Volume 7, No. 4, Art. 1 – September 2006

Decolonizing Qualitative Research: Non-traditional Reporting Forms in the Academy

Elsa M. González y González & Yvonna S. Lincoln

Abstract: Qualitative researchers have assumed that cross-cultural work required deep understanding of the culture being reported on. Even earlier, cross-cultural work focused on "receiving contexts," and on end-users who were primarily Western. The utility of such studies is severely limited, however, in a globalized world, and studies undertaken now must serve the interests of not only Western scholars, but also the needs of nationals and locals (or indigenous peoples). Research conducted in different languages, non-Western contexts and different cultures becomes more problematic and understanding intrinsic issues more urgent with the increasing number of reports (such as dissertations) conducted by international scholars and thus bear potential for decolonizing the academy. Conducting and reporting cross-cultural qualitative data focuses on understanding at least five major ideas: working with bilingual data, considering non-Western cultural traditions, multiple perspectives, multi-vocal & multi-lingual texts, and technical issues to insure accessibility.

Key words: qualitative research, cross-cultural work, cross-language work, decolonizing the academy, reporting forms

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Reporting Qualitative Research, Non-traditional Forms

2.1 Working bilingual data

2.2 Considering non-Western cultural traditions

2.3 Multiple perspectives

2.4 Multi-vocal and multi-lingual texts

2.5 Technical issues to insure accessibility

3. Conclusion






1. Introduction

Cross-cultural work focused on "receiving contexts," and on end-users who were primarily Western. The utility of such studies is severely limited, however, in a globalized world, and studies undertaken now must serve the interests of not only Western scholars, but also the needs of nationals and locals (or indigenous peoples). Research conducted in different languages, non-Western contexts and different cultures becomes more problematic and understanding intrinsic issues more urgent. [1]

2. Reporting Qualitative Research, Non-traditional Forms

Conducting and reporting cross-cultural qualitative data focuses on understanding at least five major ideas. [2]

2.1 Working bilingual data

Because there is no "formula" to translate culture, the collection of data in a local language, and the presentation of the analyses in a second language, becomes an important issue to consider. The presentation of data analyses and findings is a huge undertaking for any researcher who hopes to make certain that readers understand and make sense of data from foreign participants. [3]

Context plays an important part in the act of interpreting data. Without an understanding of the context where the participants live, the results could emerge with no clear interpretation of the data. Participants express their ideas, perceptions, and interpretations, based in a context in which they have learned and that imbues their realities. JARVIS (1987) expressed the fact that "learning always occurs within a social context and that the learner is also to some extent a social construct" (p.15). [4]

At one level, the analytic process involves a linguistic translation coupled with a deep understanding of the context which helps both the researcher and ultimately the reader to better understand the phenomenon, while ensuring throughout the process there is no loss of valuable data. The process involves a translation, not only of the language, but also and mainly of the culture. SPRADLEY (1980) explains:

"A translation discovers the meanings in one culture and communicates them in such a way that people with another cultural tradition can understand them. The ethnographer as translator has a dual task. For one, you must make sense out of the cultural patterns you observe, decoding the messages in cultural behavior, artifacts, and knowledge. Your second task is to communicate the cultural meanings you have discovered to readers who are unfamiliar with that culture or culture scene" (p.161). [5]

Some authors have begun addressing this issue with research which focuses on the role of the translator, the origin of the translator, the repercussion of language difference and its translation and, in the end, its interpretation (TEMPLE, 1997). Expressing a lack of discussion of these factors and their influence on the text, authors explain the importance of including and explaining these aspects in the methodology section, in order for the reader to understand the whole meaning of the results, which are influenced by translation issues. In addition, a strong suggestion of including translators and interpreters as active partners in the research as "key informants," inviting them to an open dialogue, discussion, and exchange of ideas with the researcher is advised (TEMPLE & EDWARDS, 2002). [6]

TEMPLE (1997, p.611) explains "particular concepts may therefore have a history, that is, they can be temporally as well spatially differentiated; they also carry emotional connotations that direct equivalents in a different language may not have." In addition, the figure of the researcher as a translator raises questions such as: What is the first language of the researcher? Can the research be carried out adequately in the researcher's language or would it be more appropriate to use the language of the research participants? Are the researcher and translator the same person? If not, what position is the researcher taking toward the research? How does that differ from that of the translator? Including detailed answers and discussion of these and similar issues is suggested as a serious issue to be included in the methodological approach followed in the study. [7]

In translation, literal equivalency in wording often conveys meanings that are not parallel across languages and cultures. FINNEGAN and MATVEEV (2002), presenting several examples, affirm that "a deeper linguistic issue is that words often do not translate because elements in one culture are not found in another. Without intimate knowledge of a target culture, the lack of conceptual or functional equivalencies may elude a researcher" (p.17). [8]

Following the previous rationale, there are authors who suggest the presentation of data in more than one language, including the language in which the data were collected. ANZALDÚA (1987), in her social studies of the Mexico-U.S. border, insists on presenting them in Spanish, in English, and in many cases as a mix of both languages. This conveys the social phenomenon of two cultures bordering each other, and invites the reader to understand the "language of the border" where bilingual texts exhibit great power. The influence that language can have in the analysis of data has to be considered, since "the primary function of human language would be to scaffold human affiliation within cultures and social groups and institutions" (GEE, 1999, p.1). [9]

In the analysis of non-English data, GONZÁLEZ Y GONZÁLEZ (2004) suggested to start from unitizing data, which is the crucial step in transforming interview data "into the smallest pieces of information that may stand alone as independent thoughts in the absence of additional information other than broad understanding of the context" (ERLANDSON, HARRIS, SKIPPER, & ALLEN, 1993, p.117). The author describes:

"First, interview data in Spanish were transcribed from audio-tapes into computer files. Second, the transcripts were broken into "units" of data, or the smallest fragment of data from which meaning could be obtained. Third, the units were numbered and coded. Units were kept in Spanish, in order to maintain the original language and continuity in each narrative made by the participants" (GONZÁLEZ Y GONZÁLEZ, 2004, pp.50-51). [10]

This procedure was followed with the purpose of keeping the richness of the data in Spanish. For the presentation of the data, units were presented in both languages in most cases, supporting the idea that the Spanish-speaking reader understands the exact meaning of the unit and its context, in some cases, better than the English-speaking reader. [11]

Recommendations can be made when collecting qualitative data in foreign settings. Even with the risk of sounding simplistic, it is important not to overlook ideas. For instance, when conducting research in a foreign country, it is recommended that a researcher review the literature from the host country in its local language; otherwise, the researcher may risk missing important research literature already conducted, of which he or she was not aware because of the language in which it was published. [12]

2.2 Considering non-Western cultural traditions

The creation of research which meets the needs of two vastly different audiences has to take into account cultural traditions which may be distinctly non-Western, partially Western, or a fusion of European culture with other cultures (e.g., Caribbean, Latin American, Mexican). Ethnographers may be working with strong residues of colonial practices—forms of government, languages, bureaucratic agencies—which interact with, or contradict and resist, colonial practices. Stepping between and among these traditions offers a potential minefield of possibilities for cultural offense. Working cross-culturally is one reason for avoiding the "blitzkrieg ethnography" Ray RIST (1970) warned about so long ago. Blitzkrieg ethnography offers no chance to observe and understand cultural traditions which are non-Western, and therefore, poses multiple chances for offense, for organizational "fronts" to be operative and secure, and for later ethnographic work to be foreclosed to future researchers. [13]

It is no longer enough to present the "monumentalized" (ROSALDO, 1989), static cultural images desired by formerly unitary audiences. The audiences for such work have greatly expanded in the past several decades, and those multiple audiences are considerably more sophisticated and culturally informed than previous reports would have us believe. A simple glance at world news will confirm this argument. From far corners of the earth, when native informants are interviewed on CNN, more often than not, they are speaking English. The automatic assumption that savvy audiences make is that informants are bilingual—a gift which Western ethnographers who are English-only do not bring to their professional practices. The implications for Western ethnographers and their professional practice is that the acquisition of second (and third) language skills may be but one of many cultural skills necessary to carry out sound fieldwork in other cultures. One example will serve to illustrate what we mean. Antjie KROG, an internationally-recognized Afrikaans poet (who writes in Afrikaans, but does her own translations into English), recently joined the faculty of the University of the Western Cape. As a result of her joining the faculty there, there has been a stimulation of Truth and Reconciliation Commission research across the faculty. One of the projects in which Ms. KROG has been involved has been the "re-translation of key TRC testimonies" … especially the "… [re-]transcri[ption] and [re-]transla[tion] … [of] the testimonies of two of the widows of 'The Craddock Four', which were originally given in Xhosa and simultaneously interpreted into English." One of the startling findings of this research was that:

"A comparison of the new translation with that of the official TRC version has revealed a number of significant instances where the original meaning is lost, with implications for the historical record."1) [14]

Cultural practices appear to demand that our respondents speak English, and whatever else they choose, but that we need to speak only English. As the above example shows, however, failure to know and understand the first languages of respondents can leave us with misunderstandings, inaccuracies, and misleading information. The monumentalized image of an informant entirely conversant with English, and an ethnographer who cannot spend the time to understand either the significant variations in cultural practices, or the languages which frame those practices, will find herself or himself with data which may well have little standing in the non-Western world. [15]

What is necessary is a dynamic, interactive, dialectic set of images, reflecting change, exchange, interchange, galvanic and sometimes conflict-ridden processes. Perhaps the most powerful images of what such work might look like would be the notion of interchange. The very fact that respondents have acquired sufficient facility with English to respond in English to Western ethnographers should tell us something about the depth of exchange and interchange which is currently occurring in the world. We should be searching not only for data of interest around the phenomenon we came to study, but also for places, specific sites, and examples of exchange, of cultural practices in conflict, of contradiction between old and new, or dissatisfaction with the "leakage" between cultures, of resistance to the alteration or withering away of traditional cultural practices. We likely ought to be alert to conflict between one generation and the next. We need to be on the lookout for sorrow, for instances of cultural shame and loss. The habits of colonial pasts, where the forcible intrusions of colonizing powers were thought to be unmitigated social goods, are recognized as European delusions, not only useless, but frequently culturally destructive (SMITH, 1999; MUTUA & SWADENER, 2004). Researchers need to be sensitive to overt and covert forms of cultural conflict, and the sites of interpenetration between Western and non-Western cultural forms where this conflict is played out. [16]

Assuming, of course, that one gets in at all; Russell BISHOP's (2005) extended discussion of the deep and meaningful rituals of entering Maôri space to do research—the offering of gifts and money, the sharing of a feast, the acceptance or non-acceptance of the gifts of goods and money—speak not only to kaupapa Maôri epistemology, but also to cultural traditions which are kept alive and lovingly fostered as both a means of identity preservation, but also as purposive strategies to mark the boundaries of insider and outsider. Thus, this set of cultural traditions serves critical demarcation functions which permit the Maôri community to debate the intrusion of an outsider and arrive at a community-driven decision to admit or deny entrance and access. [17]

More importantly, cultural traditions, receiving and sending, need to be shown in contesting relationships. The smooth and unproblematic texts of the past, prepared for the consumption of a Western audience, rarely, if ever, displayed the conflicts between cultural expectations of the researchers and cultural practices of residents. MALINOWSKI, of course, was one of the exceptions, with his journals which exemplify the cross-purposes of cross-cultural work, and the daily frustrations and resentments engendered by failure to understand cultural practices, or the endless and rich variety of resistance afforded to native or local informants. Margaret MEAD was another, in her Letters from the field. But both anthropologists chronicled the stresses of cross-cultural work not as primary text, but rather as personal journals. The cross-purposes engaged by anthropologists virtually always turned up as "confessional texts" (VAN MAANEN, 1988), published long after the primary fieldwork text became available. [18]

Ethnographers trained to "get the facts" on some phenomenon, and report them out in fairly straightforward terms, will be hard-pressed to develop the "soft eyes"2) for conflictual cultural practices that permit a text of contest to be developed. Texts of contest are always layered (skirted, pleated) texts, texts which fold back on themselves to display dominant forms at war with resistance tactics, colonial usages against local customs, and the stresses of exchange and interpenetration. Texts of contest demonstrate the frayed seams of cultural collision and the torn fabric of colonial vestments. Further, they exemplify what Dudu JANKIE (2004) calls problematizing both the positionalities and the constructions of who is insider and who is outsider in postcolonial contexts, for it is clear that the very presence of a researcher in some, many or all of these contexts is itself a source of cultural stress. This is true even when, as JANKIE observes, the researcher is a native, and therefore both insider and outsider. [19]

Texts of contest must be layered, but also literary, poetic, and communitarian exemplars of struggle, resistance, and cross-cultural stresses. Saying that, however, is of course far easier than doing it. One of the significant means for achieving such texts, particularly the layering of cultures, and the display of places where struggles are ensuing is by utilizing multiple perspectives. [20]

2.3 Multiple perspectives

It is clear that the only means for achieving multiple perspectives in texts is by accomplishing research which is not only responsive to social scientists' needs, but more critically, shaped by the needs and questions of local peoples, as well as carried out under their direction. In fact, many new statements of indigenous people's rights contain specific direction as to how outsider researchers will conduct themselves vis-à-vis locals, including legislation which demands specific attention to local needs, which directs the kinds of authority researchers will have and not have, and instructions regarding how teams of researchers will be constituted, and who will be in charge of the research (SMITH, 1999). Researchers might well be advised to assume these secondary roles with all cross-cultural research, whether or not a specific statement of indigenous rights exists. That is, ethnographers who automatically assume they will be working with a local co-researcher, who will pose research questions needing answers which grow from local needs, are likely better positioned to conduct research which truly matters, and which can respond to local needs and desires first and foremost, rather than to the dictates of a distant academy. [21]

Research conducted in this way—a close fit with participatory action research—will display characteristics both conversational and dialectic. This is work which exemplifies clearly the exchange between cultures, including the struggles for self-determination, and the forms and forces of resistance. How is such work done? This kind of work implies the intense collaboration of two or more writer-analysts, perhaps one Western, but always one or more local, indigenous, and/or resident, not only vis-à-vis research questions, methodologies and analyses, but also in text production and cross-translation. Because, as we pointed out earlier, some ideas or concepts are not translatable—that is, no concomitant word exists in both languages—conveying both the local meaning, on which local people will act, and also conveying some set of usages that may be (but dimly) understood by another (perhaps Western) audience is a painstaking task, involving empathetic negotiation and conversation between cultural participants. This sense of conversation, of authentic listening between team members, should be evident in a text. In the same sense, the points of conflict—the dialectic between cultures—should also be present and obvious to readers. In some instances, this will be that personal sense of being "caught" between cultures. In others, it will be a culture-wide sense of encroachment, the inevitable result of interpenetration of cultures. Whether personal or community-wide, the dialectic should be evident, and often painfully so. [22]

The dialectic forces may not be felt equally on both sides. Consequently, multiple voices and multiple perspectives are necessary in the text. In classical ethnography, often it was the married male ethnographer who provided the field text on cosmology, kinship patterns, political and governance forms, and the like, and his spouse (likewise a trained anthropologist, usually) who provided the field text on women's issues: marriage, childbirth and child-rearing practices, food, and women's rituals. In some instances, this division of labor was necessitated because local customs prevented women from knowing some things about men's customs, and likewise, prevented men from knowing some things which were considered women's knowledge, or women's province. That is rarely the case anymore. As a result, as well as providing evidence of cultural conflict, texts ought to display the perspectives of women as well as of men. Because the intrusions of one culture upon another may affect men and women differently and differentially, texts cannot be the sole province of male researchers. Issues which impinge particularly on women and children need to be highlighted as strongly as those cross-cultural issues which have a direct bearing on local males. Multiple perspectives does not imply merely males from two cultures; women and children feel affects sometimes unnoticed and unnoted by community males, but which are as devastating as the more visible effects of colonialism or cultural exchange on males. If social justice is to be sought via the inclusion of multiple textual perspectives, the voices of women and children need to be there. [23]

2.4 Multi-vocal and multi-lingual texts

One of the clearest markers for a globalized but decolonized academic research will be the production of scholarly work (including dissertations) which are not univocal, but multi-vocal, and which are not English-only, but rather bi- and/or multi-lingual (GONZÁLEZ Y GONZÁLEZ, 2004). For social scientists to reach across cultures and work democratically with local groups, the results of research must be available and accessible, as well as usable, locally and indigenously. This means that texts must be produced in two or more languages simultaneously. One implication of producing bi- or multi-lingual texts is that texts will be longer, but as was mentioned before, with the purpose of keeping the richness of the data in its original language. [24]

As we mentioned previously, some studies suggest for the presentation of the data units be presented in the original language as well as in the language for presentation, supporting the idea that the local or indigenous-speaking reader will have available the complete meaning of the unit and its context. [25]

Collecting data in Mexico, during the interviews, Spanish speaking participants with English language proficiency were wondering about the way the researcher would translate some of their comments. The following quotes illustrate these concerns and how the data were presented in both languages in order to avoid the presentation of a text without original meanings:

"According to the situation with the public finances, the low tax collection that we have in Mexico, plus the large growing student registration in higher education that we have now and that we will have for many years; it is clear that the public subsidies are not going to be enough, and of course, the money is not going to catch up with what the university has needed to grow" [Dada la situación de las finanzas públicas, de la bajísima recaudación fiscal que hay en México, y junto al fuerte crecimiento de la matrícula de educación superior que tenemos ahora y tendremos por bastantes años, es claro que los subsidios públicos no serán suficientes, es claro que no va ajustar el dinero para lo que tiene que crecer la universidad] (GONZÁLEZ & GONZÁLEZ, 2004, p.98). [26]

The previous piece of data is part of research carried out in higher education institutions in Mexico. Without knowledge of the contexts of private and public universities in Mexico phrases such as "subsidios públicos," "recaudación fiscal," and "finanzas públicas" do not have the complete impact on the reader if the paragraph is presented only in English. For the reader with background knowledge of the situation of higher education in Mexico, the whole paragraph says much more than a good translation or interpretation could. The final phrase "no va ajustar el dinero" has a special connotation of closeness and understanding between the participant and the researcher, which dynamic cannot be expressed with a translation to a Spanish-Mexican speaker reader. More examples from the same research are next:

"Some years ago, licenses were given [which granted] the right to open universities without control … where the academic level was not as good as could be … generating, in some ways, more unemployment" [Hace unos años se dieron licencias para abrir universidades a 'ton y son'. Donde el nivel académico deja mucho que desear … generando de una forma mas desempleo] (Ibíd., p.101).

"An executive has to make decisions, be responsible for these decisions, obviously, but in a collegial form, with full understanding by one's colleagues, 'considering the consensus of a group', but not just 'passing the ball'[passing the buck] to the group—When you translate this it's going to be kind of strange, this language—" [Un directivo tiene que tomar decisiones, ser responsables de esas decisiones evidentemente, pero si las hace de una manera colegiada, y por colegiada entiendo, 'es considerar el consenso, un grupo', pero no 'echándole la bolita' al grupo (Cuando lo traduzca va a ser medio extraño este lenguaje)] [Ibíd., p.113].

"How to communicate our ideas, as executives I think we don't do this enough, in our institutions, ourselves, we are not right [good at this], are we? Having basic competencies does not mean that everybody has them. I want to use another colloquialism … and that is an 'extra', an add-on with new media … visual media, etc." [Como comunicar nuestra ideas, como directivos yo creo que a veces nos falta, en otras instituciones, a mi mismo, que nos fallan, no? Que sean básicas estas competencias, no quiere decir que todo mundo las tenemos. Le iba a decir otra coloquialidad ... Y de 'pilón' con nuevos medios, ¿no? Visuales, etc.] [Ibíd., p.121]. [27]

In these paragraphs, phrases and colloquial words give to the reader a sense of "listening" to what the participant in this research wants to say, having a feeling of understanding the sincerity and earnestness in the description of the whole picture. The participants in this research were chief executives in public and private universities in Mexico, and their words express how in a forthright talk, without the formality of their positions, they are willing to express the situation that they face in their institutions. For a Spanish-speaking reader, capturing this whole context would be difficult or even impossible with just an English presentation of the data. [28]

In these studies, the researcher has to consider the presence of multiple audiences with different data needs. This situation creates the need for the researcher to make special arrangements regarding language in order to ensure that both audiences will be able to understand the data and ultimately the results of the study. [29]

Another rationale is the rebellious reaction that authors such as Gloria ANZALDÚA (1987) propose, explaining the presence of a "new language," the language of the Borderlands, not approved by any society. She explains that Chicanos no longer feel that they need to beg entrance. In her book she presents an invitation from the "new mestizas."

"For many mexicanos del otro lado, the choice is to stay in Mexico and starve or move north and live. Dicen que cada mexicano siempre sueña de la conquista en los brazos de cuatro gringas, la conquista del país poderoso del norte, los Estados Unidos. En cada Chicano y mexicano vive el mito del tesoro territorial perdido. North Americans call this return to the homeland the silent invasion" (p.10). [30]

Extensive explanations of the context and culture behind the words are needed in order to transmit the meaning of the words. Ann WRIGHT, editor and translator of one of Rigoberta MENCHÚ's books, Crossing Borders (1998), explains:

"Readers of the first book will be familiar with many of the Spanish words, like compañero, ladino, compadre, again left in the original because there is no precise equivalent in English as explained in the Glossary. Many more words have been left in K'iche' and explanations incorporated into the text. Doña Rigoberta explains that haciendo corridores at the UN does not literally mean 'working the corridors', although that was often what she did, but that she lobbied, networked, hustled and even harassed people so that they took notice of her. What she calls la unidad nacional refers to a nation-state confronting ethnic, linguistic or territorial groups pressing for greater autonomy from central government not only in the case of Guatemala, but also of Canada and Quebec, Spain and Euskadi, the United Kingdom and Scotland. America naturally refers to the continent of The Americas, not to the United States. The specific use of some of Doña Rigoberta's Spanish words is not entirely clear and I have chosen the ones that seem the most appropriate in the context. For example, abuelos may alternatively mean grandparents or forefathers, or more generally village elders. Pueblo may be people in general, a people as in an indigenous nation, or the people as in the masses. I hope Doña Rigoberta will forgive me if I have not always chosen the right one. Also for any mistakes in the way I have inserted linking text or reorganized the taped testimony where I felt clarification was needed for English-speaking readers" (pp.viii-ix). [31]

In many cases, the non-local audience may require more data regarding the context of the local setting. In that case, the language, its translation, and context issues may also affect the analysis of the data. ERLANDSON et al. (1993, p.85) agree that "in qualitative data gathering and analysis, attention should be given to constructing a comprehensive, holistic portrayal of the social and cultural dimensions of a particular context." In this sense, deeper considerations regarding the clarity of the context should be undertaken in order to have a more precise view of the analysis and results of this study, especially for a U.S./American audience. However, this consideration may seem superfluous for the local audience but indispensable for the U.S. one. [32]

In addition to previous reflections about culture and context, it is important to consider that "culture is not a single undifferentiated phenomenon; it varies by socio-economic class, by ethnic community, by region, and even by gender" (JARVIS, 1987, p.13). Consequently, in addition to any quantitative and factual data, the researcher may look to include observations that represent hallmark characteristics of the participants. [33]

Given the importance that context has during the unfolding of the data, and how language plays an important role in the context, then data probably should be analyzed in the language in which it was collected. Consequently, making the results accessible in the multiple languages, will give readers the option of the original language of the data along with the "presentation" language. [34]

Indigenous people around the world have different and alternative stories to tell. Those cannot be fully understood with a perfect translation. The practice of presenting text in the language of the story teller has to be a practice that generates authentic discourses in the eyes of the colonized, a practice promoted and supported within the Western academic world. [35]

2.5 Technical issues to insure accessibility

The premier technical issue for research in the West may be validity. Validity, as a concern, responds both to the issue of fidelity of reports to what occurred, or what is reported alongside some reality at the site, but also to the utility of findings for application beyond that setting (corresponding roughly to internal and external validity). But validity as understood by Western social science, even validity as reconstructed for use with phenomenological and qualitative research, may have little meaning for local peoples (SMITH, 1999). In fact, Western scholars' concerns with validity may be annoying or even culturally offensive to local or indigenous peoples (LINCOLN & DENZIN, 2005). Because Western institutions, following the Helsinki Protocol, all require some form of informed consent does not mean that local, native, or indigenous peoples recognize the rights of Westerners to impose such a form on them. In fact, in some contexts, informed consent forms are themselves seen as subtle and manipulative forms of colonial practice, and are resisted by locals3). [36]

There are, as readers will intuit, other concerns in assuring that research is available and accessible to those who can use it most readily. Those other technical issues include: (a) longer text length, (b) publication in local outlets and languages, and (c) vigilant recognition of collaboration via authorship in all outlets. While we are not prepared to fully understand or explicate all of these issues at this time, we can amplify them somewhat. For instance, when we speak of longer text length, we are trying to take into account the narrative structure of multi-vocal texts, the extensive elaboration of issues and concerns in the local context (where little can be taken for granted), the need to present sufficient data for non-resident research audiences to begin to have somewhat of a vicarious experience, and the necessity to create texts which are not only records of deep cultural exchange, but, as we pointed out earlier, are bi- or multi-lingual. Such texts will necessarily never fit into the usual technical requirements for many journals that they be no longer than 20-25 pages in length. Book chapters and articles, especially, in attempting to show the complexities of context, the problems inherent in positionality of the (usually Western) researcher, the kinds and sources of inter-cultural conflict, the forms of assimilation and resistance, and the deploying of methods, some perhaps created on site, which are culturally responsive, respectful and cognizant of cultural mores, and the interplay of languages, will of necessity be longer, more open-ended, and always more layered as well as less amenable to closure. Longer text length for such work will, or perhaps should, become the norm for cross- and inter-cultural work. [37]

Publication will also become both the solution and the problem. The academy's rising interest in evaluating only faculty publications which are in "core," "benchmarked," or high-prestige Western, English or European language journals will have to give way to recognition of journal articles—and other publications—which are not normally a part of the repertoire of Western universities. The central premise of high-quality cross- and inter-cultural ethnographic work of the future is that it will grow from local and/or indigenous concerns, and that it will be provided to local peoples in forms which are useful to them. This may mean publication outlets that are not normally listed as a part of the U.S. News and World Report's highest prestige institutional publication list. If institutions are interested in assuring that faculty's work is respected, supported, funded and found useful throughout the world, then the rules for promotion and tenure will have to change to accommodate this responsiveness to local peoples and international contexts. In some instances, this will be absolutely necessary, as indigenous people's declaration of rights have already demanded such collaboration. In other instances, volunteering such co-participation and collaboration will be the best route to social justice. [38]

Co-authorship will also be a necessity. Texts without co-authorship will, in all probability, come to be seen as just more evidence of neo-colonial forms of domination. The dialectic, conversational, multi-lingual, exchange-oriented text that characterizes a decolonized academy will be a text which is negotiated and co-authored by both local peoples and their Western collaborators, with equal space afforded for first authorship, and specific arrangements made for the sharing of accrued royalties. Karen Murphy BROWN (1991) described a similar situation in her research on a voodoo practitioner in the Bronx, where she made it plain that "Mama Lola," having become her family, shared 50-50 in the royalties from the eponymous book, Mama Lola. Similar arrangements, while not mandated anywhere, will naturally flow from co-authorship contracts for books. It may be critical, however, for Western scholars to talk openly about these arrangements and how fiscal arrangements may evolve within the community. Some vigilance here will be demanded of Western researchers. [39]

International research may require a vastly different set of premises to assure that research proves useful, liberating, and non-oppressive to locals. Methods must be located, or created in situ, to assure accessibility and to enable locals to pursue nomination of research agendas which foster self-determination. It is not merely a question of whether research should serve only or primarily the interests of Western scholars; in fact, in retrospect, it is unclear just how such research has in fact served Western interests. Some ethnographic work has been seriously ethnocentric. Some has served colonial powers far better than it has served local peoples. And some has done little to foster rights to self-determination of indigenous peoples, or to preserve cultural traditions. New agendas for ethnographers might serve to redress this imbalance. [40]

3. Conclusion

In an effort to decolonize the academy, and in recognition of the increasing internationalization of Western institutions, we have identified five major arenas where specific attention might be given to creating decolonizing and locally-useful forms of research. Chief among these is the creation of bi-lingual texts, and the purposeful effort to feed results back into the local context via a variety of strategies, where local users can design locally and culturally-specific strategies for addressing their own needs as well as empowering themselves to take action. It is clear that for the present Western scholars hold more power and resources in the world of academic and community research. This situation, however, creates great obligations, on the premise that from her or him to whom much has been given, much will be asked. It is likewise true that many native and indigenous peoples have declared their rights vis-à-vis research efforts in their lands, communities and territories. It is therefore incumbent on Western scholars to reach out in democratic and liberating ways, with great humility, to engage in research collaborations that help to achieve social justice. If we do not, we may find ourselves—quite appropriately—locked out. [41]


1) University of the Western Cape, http://www.uwc.ac.za/arts/newns/antijiekrog.htm, retrieved 4/30/05. <back>

2) We are grateful to Susan LYNHAM for suggesting this term. It is a distinctly African terminology, used to train individuals who are going to spend time in the bush to look for snakes. "Soft eyes" refers to an ability to recognize patterns, and to "see" snakes before one is so close as to be in danger. It is a kind of focus which not only sees context, but also sees markers, and which sees peripherally, rather than in hard focus on singular objects. <back>

3) A particularly interesting (and personally amusing) example of this occurs in Australia. Australia has policies and procedures almost precisely like those in the U.S. regarding informed consent and other research protocols. Australia's aboriginal peoples construct such forms as both colonizing (neo-colonial) and at the same time, disrespectful of the community's traditions of having knowledge be a community property/good. Knowledge, therefore, resides in the tribe, not in individuals, who consequently have no right to sign such forms. Although the Federal government in Australia requires them, thousands of research participants—all Aboriginal peoples—cannot, in all good conscience, and will not, in resistance, sign them. What's a researcher to do? <back>


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Elsa M. GONZÁLEZ Y GONZÁLEZ is Research Associate in the department of Educational Administration and Human Resources at Texas A&M University, where she works as a co-manager editor of the Handbook of Qualitative Research (3rd ed.) and the Encyclopedia of Sociology. She obtained her doctoral degree from Texas A&M University. Her dissertation was designed to find competencies of higher education senior administrators in Mexico. Her research interests include higher education leadership, methodological issues in cross-language qualitative data analysis, and women in higher education.


Elsa M. González y González

EAHR Department, 574 Harrington Tower
4226 TAMU, Texas A&M University
College Station, TX. 77843-4226

E-mail: elsa@tamu.edu


Yvonna S. LINCOLN is Ruth Harrington Chair of Educational Leadership and University Distinguished Professor of Higher Education at Texas A&M University. She is the coauthor of Naturalistic Inquiry and Fourth Generation Evaluation; she is currently the coeditor of Qualitative Inquiry, a journal devoted to methodological explorations of qualitative methods, and also co-editor of the first, second, and third editions of the Handbook of Qualitative Research. Her research interests include the intellectual histories and origins of the paradigm revolution, and faculty intellectual life more generally, as well as program evaluation and media effects on public perceptions of higher education.


Yvonna S. Lincoln

EAHR Department, 511 Harrington Tower
4226 TAMU, Texas A&M University
College Station, TX. 77843-4226

E-mail: ysl@tamu.edu


González y González, Elsa M. & Lincoln, Yvonna S. (2006). Decolonizing Qualitative Research: Non-traditional Reporting Forms in the Academy [41 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 7(4), Art. 1, http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs060418.

Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research (FQS)

ISSN 1438-5627

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