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Despite more than two decades of critical scholarly engagement, “development” is far from shedding its hierarchical, patriarchal, and colonial underpinnings. In academic research and teaching, power relations are continuously perpetuated – both implicitly and explicitly. Grounding our arguments on post- and decolonial critiques and our own experiences, we contend that how, why, and by whom “development” research is carried out must remain under constant scrutiny. We propose a reflexive and sociopolitically conscious approach of “knowledge co-construction”. Thus, we seek to decouple the myths of objective production of knowledge around “development” and provide (especially) students and early career researchers with a critical gaze.
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Canadian Journal of Development Studies / Revue
canadienne d'études du développement
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Why positionalities matter: reflections on power,
hierarchy, and knowledges in “development”
Arda Bilgen , Aftab Nasir & Julia Schöneberg
To cite this article: Arda Bilgen , Aftab Nasir & Julia Schöneberg (2021): Why positionalities
matter: reflections on power, hierarchy, and knowledges in “development” research, Canadian
Journal of Development Studies / Revue canadienne d'études du développement
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Published online: 18 Jan 2021.
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Why positionalities matter: reections on power, hierarchy,
and knowledges in developmentresearch
Arda Bilgen
, Aftab Nasir
and Julia Schöneberg
Department of International Development, Community, and Environment, Clark University, Worcester, MA,
Department of Sociology, Forman Christian College University, Lahore, Pakistan;
Department for
Development and Postcolonial Studies, University of Kassel, Kassel, Germany
Despite more than two decades of critical scholarly engagement,
developmentis far from shedding its hierarchical, patriarchal,
and colonial underpinnings. In academic research and teaching,
power relations are continuously perpetuated both implicitly
and explicitly. Grounding our arguments on post- and decolonial
critiques and our own experiences, we contend that how, why,
and by whom developmentresearch is carried out must remain
under constant scrutiny. We propose a reexive and socio-
politically conscious approach of knowledge co-construction.
Thus, we seek to decouple the myths of objective production of
knowledge around developmentand provide (especially)
students and early career researchers with a critical gaze.
En dépit de plus de vingt ans dengagement académique et
critique, la discipline du « développement » est encore loin de
sêtre défait de ses fondements hiérarchiques, patriarcaux et
coloniaux. Dans la recherche et lenseignement académiques, les
rapports de pouvoir sont sans cesse perpétuées de façon
implicite et explicite. Basant notre argument sur une critique
post-coloniale et décoloniale, ainsi que sur nos expériences
personnelles, nous postulons que les stratégies, les motifs, et les
acteurs de la recherche sur le « développement » doivent
toujours être mis à lépreuve et réévalués. Nous proposons une
approche réexive, qui prend en compte les facteurs socio-
politiques de la « co-construction du savoir ». Pour ce faire, notre
objectif est de dissocier la discipline du « développement » du
mythe dune production de savoir objective, et dorir un regard
critique sur la situation, plus particulièrement pour les étudiants
et les chercheurs en début de carrière.
Received 7 April 2020
Accepted 11 December 2020
Development; power;
positionality; reexivity;
Once upon a time, an old man used to travel between two countries on a donkey. The guards
at the border control thought that he was a smuggler, so they always checked him carefully
for any smuggling goods. Every time they searched him from head to toe, but could not nd
anything on him. This became a routine and the guards started getting frustrated upon
nding nothing on him week after week. After almost six months of thorough checking, agi-
tation, and curiosity, they gave up and explained the whole scenario to the old man. They
© 2021 Canadian Association for the Study of International Development (CASID)
CONTACT Arda Bilgen
asked him if he actually smuggled goods, and how he managed to do it. The old man listened
to them carefully, and then told them his secret. He explained that what he smuggled had
always been right in front of them, but they could not see. He asked them if they had
ever noticed that he always travelled with a dierent donkey every week. It was these
donkeys that he smuggled. This was his secret. (A tale from the Middle East)
The year 2020 marks the 25th anniversary not only of Power of Development by Jonathan
Crush (1995), one of the most powerful (edited) books that has challenged the power
structures embedded in development
thinking and practice, but also of Encountering
Development by Arturo Escobar (1995), a seminal work on the production of knowledge
and power in the eld of development. Since 1995, and indeed before, there has been a
growing concern with examining the linkages between developmentand power as well
as the discursive, non-material dimensions of development(see Escobar 1995; Fergu-
son 1994; Hall 1992; Kothari and Minogue 2002;Li2007; Matthews 2004; McGregor
2009; Petras 2003; Rahnema and Bawtree 1997; Rist 1997; Sachs 1992; Ziai 2016). Critical
approaches that challenge the dominant developmentthinking, such as post-develop-
ment, post-colonialism, and anti-development perspectives, have become more popular
and acceptable, even in the curricula of mainstream research and education institutions
in Western Europe and North America. These approaches, or at least some of their key
components, have found a greater place in the syllabi of more and more undergraduate-
and graduate-level courses on development, resulting in a rise in the number of
masters and PhD theses written through the lens of the power-development nexus.
Similar changes can be observed in the practice of developmentas well. Once con-
sidered innovative and progressive for acknowledging the power relations between pro-
viders and recipients of development, concepts such as alternative developmentand
buzzwords like participationor empowermenthave become incorporated into the
mainstream. Practically, however, asymmetrical power relations within and among the
actors and supposed beneciaries of developmentremain dominant. Development
as a concept, a practice, and a eld of study is far from having shed its hierarchical, patri-
archal, and colonial underpinnings.
In this article, we focus on the question as to why, despite all the reform, repackaging,
and rebranding of development, the power asymmetries and inequalities that trouble
the subject continue to prevail. We focus specically on the workings of power in devel-
opmentresearch. Drawing on post- and decolonial critiques, we argue that reexivity in
research processes can serve as a tool to dismantle embedded power hierarchies. In a
reexive manner, we are grounding our argument on personal research and practical
experiences, rst as PhD students at a university-aliated think tank in Germany, and
later on as lecturers and researchers at universities in Germany, Pakistan, and the
United States (US). We contend that the dominant forms of knowledge production,
which itself is a contested term, should be problematised in every context. Relatedly,
we maintain that who researches developmenthow, why, where, and when must be
constantly questioned. We assert that research that overlooks the power dynamics in
developmentmust be replaced with a power-sensitive and socio-politically conscious
approach of knowledge co-construction, which acknowledges, engages, and draws on
non-hierarchical ontologies, epistemologies, and methodologies.
In addition to taking reexivity as our guiding principle, we take a discursive approach
in what follows. Discourses can serve as powerful tools of practice. Inevitably, the use and
repetition of a certain language inuences the frames of theory, policy, and practice of
development(Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2013). The common practice of writing about the
theory of power inequalities dictates that we tackle this question with more theory,
but this is what we position ourselves against. This, however, does not mandate us to
invent the wheel anew either. The most obvious answer to this question comes from
the decolonial literature (Bhabha 2012; Fanon 1995) that contests the phenomenon of
white colonial gaze. Through experiential data, we nd that the white colonial gaze not
only works in discourse, but also imprints itself on the bodies of the researcher.
As developmentresearchers, we do not claim to speak for the whole of our pro-
fession. We acknowledge that our analyses are inevitably subjective, shaped by our posi-
tionalities in terms of race, gender, class, education, and upbringing in three very
dierent social, geographical, and political contexts. However, despite of, or maybe
even because of, this subjectivity, we believe that our experiences and struggles relate
to that of many of our colleagues. We purposefully do not suggest a universally applicable
solution. The tendency to t all the intricate, even contradictory human experiences
under the same umbrella as well as to universalise the concepts, words, and ideas is
exactly the problem with the way knowledge (about development) is produced.
Instead, by using our subjective lens, we aim to contribute towards pluriversal dialogues
and decouple the myths of neutral and objective production of knowledge of and around
Below, we frame our understanding of the concept of development. Following this,
without limiting our analysis to the critique of a single institution or a university struc-
ture in a specic country, we discuss the details of how we have been instructed to
research developmentand unearth the underlying discourses of power dynamics
that end up producing and perpetuating its practices. Here, the consciousness of
entangled positionalities is central to what we think can be done dierently in order to
make the production of developmentknowledge symmetrical and, eventually, pluriver-
sal. We conclude by emphasising that any research on developmentmust inevitably be
a re-search of power.
Development: a powerful discourse
Developmentis a highly contested term. As a eld of study, it seeks to understand and
explain the interconnections of global, national, regional, and local processes of change
within social, political, economic, technological, cultural, environmental, and gendered
spheres (EADI 2017). It is a multi-, inter- or even trans-disciplinary eld that incorpor-
ates a wide array of disciplines that range from economics, to engineering, political
science, sociology, anthropology, and linguistics. As a practice, it refers to an innite
number of actions and processes: infrastructure construction, economic growth,
womens empowerment, institution building, and many more. As an arena of policy,
developmentseeks to save whole continents (e.g. Africa), regions (e.g. Southeast
Asia), countries (e.g. Malawi) from poverty and transform whole societies (e.g. from
traditional to modern social organisations), communities (e.g. from passivesubjects to
activeagents of change), and people (e.g. from consumers to entrepreneurs). The mul-
tiplicity of references attributed to developmenthas made the concept an amoeba-like
term (Esteva 1992), an empty signier shaped according to the most vocal and powerful
voices (Ziai 2009).
The implications of such understandings and policies are so powerful that states and
international institutions have placed a broad array of diagnoses, prescriptions, practices,
and projects under the umbrella of development, as materialised in the United Nations
2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Despite its obvious failings and detrimental
social and environmental impacts, developmentcontinues to be considered norma-
tively good and universally desirable. Any negative implications are explained with meth-
odological shortcomings that require technical xes rather than fundamental
epistemological contestation or political debate. The assumption is that interventions
simply need to be carried out more eective, inclusive, just, participatory, and sustainable
to work. Not less, but more developmentin dierent guises is oered as a remedy for
policy failures and shortcomings.
Post- and decolonial scholarship has contested such normative assumptions of devel-
opment, exposing the colonial legacy and continuity of development. Post- and deco-
lonial critique uncovers the power structures inherent in the production of knowledges
and the control of peoples, places, and spaces that are all measured against the yardstick
of European modernity (Dabashi 2015; Kothari 2006; Pailey 2019; Ziai 2016). Develop-
mentis deconstructed as a discourse of hegemony that legitimises the control of the
West over the Rest, establishing binary divides of modern vs. traditional, developed
vs. underdeveloped that stand in immediate colonial continuation of civilised vs. unciv-
ilised dichotomies (Escobar 1995). Arguably for this reason, developmentinevitably
requires intervention into peoples lives regardless of whether they agree or not with
the instructions and prescriptions provided to them. Since state ocials and inter-
national and national developmentexperts speak from a position of power, their rela-
tional capacity to negotiate and enforce has not been equal, but superior to, the
beneciaries of development. Despite the introduction of participation in develop-
ment, the idea that the push for change has to come exogenously persists, cementing
a binary worldview that locates problems in one half the world, and solutions in the
The most inuential developmentthinking remains within the contours of neoclas-
sical economics and major tenets of modernisation theories (Kothari and Minogue 2002,
7). In its mainstream discourse, developmentthinking is a continuist paradigm that
believes in the linearity of relationships among concepts, institutions, states, and
similar entities. It leaves no room for breaks, cracks or ssures thereof (Rockhill
2017). It does not take into account the tumultuous nature of the social reality that
does not necessarily follow neatly carved pathways, but rather takes many unbeknownst
turns, thereby making the processes of predictions all the more dicult, albeit irrelevant.
In order to run a smoother ow, the practice of developmentfollows teleological and
deterministic approaches that take refuge in centralised, universalising, and homogenis-
ing tendencies. While these practices are developed in specic socio-historic contexts,
their universalising nature necessitates that they are to be implemented across various
socio-cultural backgrounds in a standardised manner. The dierences, divergences,
and uidities thus become too chaotic, irrational, and uncertain to control; therefore,
they are factored out of the equationsof development.
In terms of methodology, developmentresearch draws on various approaches that
range from inductive methods grounded in the observation of eld reality to deductive
approaches that test theory-based models empirically(EADI 2017). For years, the
approaches inspired by positivism have emphasised the cruciality of staying neutral
and impartial in any kind of scientic inquiry in order to produce universally acceptable
knowledge. Researchers are expected to make a clear separation not only between their
normaland researcherselves, but also between themselves and their research partici-
pants. As if in a controlled experiment in a laboratory, they are expected to leave behind
their identities, beliefs, and values even when dealing with sensitive issues with strong
political and social ramications such as global poverty or systemic inequality. The per-
sonal biographies of researchers are perceived as obstacles against ensuring objectivity
and hence quality research (England 1994, 242). For developmentresearchers,
however, engaging in reexivity to unearth the grids of positional power relations is par-
ticularly critical because we cannot remove ourselves from the machinations of power
and authority that are articulated by the projects of colonialism and/or development
as a whole(Kothari 2006, 134). This inevitable interwovenness is often pushed aside
through claims of objectivity in the mechanisms of knowledge construction. This is
where the inherent nature of human experience and complex mixture of all socio-histori-
cal, cultural, and political forces manifests itself. We explore this in-betweenness, posi-
tionality, further in the next section.
Reections on positionality
In recent decades, an increasing number of qualitative researchers, from critical, feminist,
post-structural, and postmodern perspectives, have challenged the idea of excluding the
self from research and employed reexivity as a methodological tool in their works
(Pillow 2003, 176). Reexivity can be simply dened as self-critical sympathetic intro-
spection and the self-conscious analytical scrutiny of the self as researcher(England
1994, 244, emphasis original). By taking a reexive stance, researchers acknowledge
their positionalities and how their characteristics aect both substantive and practical
aspects of the research process from the nature of questions that are asked, through
data collection, analysis and writing, to how ndings are received(Carling, Erdal, and
Ezzati 2014, 37). They become aware of what kind of roles their multiple positionalities
in terms of their age, class, ethnicity, gender, language, marital status, nationality, par-
ental status, profession, and religious beliefs play throughout the research process
(Ergun and Erdemir 2010,1819). Thus, they become sensible of the risk of constructing
or reinforcing hierarchical power relations in the research setting (Bott 2010, 159160).
As Farhana Sultana states, being reexive about their positionality allows researchers to
see where they are located in the grids of power relations and how that inuences
methods, interpretations, and knowledge production(2007, 376).
The positionality of a researcher is more of a political problem than a technical one.
According to Stuart Hall, [t]heres no enunciation without positionality. You have to
position yourself somewhere in order to say anything at all(1990, 18). In ethnographic
research, the position of a researcher has been traditionally reduced to being either an
insider or an outsider. In this dichotomy, insiders are seen as those who study a group
with whom they share similar racial, ethnic, language, and gender characteristics
whereas outsiders are those who study a group to whom they do not belong ethnically,
culturally or socioeconomically (Mullings 1999, 340). Generally, insiders are assumed to
have easier access to, and larger understanding of, the culture being studied. In a reverse
logic, outsiders are believed to have greater interest in learning about the unfamiliar and
more objectivityin the eyes of research participants (Merriam et al. 2001, 411). As each
position is praised for allowing researchers to collect more reliable data, the pros of one
position can be seen as the cons of the other position. Recently, though, critical
approaches have increasingly acknowledged that the insidernessor outsidernessof
researchers is not xed and frozen, but rather uid and context-dependent. Accordingly,
there is no guarantee that researchers will be treated as insiders in their own communities
or as outsiders in an unfamiliar setting based solely on their characteristics (Ergun and
Erdemir 2010, 34; Kusow 2003, 593). In other words, researchers can be insiders, outsi-
ders, both or neither simultaneously (see Breen 2007; Mullings 1999; Sultana 2007; Till
At this point, we would like to reect on our journeys through development
research. We were in the same cohort in the same interdisciplinary doctoral programme
of a university-aliated research centre in Germany. From outside, we three were
similar. We were just any three PhD students in the group of students who came to
our institution from all over the world to study development. When looked closely,
however, we had signicant dierences that shaped our identities and made us who
we really were in addition to being PhD students.
Arda is a male from Turkey, Aftab is a male from Pakistan, and Julia is a female from
Germany. We grew up in dierent countries that could be labelled as developed, devel-
oping, and underdeveloped according to oversimplied classications. We come from
families that can be categorised as upper-middle, middle, and lower-middle classes in
the contexts of our home countries. Related to this, the power of our passports, which
have a signicant inuence on conference participation and academic mobility, dier
disproportionally. Under the same circumstances, German, Turkish, and Pakistani citi-
zens are allowed to visit 189, 111, and 32 countries without a visa, respectively (Henley
and Partners 2020). Our educational backgrounds and research interests widely dier as
well. Arda holds a BA in International Relations and an MA in International Aairs/
International Security Studies. He has focused on the dynamics of technicisation and
depoliticisation in developmentin his PhD dissertation. Aftab holds BA and MPhil
degrees in Psychology, and has concentrated on the role and psycho-social impacts of
language in developmentin his PhD work. Julia holds a BA in Socio-Economics and
an MA in Peace Studies. She has worked on the mechanisms and implications of devel-
opmentpartnerships in her PhD project.
Even though eld researchis a problematic concept with many postcolonial impli-
cations, it is an essential part in almost all PhD programmes in developmentstudies.
Our programme was no exception in this regard. As in many other research programmes
in Western Europe and North America, students were given green light to do their eld
research only after they passed a complex of interdisciplinary and disciplinary course-
work, exams, and research proposal presentations as well as received ethical clearance
from the research ethics committee. Arda would do his eld research in his home
country Turkey. Aftab would do the same in his home country Pakistan. Julia, however,
would not do her eldwork in her home country Germany. Instead, she would go to
Haiti. This was not a single case, but rather an unspoken rule of the institution: students
from the global South were expected to research their own or other global South
countries while students from the global North had the liberty to choose any (non-
global North) country they would conduct research about. For this reason, most of
our Western European friends, including Julia, did their research on African, Asian,
and Latin American countries, mainly without prior knowledge of, or connection
with, the respective countries. After all, they would be accompanied by research assist-
ants, translators, and gatekeepers to make up for this lack. In other words, while students
from the global South were expected to go to their native countries for their insider
positions, students from the developedworld were expected, even encouraged to go
to the global South for their outsiderpositions (see Ziai 2020, 244 for a similar critique).
For us, this (not so) small dierence was one early sign of the dichotomous thinking that
separated the West and the Rest, making the underdevelopment of the latter a research
topic for the former in a problematic way. It prompted us to reect on the entanglements
of relationality and positionality as well as on the questions of knowledge production and
the authority of dierent knowledges.
Asymmetries of power became even more obvious to us when we started to learn more
about the workings of NorthSouth research collaborations or partnerships, especially
in the European research landscape. Despite the egalitarian connotations of the word
partnership, it was the northern partner who had the power to set the agenda for
research and decided whether to provide nances for research projects, which had to
be designed in the way northern partners wanted southern partners to design them
(Grieve and Mitchell 2020, 515). In most partnerships, principal investigators were pre-
dominantly northern-based academics controlling disproportionate amounts of
resources in terms of access to funds and knowledge regarded as legitimate(Gunase-
kara 2020, 504). Their collaborators, on the other hand, often lacked such resources.
For this reason, they were conned to the position of research beneciariesor assistants
instead of being seen as legitimate voices in the production of knowledges. Researchers
from the North travelled to the South to minedata in a setting where they assumed the
tasks of research design, analysis, writing, and publishing whereas their southern partners
acted like data muleswho gather[ed] data that [was] deemed relevant by people who
[might] not (for the most part) be too familiar with the physical, political and cultural
space in which the research [was] conducted(Gunasekara 2020, 505). In a way, these
outsider researchers were parachutinginto a community, spending some time
within that community, and disappearing forever once the data needed was collected
(Breen 2007, 163). Also, research grants were going mostly to the same small number
of elite institutions with strong and extensive networks and a cadre of western-educated
researchers, creating new exclusions in dierent forms (White 2020,492). Such factors
were indeed giving research a function of extractionand creating a hierarchy of knowl-
edge generation.
Just as many other research programmes in developmentstudies, our PhD pro-
gramme also aimed at producing development expertswho would return to their
native countries with the necessary skills and knowledge to increase the depth and
breadth of NorthSouth development cooperation. Even though all three of us were
lucky to have supervisors and tutors who encouraged us to critically contest and chal-
lenge the very idea of development, in general there was more interest in exploring ques-
tions such as: How can developmentbe made more ecient? How should
developmentbe better evaluated? What technical or social xes are necessary and ima-
ginable? More critical reections on how, why, and where developmenttheories and
concepts were invented and spread across the world were usually frowned upon. Simi-
larly, although strongly encouraged by some researchers including our supervisors and
tutors, reecting on our positionalities in our works was largely seen as a formality.
Obviously our personal studid not have a theoretical signicance or global reach.
For that, we had to refer to Michel Foucaults power analysis, Pierre Bourdieus
habitus, Antonio Gramscis hegemony, or similar universally acceptedconcepts
invented by big names, most of whom were white males from the West. Even though
this stuwas deemed irrelevant or found unscientic, it was in fact an essential
part of our work. It contained and revealed delicate information on how our positional-
ity, particularly the Western and/or colonial baggagewe carried due to either being
from the West or having been educated in the West, in fact shaped dierent aspects of
our research processes. The examples below illustrate this point better.
Between 2013 and 2014, Arda collected data about Turkeys Southeastern Anatolia
Project (Güneydoğu Anadolu Projesi, GAP), one of the most comprehensive regional
developmentprojects implemented in the world (see Bilgen 2018b). His research
was considered sensitive for two major reasons. First, perceived or real, there was a
link between GAP and Turkeys long-standing Kurdish conict, which led to the
killing of more than 40,000 people and displacement of more than a million (Bilgen
2018a). Secondly, in Turkey, the [w]orks that challenge the ocial state narratives on
the issues like Kurdish, Cyprus, Armenian problems are seen as dangerous elds
where one is discouraged from working(Alpman 2018,85). In order to better under-
stand the projects characteristics, rationales, and mechanisms in light of a depoliticisa-
tion framework, he conducted elite-level interviews with dozens of politicians,
bureaucrats, and experts in Ankara and Şanlıurfa. Initially, he naively thought that he
was an insiderand his insidernesswould make the research process less complicated.
However, it did not take long for him to realise that coming to Turkey to complete
eldwork was quite dierent than coming home(see Sultana 2007; Till 2001). One sig-
nicant factor for this disappointment turned out to be his aliation with the West, both
within and outside Turkey. As someone born, raised, and socialised in the urban settings
of western and southern Turkey, his insiderposition reached its limits in the countrys
predominantly Kurdish and socioeconomically challenged southeast. He was found too
Turkishto understand the lived political and social realities of the Kurds. He was not
Kurdish enoughto see through their eyes the Kurdish region. As a Western Turk, he was
not just a researcher, but a symbolic representative of the sovereign that carried
unfavourable connotations due to the past (and ongoing) practices associated with the
politics of denial, oppression, and assimilation (see Bilgen 2018a, 101101). As
someone who had the chance and privilege to be educated at an English-speaking
high school and university in Turkey and later on in the US and Germany, his insider-
nessreached other limits in his conversations with the Turks too. This time, he was
found too foreignor not Turkish enoughto understand the development policies
of dierent political parties or the project-related viewpoints of various bureaucratic
bodies, agencies, and departments. It was unfortunate that most of the interviewees
thought of him as a mouthpieceof the West due to the political context where
western countries were seen as the dark foreign powersaiming to weaken and
divide Turkey. Numerous times he was asked why he reallycame all the way from
thereto here, and was advised to make sure his research serve the interests of the
Turkish state, not its enemies. In the midst of such implications, it required painstaking
patience to maintain the role of a reliable researcher and avoid biting the hand that fed
him(Adams 1999, 353). In other words, the negative connotations of the West in the
eyes of the elites at a national level, and of laypersons at a local level, led to sudden
changes and uidities in identities and power relations during the research process.
For this reason, he spent so much energy on constantly negotiating his positionality
insider, outsider, or both depending on the context to deal with the asymmetries of
power, which were sometimes in, and sometimes against his favour. He learned the
hard way that power [was] a slippery thing in research relationships(Adams 1999,
339) and that research was not following a linear path, contra textbook denitions and
standardised research guides.
Aftab experienced similar dilemmas when he collected data about the use and misuse
of language as a tool of control in post-colonial Pakistan in Pattoki, Lahore, and Sargodha
from the educational and judicial sectors between 2013 and 2014 (see Nasir 2020). When
Aftab was a child, he never knew he was living in a small village of a developing country.
It was only in his teen years that he came to know the complexities of belonging to a
nation that was seen worldwide as a liability instead of an asset. Just as Arda, whenever
he wanted to visit the US or a Western European country, he always faced visa problems.
He had to complete a whole lot of documents, give all kind of guarantees that he would
not run away, and prove that he would come back to his home country. What made a
country developed and what rendered another underdeveloped? Over the period of
time, it became clear that it had less to do with the way people associated with their
countries and more with how other countries perceived them. Before he began his
PhD, Aftab thought he knew his society, history, and culture as a lived experience.
During his doctoral coursework, however, the rst ssure happened when he was
taughtthat he had to unlearn his associations and be an objective observer; an outsider
to his own social reality and research it as if he did not know the phenomenon and the
eld he was working in. In other words, he was told that he had to be someone else for the
sake of good, authentic empirical research. While nothing seemed problematic back then,
later on it became a serious challenge of knowledge production on development. This
practice of being objective inadvertently meant diminishing his lived experience as a
citizen of Pakistani society and putting on the lenses of already generated, often misun-
derstood, and deeply problematic discourses of power, distinctions, and inequalities.
Moreover, it meant that he had to subscribe to the value set of Western thinkers if he
wanted to publish his works within the academic world far and beyond the institution
he was associated with. Upon his arrival for eld researchin Pakistan, he received a
mixed response of suspicion and appreciation. A section of his sample imagined that
he had a hidden agenda behind seemingly harmless research since he was working in
a country (Germany) that generated data and used it for ulterior motives or political
gains. He tried to shatter this myth by disclosing all his research protocols, methods,
and questions. Still, he found resistance on the part of many participants who did not
trust him. While he considered himself an insider, the mere perception of the locals of
him being an outsideralways stood in his way. The appreciation came from a dierent
segment, and was reminiscent of the colonial history of Pakistan. Since the time of British
rule, there developed a certain sense of being welcoming and submissive to anyone or
anything that was foreign, mostly related to Europe. Since he was aliated with an insti-
tution in Germany, it meant that he was associated with the superior culture and society.
Thus, the appreciation he received was actually directed toward the link with all that was
white in a more symbolic sense. It represented a post-colonial reality where the colonial
power might have left the country, but the existing structures and development schemes
still had remnants of inequality, deeply embedded in the functioning of development
research. However, for Aftab, the dilemma of being either an insider or an outsider,
both or none, remained unresolved, a fact that intersects through his research ndings
and that thickens the debate on positionalities emphasised in the article.
Being aware of the colonial implications of eld researchand feeling uncomfortable
with the institutional expectations, Julia focused on the development apparatusand
looked at the machinery rather than at the people to be developed. She focused on
the partnerships of international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) with local
groups and movements and spent several months in Haiti between 2012 and 2014 (see
Schöneberg 2016,2017). Her experiences were dierent to the experiences of Arda
and Aftab for three reasons: As a German in Haiti, she was white, she was female, and
she was a complete outsider. After reading up on the literature on Haiti, nalising
her research proposal (i.e. checking all the boxes required by the PhD programme),
and booking her ight to Port-au-Prince, Julia assumed she was ready for the eld.
However, upon her arrival, she was convinced not only that her presence and desire
to do research in Haiti was completely misled, but also that there was nothing meaningful
she would be able to contribute. In an instant she was (made) aware of her whiteness,
something that had been too easy to be ignorant of before. In a country where white
was associated with rich businesspeople, powerful diplomats, well-earning NGO
expatsand, above all, a history and legacy of brutal colonial rule and exploitation, it
was impossible to remain as ignorant. She went through several phases attempting to
deal with the feeling of guilt of being white.Atrst, she attempted to make herself invis-
ible and play the role of a neutral observer from the detached space of an outsider, failing.
Stepping out to the streets in urban areas or visiting communities in rural areas, she was
constantly addressed with dierent (nick)names, referring to her whiteness.Hey Blan!,
meaning white person or foreigner in Haitian Kreyol, she was often called. Every day, and
everywhere, she was continuously reminded of her position as the Selfin sharp contrast
to the Other. It reminded her of her (white) privilege and of her being part of the West
that has intervened the Restin so many destructive and unjust ways. The names she
was called primarily made a reference to her whiteness or foreignness, but they were in
fact not just simple descriptions. They held all the implications of violent white supre-
macy rule, colonial histories and colonial present, and developmentprojects to civilise
the uncivilizedor to develop the underdeveloped. This visibility was present regardless
of how hard she tried (and failed) to be invisible as a blan. In the next phase, she tried to
mingle and blend in, become a somewhat insider. Sharing everyday chores and daily life
in the communities, she helped preparing food, swept courtyards, fetched water from the
river, and chatted. However, even though people expressed their interest, respect, and
established rapport, inevitably she remained an outsider. In the third phase, she felt the
best she could do was to move rather too close to a cultural relativist analysis of every-
thing she experienced. All these failures not only increased the depth of the limbo, but
also shook the legitimacy of her presence in the eld. After all, she thought, she
would get her rewards in the forms of academic degrees and recognition, but what
benet did her endeavours provide for the people who so readily shared their lives
and spent time with her? Did she represent their voices correctly? Would she ever be
able to give back? Was she not at all interested in what the subaltern was eating (see Syl-
vester 1999), but interested just in an abstract and theoretical analysis of discourses, rep-
resentations, and positions of power and knowledge? In other words, during and after
her presence in Haiti, she constantly questioned in what ways her humble eorts
could make meaningful scientic, intellectual, and most importantly, practical contri-
butions to people, if at all.
Positionality and knowledge production
What does this debate on positionalities have to do with knowledge production, one
might wonder. Despite our obviously dierent, but nevertheless similar experiences,
there is one tension that lies at the heart of it: the white colonial gaze. We conceive of
the world in binaries (Pailey 2019, 734), taking the white colonial gaze for granted.
Indeed, race has been an elephant in the (development) room for long. Gurminder
Bhambra has poignantly coined the term methodological whitenessto describe a
way of reecting on the world that fails to acknowledge the role played by race in the
very structuring of that world, and of the ways in which knowledge is constructed and
legitimated within it(2017). The colonial gaze is implicated in the circumstances of
going to the eldand the way researchers are taught to extract knowledge, only think-
ing of it in the singular. At the core lies the question of who gets to be an expert and what
kind of knowledge is considered relevant, i.e. academic. For instance, for many PhD stu-
dents, the process of legitimisation starts earlier in their projects when they start learning
how to unlearn and re-learn. This is done in practice through the colonial gaze that turns
these researchers into question marks. The gaze bifurcates them, and creates what Homi
Bhabha calls a split between soul and the whole(2012, 107). It means that researchers
enter a reection mode where they re-search themselves and try to nd qualiers that will
make them acceptable, relatable, and adaptable in new academic, socio-cultural, and
psychological environments. Researchers are left with limited options other than
abiding by the rules of the neoliberal, Western-dominated academy. The random mass
of mists”–researchers who come from various countries, especially outside the
West go through the processes of legitimisation by shedding their (black) skins and
learning to wear new (white) masks as the gaze politelyimplies (see Fanon 1995).
Therefore, it is the discourse of whiteness, of knowing more and more authors from
the West that makes researchers t for pursuing their academic goals with legitimacy.
This gaze forces researchers to look at themselves in newfound enlightenedways, i.e.
of producing knowledges, and at their research in the way that looks objective, scientic
(read: positivist), and above all apolitical. The universalising process becomes complete
when researchers convince their peers and seniors that they, too, have the skills to
conduct research like they do and that they, too, can see through their eyes through
this over-arching, all-encompassing gaze that primarily installs and cements the hierar-
chies and asymmetries of power.
The above-mentioned universalising tendency lies at the root of all academic research,
training, and practice happening in the eld of development. First and foremost, as
Dipesh Chakrabarty puts it, scholars
who shape the nature of social science have produced theories that embrace the entirety of
humanity. [However], these statements have been produced in relative, and sometimes
absolute, ignorance of the majority of humankind that is, those living in non-Western cul-
tures. (1992,3)
Relatedly, researchers are generally trained to take concepts like power, empowerment,
and order as a given and to focus primarily on the general behavioural patterns or
trendsof these concepts. They are tasked to apply these concepts in their work, validate
these ndings through empirical data, and disregard the deviations. They are also
encouraged, especially by the funding agencies, to think of research as an ordered, rational
process that should progress in a linear fashion in clearly dened steps and with sensible
hypotheses and feasible objectives(Fraser 2012, 292). In such a research setting, position-
alities are of crucial importance to prevent the overpowering universal from suocating
the particular. Otherwise, the monoculture of knowledgewould produce non-existence
by turning scientic knowledge into the only criterion of truth (Santos 2004, 238239).
Similarly, the monoculture of the universal and the globalwould produce non-existence
by rendering the local and particular as an inferior, noncredible alternative to what exists
globally and universally (Santos 2004, 238239). When research is conducted in this uni-
versalised fashion, the end result becomes a market-oriented, sellable product that must
attract the gaze of a potential buyer. Interpreted this way, producing a thesis or an
article becomes hardly dierent from any other practice of modern-day neoliberal econ-
omics. The commercialisation of research, accompanied and reinforced by the publish-
or-perish culture that has permeated the increasingly precarious academy, makes
researchers voluntarilyleave their intuitive knowledge behind and rely on the real,
legitimate, and universalknowledge to be counted.
Bottom-up perspectives are made less visible or less accurate through similar mechan-
isms. As our stories show, the data we generate do not simply exist out there, [but] are a
product of the relationship between the researcher and her informants(Adams 1999,
360). Researchers are the ones who write up the results and way forwardsections of
their studies. However, none or only a tiny percentage of research participants can
access these studies. Even if these works are published and distributed in the native
languages of participants instead of English, most of these people are not literate,
let alone formally educated. Even if the participants are educated, these works are pub-
lished in expensive books and paywalled journals, a situation that turns a collective good
into a commercial asset (White 2020, 500). If participants wrote their own narratives,
these narratives would be quite dierent. Their emphasis would probably not full the
specic guidelines of scientic research. What if, for instance, power is not at all anything
as Foucault foresaw it to the farmer who enjoys his work in the eld and likes the fact that
he is a part of a natural order in which his relation to the mother earth is closer and more
direct than any economic gains he might have by exploiting it most? How shall we quan-
tify these experiences? Similarly, what if todays mantra of social construction of reality is
actually a socially conditioned response to a very specic socio-historical context of
modern and post-modern experiences of a Western society? Researchers do the laborious
work of wrapping such practices in appropriate and catchy academic phrases that
appease the participantsdoubts, serving the purpose of knowledge production centres
that are most of the time located in the North. Power structures leave little or no
space for researchers to let things present themselves openly, chaotically, and randomly.
Quite ironically, the habitus of critical thinking is structured in a way that it leaves no
room to think critically about the concepts like habitus in the rst place. For such
reasons, it is actually necessary to rethink our perceptions and reect on our positional-
ities in every phase of our social scientic inquiries.
Developmentis never neutral, and always political. Power relations continue to shape
the way developmentis understood, implemented, and researched. The problematisa-
tion of, and the reection on, these structures has once again demonstrated that our posi-
tionalities as well as our privileges, values, beliefs, interests, and experiences inuence the
process of how we perceive the reality and study developmental issues. As researchers, we
play the role of data-churning midwives. We give birth to a baby created of data. We
cut its umbilical cord from its mother, the context, and slowly baptise it with the holy
waters of theoretical knowledge and sanctify it in a specic technical and/or disciplinary
language. The truth is then rather imposed upon it instead of organically emanating from
it, but the optics are designed to give an impression of an organic spectacle. As research-
ers, we become the catalysts that enhance the process of data production. We are
entrusted with a task that makes us responsible for keeping the links, or rather enforcing
the links, onto the data generated around a certain topic. However, the way we approach
these tasks and the tools we turn to guide us are much dependent on our positionalities.
Indeed, becoming aware of our positionalities requires the willingness to encounter
discomfort and the courage to reect this in the words we write down as academic con-
tributions. However, having such an awareness (about the self) is an essential step
towards reconceptualizing research as a co-constructionof knowledge as well as con-
ducting research with, rather than onor abouta group or area of interest (see Breen
2007, 164). This awareness is crucial especially when we seek to understand, and propose
solutions to, the issues that involve political, social, and humanitarian elements. Failing
to acknowledge these intricacies means to commit to the acts of epistemic violence and
perpetuate the injustices with regard to the acknowledgement of diverse knowledges, cos-
movisions, and epistemologies that reach far beyond a (Western) positivist stance of
Despite the bleak analysis of the status quo, not all is lost. There are pockets of resist-
ance, communities, and movements that are already challenging the white colonial gaze
of development. For example, according to Linda Tuhiwai Smith (2013), relational
accountability asks the following questions at the outset of every research process:
Whose research is it? Who owns it? Whose interests does it serve? Who will benet from it?
Who has designed its questions and framed its scope? Who will carry it out? Who will write
it up? How will its results be disseminated?
There remains the question of how to go about. For any research that involves inter-
action with people, including and exclusively developmentresearch, the aspects of
positionality, relationality, and reciprocity should be fullled. Developmentresearch
cannot be legitimate if one of them is neglected, because it inevitably means that
power asymmetries are glossed over and that power hierarchies are accepted, and
even perpetuated.
Similarly, decolonial thinking and black feminism teach us that knowledges are
always contextual, relational, and intersectional. Keya Khandaker and Lata Narayanas-
wamy (2020) demand that without action on structural inequality, we will forever be
tinkering around the edges of the intersectional challenges both created and nurtured
by how we frame development, which is intrinsically both a gendered and a racialised
construct. Walter Mignolo (2011) proposes the decolonial option, an option that
calls to question the structures and institutions, the coloniality of power that is
inherent in developmentto try to break the structures of epistemic injustices by lis-
tening to voices beyond established realms, to acknowledge their contestations and
resistances, to acknowledge the continuation of colonial structures still present, of
which, as researchers and human beings, far from being neutral, we are part,
whether we like it or not. Such an understanding requires an epistemological shift
to acknowledge the value of non-positivist traditions of knowledge production, a
methodological shift to see people as co-researchers rather than mines of information
to be extracted, and a lexicon shift to construct a language that is comprehensible for
many instead of a few.
Another helpful frame for resisting, contesting, and even subverting this gaze is pro-
vided by the concept of pluriverse. In contrast to Euro-modern universality, the Zapa-
tistas famously pledged to seek a world in which many worlds t. Arturo Escobar
(2016, 15) has put forward that the crises we face are foremost of a particular set of
world-making practices [] that we usually refer to as the dominant form of Euro-
modernity (capitalist, rationalist, liberal, secular, patriarchal, white, or what have
you). Pluriverse requires us to transcend borders both geographically and mentally
beyond narrow disciplinary connements, while paying respect and giving recognition
to diversity and otherness. A thought-provoking example is provided by the edited
volume Pluriverse (Kothari et al. 2019) which oers a wealth of concepts, cosmovisions,
and practices showcasing the utopia of a world in which many worlds tin contrast
to the Western monoculture. While the alternatives described source from all over the
world, they share fundamental commonalities as to what a good life and well-being
entail: the unity of human and non-human, community and interdependence, sover-
eignty and self-government. All of them critique the logic and impact of the Anthropo-
cene, (neo-)extractivism, and uncritical belief in Euro-modernist ideologies of progress
and growth.
In hindsight, we wish we could more overtly challenge the structures that produced
and implemented inequalities and injustices, the apparatus that was doing the develop-
ing, and the historical traces on which it was built. This article can be read as an eort to
make up for our past neglect of the critical gaze. We hope that current and future PhD
students as well as early career researchers take inspiration from the ideas presented here.
It is promising to see that an increasing number of researchers engage in reexivity today.
More and more books, theses, and articles explain in detail, or at least briey mention,
how the positionality of the researcher inuences the research process (see Acar, Moss,
and Uluğ2020; Baser et al. 2018; Crabtree 2019; Idahosa and Bradbury 2020; Millora,
Maimunah, and Still 2020). We also hope that a greater number of higher education insti-
tutions that control nancial, human, and other resources become more aware and sen-
sitive of the structural problems in this eld and take action, at least by preparing the next
generation of researchers to face and negotiate the issues of power throughout their
research processes, especially if the research takes place in delicate environments such
as postcolonial settings or traumatised places. This is crucial to avoid exploitative
research or perpetuation of relations of domination and controland, hence, for
ethical research (Sultana 2007, 375).
Going back to the tale of the old man told in the beginning of the article. As of 2020,
we still witness that, on any given day, there are many conferences arranged, workshops
held, and meetings convened on how to alleviate poverty, increase net enrolment, secure
food, and so on. These practices end up producing more conferences, workshops, and
meetings on how to achieve all the above-mentioned tasks. Developmentpractice is
the donkey in our story. Most of the time, what developmentexperts actually
succeed in developing are the practices of doing developmentat national, local, and
regional levels. The old mans secret was not to hide his goods, but to put them so up
front that no one would even notice them. This resembles how developmentis
being done, and the secret to its success: the very rampant, always present nature of
its object, power hierarchies, and asymmetries keep it away from the lens of an analysis
at any given point. This is partly the reason why developmentresearch, policy, and
practice are so much focused on xing developmentrather than contesting the very
concept and on nding alternatives of developmentrather than alternatives to devel-
As a contribution to these eorts, we repeat our call to challenge and disrupt
the universalising, homogenising, and colonising (material and non-material) practices
that are well-ingrained within and around development. Doing so is neither utopian
nor unrealistic, and it is never too late to do that.
1. The word, the concept, and the practice has been (ab)used for a broad variety of specic
agendas, all of them structured by the hierarchies and asymmetries of power. Depending
on fashionable fads, developmenthas come to be conceptualised as development-as-
growth, development-as-progress, and many more, becoming an amoebaterm that
lacks any real meaning (Esteva 1992). To highlight its contested and ambiguous nature,
we will use developmentin inverted commas throughout the text.
2. One recent eort to mitigate all of this on the level of knowledge production is the Convivial
Thinking Collective, which Julia and Aftab have founded in 2018 and Arda has been a sup-
porter ever since. The collective brings together a group of scholars who embrace post- and
decolonial approaches when thinking, speaking, and writing about developmentand
beyond (Convivial Thinking 2020). With creating space for convivial thinking, the collective
attempts to break the cycle of the binary constructions we have mentioned throughout this
article. According to the collective, the route towards knowing the unknowns cannot be
conned to traditional academic mediums. Therefore, it provides an open-source, decentra-
lised platform to initiate and enrich debates about developmentthrough more informal
mediums such as visual art pieces, poems, personal anecdotes, and opinion pieces that
would otherwise be lost in the hierarchical spaces of formal academic publications.
The authors thank the two anonymous referees for their helpful and constructive comments and
Notes on contributors
Arda Bilgen is a Visiting Scholar in the Department of International Development, Community,
and Environment at Clark University. His research interests lie at the intersection of the politics of
natural resources, the politics of infrastructure, and the governance of development.
Aftab Nasir is an Assistant Professor and Chairperson of the Department of Sociology at Forman
Christian College University. His research interests are post-colonial epistemologies, sociolinguis-
tics, psychoanalysis, political sociology, and development studies.
Julia Schöneberg is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Department for Development and Postcolo-
nial Studies at the University of Kassel. Her research focusses on practical Post-Development,
social movements and resistances, as well as decolonial approaches to knowledge co-creation
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... (Scharp and Thomas 2019:152) The reflections on the researcher's positionality became commonly used as a methodological tool in qualitative research, especially among scholars from feminist, race-based, critical, postmodern, and post-structural approaches (Pillow 2003). The process of reflexivity is an opportunity to embrace discomfort and self-reflect on how we as researchers influence the research practice and results, which is complemented by statements of positionality that can offer an additional lens for the readers to interpret the research presented (Bilgen, Nasir, and Schöneberg 2021;Pillow 2003;Scharp and Thomas 2019). Moreover, it is a critical step in reconceptualizing social research as a process that is done "with" not "on" or "about" a group of people, moving toward a coconstruction of knowledge approach (Bilgen et al. 2021). ...
... The process of reflexivity is an opportunity to embrace discomfort and self-reflect on how we as researchers influence the research practice and results, which is complemented by statements of positionality that can offer an additional lens for the readers to interpret the research presented (Bilgen, Nasir, and Schöneberg 2021;Pillow 2003;Scharp and Thomas 2019). Moreover, it is a critical step in reconceptualizing social research as a process that is done "with" not "on" or "about" a group of people, moving toward a coconstruction of knowledge approach (Bilgen et al. 2021). However, the application of reflexivity occurs in distinct ways and often does not include an explanation of how it is being used (Pillow 2003). ...
... However, the application of reflexivity occurs in distinct ways and often does not include an explanation of how it is being used (Pillow 2003). I am using in this dissertation as a self-reflection tool of my Positionality connected to identity comes from the intersection of elements that defines who we are (e.g., gender, race, ethnicity, class, age, language, nationality, profession, marital status, and religious beliefs) and how those influence the researcher's role and the interpretations of people's experiences (Atkins 2004;Bilgen et al. 2021;Pillow 2003;Scharp and Thomas 2019). Here I acknowledge my standpoint as a white, middle-class, highly educated cis-gender woman. ...
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NGO is a wide-ranging category encompassing several types of organizations from civil society. They reflect the diversity of interests present in society and are based on good intentions of promoting positive social change. The socio-environmental NGOs working in the Amazon have been the target of misperception, intentional defamatory campaigns, or just a lack of knowledge about who they are and what they do. Therefore, this research shed some light on the socioenvironmental NGOs working in the Amazon, looking behind the curtains of the NGOs' work. It employed a multi-method qualitative analysis, weaving together “NGOgraphy,” narrative, and participatory action research. The results are based on in-depth interviews, participatory observations, social network analysis, and an online survey. The study shows that the action behind the scenes (being and acting as NGOs) is key to what happens on the main stage (NGOs’ intervention). The research revealed (i) the sources of identities and framing practices of socioenvironmental NGOs; (ii) the forms of funding and fundraising available to NGOs and their effects on how NGOs’ function; (iii) the forms of collaborative partnerships and networks that NGOs develop; and (iv) the means that NGOs have to reflect and learn about their practices and context of intervention. 18 Additionally, it addressed interconnections between the four main themes as dynamics of conservation and development and organizational structure in which NGOs operate. Overall, NGOs are constantly dealing with limitations of project-based action and seeking autonomy in their fundraising; Collaboration is an inherent practice, but NGOs face challenges for crossing organizational culture boundaries to engage with others; Social and organizational learning is intrinsic but not well institutionalized, systematized, and shared. However, NGOs have developed strategies to mitigate and adapt to structural limitations and take advantage of the resources and opportunities available, such as diversification of funders and approaches, engaging in collaborative networks managed by boundary-spanners, and developing and participating in intra and inter-organizational spaces of dialogue and exchange of experiences. These results demonstrate the resilience of NGOs. They have consolidated themselves as a key stakeholder in the socio-environmental movement in the Amazon and persisted even in the face of multiple adversities.
... Each person is born in a particular time, place, and body; these embodied and cultural experiences create our positionality, or universal perspective [3]. As with all perspectives, they are naturally bounded by a range of intrinsic and extrinsic elements. ...
... Finally, colleges must work on finding ways to specifically develop connections between diversity factors and how students see the world. Explore and interrogate researcher positioning (adapted from materials by Marybeth Peebles, Marietta College) [3]: ...
... In recent decades, reflexivity as a methodological tool to acknowledge a researcher's positionality has become an important aspect of qualitative research, especially from critical, feminist, post-structural, and postmodern perspectives (Bilgen et al., 2021). Understanding one's positionality is crucial to recognize how it influences the research process, data collection, and interpretation of findings (Dall'Agnola, 2023). ...
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Conducting research in the Central Asian context is complex due to the competing historical, cultural, and linguistic narratives of the past(s) and present(s). In this essay, I, as a female Kazakh scholar, discuss how various aspects of my multi-layered positionality (e.g., gender, social status, motherhood, and institutional affiliation) shape my research in/on Central Asia. While critically reflecting on my insider versus outsider position, I also touch on my positionality as a single mother of three underaged children and how this influences the way I experience fieldwork.
... I, therefore, argue that as a first step it is important to deconstruct current policy discourses on development in the state by carefully breaking them down to their individual contradictions that constitute their exclusive positions and subjecting them to deeper understanding and subsequent problematisation [49]. Insights to this could be drawn from the rich traditions of post-colonial critiques that aims to dismantle the infamous 'white gaze' within Western developmental discourse in an attempt to similarly call out and problematise the 'Savarna gaze' within Indian development discourse [50]. A committed effort to speak into existence the caste contradictions manifest as systematised exclusion of Dalits and castedriven power asymmetries within knowledge creation spaces in India, an objective implicit also within the current study. ...
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Background The Government of Kerala in 2017 launched the Aardram Mission with the aim to revamp public health delivery in the State. A key strategy under the mission was its focus on comprehensive primary health care to achieve equitable health care delivery through the Family Health Centre (FHC) initiative. Given this, the current study aims to examine the primary health care policy discourse for their perspectives on caste-driven inequities. Methods The study undertook a Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) of the primary health care policy discourse in Kerala. This included CDA of spoken words by senior health policy actors and policy texts on Aardram Mission and FHC. Results Though equity was a major aspirational goal of the Mission, related policy discourse around equity failed to acknowledge caste as a potential axis of health marginalisation in the State. The dismissal of caste manifested in three major ways within the policy discourse. One, the ‘invisibilisation’ of caste-driven inequities through strategies of (un)conscious exclusion of Dalit issues and ‘obliteration’ of caste differences through the construction of abstract and homogenous groups that invisibilise Dalits. Secondly, locating caste as a barrier to primary health care initiatives and health equity in the state, and finally through the maintenance of an ‘apoliticised’ social determinants discourse that fails to recognize the role of caste in shaping health disparities, specifically among Dalits in Kerala. Conclusion Given Kerala’s renewed commitment to strengthening its public health provisioning, the acknowledgment of caste-driven inequities is invariable in its path toward health equity and social justice.
... Maintaining its rigor thus challenges researchers to "acknowledge the situated perspective, to reflect on and share how the life experiences might have influenced the choice of topics and questions" (McHugh 2020, 212). Researchers can acknowledge how positionalities bias one's epistemology (Takacs 2003) and coconstruct knowledge with participants (Bilgen et al. 2021). Being a researcher involves making decisions on setting questions, conducting analyses, and representing these processes to present a comprehensive picture of informants' lived experiences (Reich 2021). ...
Researchers’ positionality shapes the research facilitation and data analysis. This chapter illustrates the multiple positionalities of the two authors in a study of an informal multicultural teacher education programme. This positionality is central to the interpretation of visual data—short videos produced by a group of pre-service teachers. Embedded in such interpretive processes are the authors’ own ethnic identities and their perceptions of participants’ ethnicity. The reflexivity in these processes offers a nuanced understanding of how researchers actively, but implicitly, construct cultural lines of differences by the classification of English names and usage of pronouns between them and their participants. The interweaving of positionalities resulted in a methodological perspective-taking that underlies culturally sensitive research facilitation.
... • Finally, GN scholars might consider integrating a more re exive and introspective stance into their daily lives and academic works. A self-inspection as such would increase their awareness about their positionalities in general, and their privileges, biases, and assumptions in particular, and help them reposition themselves vis-a-vis GS scholars in a power-sensitive, non-binary, and non-hierarchical fashion (see Bilgen et al., 2021). ...
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Ethical questioning is a framework for considering the ethical implications and practices in research and is used as a tool for thinking about the connections between art and health. It enables researchers and practitioners to gain a deeper understanding of the emotional dimensions in the field of art and health. In this paper, we propose that ethical questioning, grounded in the principles of ethics of care, can foster a more reflexive and holistic approach to understanding the concept of well-being. We also propose that adopting ethical questioning as a methodology, which requires intentional self-reflection and recognition of positionality, can expose and challenge conventional knowledge hierarchies, resulting in more ethical research outcomes and relationships between researchers and participants. Ultimately, our hypothesis proposes that ethical questioning holds the potential to offer an actionable practice that demonstrates ethics of care.
Following the global pandemic, there is a need for more cross-national social work research which speaks to the increased and widespread, intra and international, effects of global social phenomenon. Achieving this aim requires social work researchers to be responsive to the intersection of complex lives, complicated problems and dynamic structural contexts. It is, therefore, important that researchers recognise how their identity and positionality within the research project spans several terrains such as social, political and value systems, as well as integrating multiple social categories and social roles. However, a review of the existing literature shows that the lack of conceptual guidance for ‘doing’ reflexivity means that researchers can sometimes pay insufficient attention to the influence that they have on the people and topic being studied. Drawing on the combined concepts of identity, translocational positionality and epistemic privilege, we aim to strengthen conceptual guidance by advancing the Critical Reflexive Framework (CRF). Following an illustrated example of the CRF, we argue for its widespread adoption to enhance the rigour, integrity and quality of social work research. We conclude that such high-quality research is essential to promote the emancipatory elements of social work practice which occurs in contexts of complexity, uncertainty and flux.
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Critical epistemologies and methodologies have over time challenged the static and mono-dimensional approaches to fieldwork, allowing researchers to contemplate and conduct their research in spaces of in-betweenness. Despite this important shift, the essentialist idea that both 'the field' and 'home' in a fieldwork setting must be actual places persists. In this article, we challenge the conceptualization and operationalization of 'home' not only as the juxtaposition to 'the field', but also as the embodiment of a place in a specific temporality. We argue that the postulation of 'home' as a constant disregards the non-predetermined and unpredictable nature of fieldwork relationships that are often complicated by implicit and explicit power dynamics, especially in places researchers identify as 'home'. We demonstrate that unequal power relations, especially (1) between the Global North and Global South, (2) between majority and minoritized groups, (3) among genders, and (4) between elites and non-elites, require us to envisage 'the field' and 'home' in relative terms. We propose the reconceptualization of fieldwork place as a hybridized space that conjoins 'the field' and 'home' as 'field-home', particularly at a time when research mobility is restricted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In this way, we extend the literature on issues related to power, positionality and reflexivity in qualitative research, and provide practical insights for those preparing for fieldwork.
In this article, we scrutinise the importance of researchers’ positionality vis-à-vis the ‘Global South’/‘North’ binary in the field of international and comparative education. Accounting for the different places we speak from, we reflect on our past experiences as doctoral researchers examining teachers’ role as agents of peace and/or conflict in divided and (post-) conflict societies. In doing so, we challenge the rigidity of the ‘North’/‘South’ demarcation as a singular marker of insider/outsider status. Instead, we propose hybrid positions that are susceptible to change over time and in relation to socio-political contexts and structural power relations. To conclude, we situate our experiences along an intersecting insider-outsider and decoloniality continuum.
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Working in dangerous fields, especially with those with excluded and dominated groups within society, is not preferred by many researchers. The same political domination that plagues minority groups penetrates academia and makes these fields risky, uncertain, and dangerous. Academia in Turkey has been mostly stripped of its independence due to the tremendous pressure of the state apparatus. For this reason, it is difficult for researchers to produce critical and objective knowledge on anything, let alone on the issues that are considered “dangerous.” This chapter has two purposes. The primary aim is to understand and explain the position of a researcher who works with subaltern groups under political domination and the pressure toward these subalterns. To accomplish this, I will draw from my research experiences in 2011–2014, involving ethnographic fieldwork with the Kurdish community in Istanbul. The other purpose year range of this paper is related to a discussion on “dangerous” fields. The chapter also demonstrates that it is necessary to consider the concept of “danger” as a methodological concept for fieldwork.
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This paper explores ethical issues of reciprocity, reflexivity and situatedness in conducting ethnographic fieldwork in the Global South as part of PhD research projects. Against the backdrop of increasingly bureaucratised doctoral processes, we argue that PhD students occupy a particular terrain that involves continuous navigation of tensions between institutionally-required ethical procedures and ‘situational’ ethical processes in the field. We illustrate these tensions by analysing reflections on our experiences of conducting fieldwork in Indonesia, India and the Philippines. Guided by decolonial and feminist thought highlighting the politics of knowledge (co)production, this paper unpacks the problems of insider-outsider binaries and standardised ethical procedures, and explores the possibilities of ethics as visible, collaborative negotiation.
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Reflexivity has been foregrounded as an important practice in scholarship regarding the scrutiny of ethical research and knowledge production. What is at risk, however, is reflexivity becoming counter-productive and consumed within the hegemony of Western practice, ultimately making little contribution towards disrupting power asymmetries. In this paper, we ask, at what point can critical self-reflexivity become productive, rather than self-indulgent and paralysing? Reflecting on the assumptions that underpin our scholarship, we ask, how can we utilise emotions of paralysis, discomfort and contradiction towards positive social change? Drawing on our experiences, we highlight the messy nature of reflexivity and argue that these emotions are important and entail a constant re-examination of the assumptions embedded in our pedagogy, scholarship and motives for engaging with the world. In so doing, we show how challenging the ways we know the world through reflexivity and critical thought are vital in the process of decolonising knowledge.
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The politics of knowledge is a foundational issue in development research. This includes questioning the processes through which knowledge is produced and the terms of the ‘partnerships’ or ‘collaborations’ involved. Such analyses tend to emphasise structural difference and can reproduce all too familiar tropes of dominating global North and deficit global South. This paper takes instead a relational perspective to investigate how such notions are generated, sustained and may be contested through interactions between people, and between people and their contexts. For data, the paper draws on experiences and observations related in a 2018–2019 workshop series on international collaborations in development research. It argues the need to go beyond a focus on ‘mentoring’ or ‘capacity building’ to explore the interactive generation of researcher selves; temper commitments to generalisability with recognition of the inherent value of the particular; and pay more attention to the unintended outcomes of research, and especially its production of waste.
El marco teórico de las Epistemologías del Sur fue propuesto por Boaventura de Sousa Santos como una vía para reconocer la diversidad de formas de entender el mundo y dar sentido a la existencia por parte de diferentes habitantes del planeta. Trabajando sobre este marco el presente artículo describe el concepto de ontologías relacionales, ilustrando otro tipo de herramientas teóricas para quienes ya no quieren ser cómplices del silenciamiento de los saberes y experiencias populares por parte de la globalización eurocéntrica. Frente a la idea monolítica de «Mundo» o «Universo», este texto plantea la transición hacia la inspiración zapatista de «Mundos donde quepan muchos mundos» o «Pluriverso». El texto se ilustra sobre algunos ejemplos de reacciones indígenas hacia la extracción minera, que no solo implican ocupación física sino también ocupación ontológica de los territorios. El artículo realiza a su vez el planteamiento de que los saberes derivados a través de las Epistemologías del Sur ofrecen mayor profundidad que los saberes hasta ahora surgidos en el ámbito académico en el contexto de la transformación social.
In Can Non-Europeans Think? Dabashi takes his subtle but vigorous polemic to another level.' Pankaj Mishra What happens to thinkers who operate outside the European philosophical pedigree? In this powerfully honed polemic, Hamid Dabashi argues that they are invariably marginalised, patronised and misrepresented. Challenging, pugnacious and stylish, Can Non-Europeans Think? forges a new perspective in postcolonial theory by examining how intellectual debate continues to reinforce a colonial regime of knowledge, albeit in a new guise. Based on years of scholarship and activism, this insightful collection of philosophical explorations is certain to unsettle and delight in equal measure.
North–South research collaboration involves navigating two terrains, which have, in the past, been areas of bitter contestation. One area is to negotiate the unequal power dynamics that shape what ‘partnership’ means and determine the division of labour in the research collaboration. The other is a tussle over concepts that underpin research, which may have different meanings or no meaning at all in the local context. In this essay, I share my experiences on both areas as a researcher based in the global South. I contend that these power dynamics not only reinforce the extractive nature of research, but also undermine different ways of knowing and registering that are not part of dominant intellectual toolkits in the global North. I conclude that the hierarchy of knowledge generation embedded in North–South collaboration hinders the creativity and intellectual advancement of researchers and also diminishes the quality of the knowledge that is produced.
Against a backdrop of historic inequities between Northern and Southern scholars, the UK's Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) calls for "meaningful and equitable" research partnerships between UK-based academics and partners in the Global South. This paper draws on qualitative data from three workshops in the Ethiopia, Rwanda and the UK to interrogate GCRF funding criteria from the perspectives of African-based research partners. The GCRF criteria are considered with respect to African partners' experiences of, and aspirations from, such international research partnerships in order to enrich and extend ongoing debates about power relations in development research. The study finds that GCRF criteria do address many of the familiar historic concerns of African partners, while also identifying ways in which this and similar funding schemes may unintentionally reproduce structural inequities within the South. In highlighting these less visible equity concerns, the paper draws lessons for funders, academics and others concerned with establishing genuinely equitable research partnerships.