my knowledge, your knowledge, our knowledge

As a scholar, it’s important to differentiate between the following:

  • epistemology
    What we think knowledge is  – i.e. what is valid knowledge and what is invalid knowledge? Why are we more likely to believe a scientist than someone in a mental hospital?
  • methodology
    A system for collecting knowledge based on epistemological assumptions of what can and can’t be known
  • methods
    The tools, systems, and protocols that people use for collecting knowledge in an epistemologically valid way.

Some scholars talk about research paradigms, which would be one level of abstraction beyond this – for example, the university research paradigm vs. an indigenous knowledge research paradigm. My concern with this is that paradigms are incompatible with one another – not like two different languages, but like human language vs. binary. Whereas I think different epistemologies can learn to talk through one another, through the translation of methodology. The key is transparency, being open about the many assumptions behind the knowledge-making and the knowledge-validation that people are doing (and, of course, this also assumes that members of the different epistemological communities are listening to and respecting one another).

Augie Fleras (2004) poses a series of questions which I think all researchers should be asking themselves about how they define knowledge and whose interests shape that definition:

•    Who defines the research plan?
•    What is worth knowing and who is entitled to know?
•    What does the researcher want to know, and is it knowable?
•    What counts for knowledge, and according to whom?
•    What methodologies [I would say methods] are appropriate?
•    Who will carry out, write, and publish this research?
•    Who owns the research?
•    How will the community share in and benefit from the research?
•    To whom is the research accountable in the community or the university?
•    Whose interests do the research serve?

Further reading

Fleras, A. (2004). “Researching together differently”: Bridging the research paradigm gap. Native Studies Review, 15(2), 117 – 129