, Ethics and Violence: War Against the Other (Routledge 2007), a recent essay in Angelaki, ‘Humanity After Biopolitics’ (December 2011), and the narrative essay ‘Life in the Hall of Smashed Mirrrors’, in Borderlands and Meanjin.


I

I have long been concerned by the way that language has two potentials with relevance to the study and practice of politics. On one hand, when combined with systems of logic and categorisation, language can construct, imagine, and fix powerful images of the real, and enable their deployment into material formations of industry, political organisation and human action. Language does not translate directly into power or constitute successful actions; it may indeed find contest and frustration. But we should hold this power in awe and watch it carefully, much as we may watch a dangerous animal that comes into our presence — after all, what more dangerous animal is there than the human, given its collective social powers of organisation and rationalisation, powers deployed through and within language?

On the other hand, particular forms and strategies of language have the power to undo and challenge this ontologizing potential: to see meaning defer and slip away, to see truths appear and shimmer into mist, to see its own strategies revealed even as it pursues them, to find itself haunted by thoughts and signs it did not intend. As Michel Foucault describes it in The Thought From Outside, this is language arriving ‘at its own edge…toward an outer bound where it must continually contest itself’. When this takes on the form of fiction, he argues, language is “no longer a power that tirelessly produces images and makes them shine, but rather a power that undoes them, that lessens their overload, that infuses them with an inner transparency that illuminates them little by little until they burst and scatter in the lightness of the unimaginable”.

This points to two strategies: one taking the form of social science, the other, the form of fiction.

I have pursed this project of deconstruction and unmasking in the form of social science, in way that both affirms and challenges its rules: to question ontologies of war and national security, the rationalist pretentions of nuclear strategy, the narrative confidence of American exceptionalism or the ‘good state’. To explore the dangers of all these things, of narrations and categories taken as truth, of choice masquerading as truth.

Yet I was also driven to literature as a possibility…of what, exactly? Continue reading

Fear and Honesty: On Reconciling Theory and Voice, in Two Parts

13 Mar

Kate DaleyThe second post in our guest series on critical methodology and narrative, this time from Kate M. Daley. Kate is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at York University in Toronto, Ontario. Her doctoral research in feminist political theory explores responses to privilege in the context of feminist relationships and her current research interests include narrative research methods, social science education, indigenous methodologies, and anti-oppression knowledges and discourses. She lives in Waterloo, Ontario, where she advocates for projects and policies that support transportation choice, environmental protection, and vibrant public spaces.


Part I: Fear

I am lucky in this room, among my colleagues. I am working in feminist political theory, not international relations, and my discipline has been advocating for and responding to feminist work that is in one’s own voice and that tells one’s own story for decades. Still, I feel a sense of paralysis. I am 27 years old. I have passed my qualifying exams. I have written dozens of graduate papers. My work is starting to get published. I am now starting to stare down my dissertation. And I am not sure that my work has ever been truly honest.

It was my Master’s supervisor who graciously began to break my training. She encouraged me to write in the first person. In her class, I had argued passionately with some of my more conventional colleagues. I had defended the overt positionality of narrative political theory, and valorized those who had the courage to write in their own voice. And yet I most often continued to write as though I was not there at all.

So I started to use first-person pronouns in my academic writing. Sometimes I even included a personal anecdote to make my writing more compelling, more convincing. I believe firmly in the importance of personal narrative for political theory, and for social sciences scholarship. I have thrown in the occasional story to illustrate a point. But I have never really, truly, made myself visible and vulnerable in my theory.

I am afraid. I have come to a place where I can no longer only speak an I that serves as nothing more than a grammatical device between abstract ideas, or a persuasive tactic to convince others of a conclusion I have already drawn. But I cannot wholeheartedly embrace autoethnography and my own narrative, either. I am afraid.

I fear that I will learn that I can write as a faceless academic, but not as a whole person. Continue reading

Critical Methodological and Narrative Developments in IR: A Forum

12 Mar

Elizabeth Dauphinee 2Some months ago, Elizabeth Dauphinee (York) asked if we would be interested in hosting a series of posts resulting from a workshop on recent critical methodological and narrative developments in International Relations. We said yes. Said workshop was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and happened in October of last year at the York Centre for International and Security Studies. It considered how narrative writing, including storytelling, autoethnography, and other forms of creative expression are currently altering the provenance of IR knowledge. Over the next week and a bit we will feature posts from many of the contributors. In this introductory post Elizabeth (who previously guest-posted on racism and the self) sets out the trajectory and stakes of the forum.


The ways in which academics and practitioners think about international politics are shaped invariably by the ways in which they produce and access information. In IR, as in all social science disciplines, there exists an established professional language that privileges the initiated, reproduces adherents through highly specialized training practices, and ignores or rebuffs intellectual ‘outsiders’. These languages sanitize academic writing and they strategically deploy their interlocutors in a style of adversarial debate that is often stagnant and exclusionary. In addition, virtually all theories of IR seek replicable truths and are deeply ill-at-ease with results that are unclear or open-ended or with projects that reveal ambiguity and ambivalence. Scholars deploying various critical methodologies have been arguing for decades that knowledge can only be partial and situated. However, this has not led to a change in the way mainstream scholarship is developed and disseminated, and even scholars who consider themselves to be critical typically operate with specialized theoretical languages and narrow intellectual coda that are often impenetrable even for the most diligent and invested student.

In recent years, these dilemmas have led to a new line of academic inquiry that may be fundamentally altering the landscape of IR. These approaches are based in autoethnography and narrative writing, and involve storytelling, explicit use of the ‘I’ as a narrating subject, and deep exploration of the interface between writers and their subject matter. Scholars who work with these approaches are showing that the form writing takes shapes its content, plots its own boundaries, and pre-determines who can comprise its audience. They are showing that researchers are always personally present in their writing, that narratives – both written and oral – are knowledge-producing activities, and that the claim to scientific objectivity is not only impossible but also, critically, undesirable. They are also showing that critical theory written in scholarly language alienates and excludes the very communities that many IR scholars are trying to reach: students, policymakers and practitioners, institutions of governance, international organizations, the reading public, to name just a few.

As this form of writing is growing exponentially in volume and scope, the workshop organizers and participants determined that the time was ripe for a sustained discussion to identify the successes and challenges facing narrative and autoethnographic approaches. Without a careful and systematic exploration of these novel methods by those who are already working with them – and also by those who are unsure of their value – narrative IR may emerge in ways that are misguided and destructive. They may emerge as an exercise in self-indulgence, or as disconnected forays into the personal and confessional without a sustained political motif. Additionally, ethical questions surrounding the disclosure of both self and other are uniquely important for narrative IR scholars, who do not purport to ‘interview’ their subjects in a formal way. And, concerns about epistemic privilege emerge in the context of approaches that do not claim to situate knowledge in any established theory or philosophical tradition.

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Open Access: Time for Action

17 Nov

This is the last in our recent series of posts this week on open access. Pablo covered the big questions and rationales for open access; Colin explored the potential consequences of the current policy direction; David raised serious questions about its fit for social sciences; Nivi highlighted the implications for early career academics and Nathan extended the discussion to the broader problems of academic precarity.


What do we do now? I will not labour over diagnostic points made eloquently and at length elsewhere on this blog (and also in the comments sections). In part, because there just isn’t time. At least in the UK, right now, we are facing a critical juncture where open access policy is being solidified by the Finch ‘Implementation Groups’, and solidified in the wrong direction. Indeed, there is a Academy of Social Sciences Conference in London on 29th and 30th November on the implementation of OA policy, which will likely further reinforce the direction of travel laid out by the Finch Report. Dame Janet Finch is the keynote on the first day, and the second day is ‘aimed at’ publishers, learned societies and their representatives. I am also somewhat concerned at the speed of travel on this, which suggests that Government have not taken the time to seriously reflect on it, and that most wider academic ‘stakeholders’ are being left behind on discussions and decisions which seriously affect all of our futures.

Briefly, though, my concerns around an endorsement of Article Processing Charges mirror questions raised by Colin. Having said that, I am rather more certain/pessimistic than him that these pose a very substantial threat to academic freedom and the overall integrity of the journal system. I am also concerned that they will increase the costs of research without increasing its quality, and waste a lot of academic time as Universities and Departments try to administer them (as will have to happen for most Arts/Humanities/Social Science research which is not funded by grant-money). Finally, I am highly disappointed that nowhere does the Finch Report seriously reflect on possible Government action to further protect copyright over the Version of Record.

So, what is to be done?  Continue reading

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