Notes on: Hylton, K (2012). Talk the talk, walk the walk: Defining Critical Race Theory and research. Race Ethnicity and Education 15 (1): 23 – 41.

Dave Harris

[Often cited for some reason]

This is about CRT methodology. There has been a growth in both published works and research projects utilising CRT [some are listed] but the issue is positioning CRT in terms of methodological practice, theory and epistemology. Many people have come to CRT by rejecting mainstream theory, through struggle and experience of oppression in the everyday world. However its ontological position is outlined by its tenets: 'societies fundamentally racially stratified and unequal, where power processes systematically disenfranchise racially oppressed people' (1). Activist scholars remain conscious of crucial social processes that structure their worlds and so they consistently look '"to the bottom" for answers as well as questions'.

They are interested in antiracist social justice and social transformation activities and apply these ideas to research and methodologies. Marginalisation and racialization are central [Dockery 2000 does a lot of work]. There is a need to take sides. There are offshoots such as CR feminism and Critical Whiteness Studies, Whiteness critiques, Whiteness and Policy Analysis [including Gillborn], material involving class and critiques of policy, 'pedagogy in classroom, counternarratives (Housee 2008)', and the Black experience of sport and leisure [Burdsey and lots of his own stuff].

He drew initially from material related to critical Black studies, but concluded that traditional approaches were incomplete and required a perspective more critically focused on race, relating to his own experience of otherness. CRT offered a suitable frame and helped him to become bold enough to challenge the racialised order.

Academia is also affected by 'naturalised systems of order' especially epistemological inconsistencies. CRT offers a challenge, seen in the precarious nature of those researchers who specialise in race. It is common to find epistemologies that reinforce colourblind, neutral, ahistorical or apolitical points of view and 'this process is how oppression and inequality may appear "natural"' (3). Eurocentric epistemologies fail to acknowledge Black people as 'holders and legitimate sources of knowledge, also award them a voice or a safe space. Power is 'exercised epistemologically in the dual practices of naming and evaluating'.

So CRT methodology should break with this passive reproduction of traditional research and contribute to 'emergent forms of knowing'. Collins is cited here. Dunbar (2008) also urges us to reflect the experiences of Black people without borrowing from White social science. There should be methodology to integrate politics and ideas, a form of critical research, but without complacency and colourblindness. Neutrality and objectivity and 'conventional views of validity and reliability' (4) can reinforce 'racialised inequalities by tolerating only certain forms of knowledge… Being apolitical and reinforcing oppressions' [lots of supporting quotes including Denzin and Giardina 2007, and Linda Smith on how indigenous peoples have been silenced].

Voicing, storytelling and counter storytelling have therefore become popular tools, to present views 'rarely evidenced in social research' although there are still weaknesses. Stories are still socially constructed and are therefore 'limited versions of reality' especially if 'oppressive social arrangements remain unchallenged'[or misunderstood]. There can be 'spurious "experiences from the margins"'. CRT methodologies should contest these traditional approaches. CRT epistemology is necessarily broad and trans-disciplinary. But it must also show 'coherence of ideas and synchronous principles and propositions that underpinned methodologies and resonate with critical race politics' [and if there is a tension we know which ones are going to dominate]. Although it is a 'pragmatic framework and therefore without a pedantic set of methods for methodologies, there are clearly methodologies and approaches that can facilitate CRT politics', but there are still caveats (5) which 'revolve [!] around knowledge formation and validation, the nature of "scientific" rigour and what constitutes suitable topics for disciplinary lenses'.

No one methodology is privileged, dogma must be challenged, but what is identifiably CRT is 'a measure of commitment to social justice and social change' and a recognition that race and racism are central, a focus on race racism and this intersection. There is often recognition that conventional liberal approaches are inadequate transformation. How does an agenda gets centred in methodology? There must be some challenge to negative racialised relations, different questions, say about crime control or notions of merit and racial equality and these need to be explicitly articulated.

In terms of methods and implementation, CRT is better described 'as practice' given that it requires a 'lived activism… What's better than a research methodology to demonstrate how to walk the walk?'. Methodologies must have the essential criteria and some desirable ones as well. It must disrupt racism, centre race, be underpinned by a social justice agenda and aim to transform negative social relation but there may be other elements of a more nuanced nature, say a grasp of complexity in matters such as policing, education the arts for community work, 'requiring responses of relative sophistication' (6).

There are also 'conceptual minefields' which threaten any attempts to research and transform negative racialised relations . Gunaratnam (2003) has a good one:  how do we decide how to '"fix the meanings of racial and ethnic categories in order to do empirical research?"'. We cannot ignore raced realities, but we should avoid essentialism and 'homogenisation over-generalisation and reductionism', because this would, apart from anything else, ignore debates about intersectionality, and the contributions of class and gender, and the political goal of eliminating all forms of subordination. Intersectionality strengthens the CRT framework to avoid essentialism and reinstate complexity [again also references I have never come across before]. We will need new methodologies, and CRT will be able to contribute distinctive 'decolonised counter narratives that question the nature of ideas whilst contributing to their development', new voices like Maori struggles for decolonisation in Linda Smith.

As an example of an every day CRT agenda, we might take the field of sport, popularly seen as something featuring equality inclusion and '"melting pot" idealism' (7). Successful Black people are regularly profiled and facilities are deemed to be available for all. However there are contradictions and denying racialised power relations is common. There is in fact scarce ethnic monitoring. There is a need for a CRT agenda, and this would have a considerable political impact.

His own research into local government support revealed 'policies and practices that were colourblind, conceptually confused and contradictory… Glass ceilings, poor diversity… Racial processes and formations that reinforced Whiteness [in policy-making]'. There were Black practitioners in pressure groups offering counter stories, and some examples of funding on the basis of merit, but still much to do.

In the USA, the picture is slightly different and CRT has a longer history of success. In the UK there are more recent milestones to establish regular conferences or research agendas, but CRT is taking a hold.

What about the use of participatory techniques in research in the social sciences in particular? Some techniques have informed the Asian experience of football [a reference to Burdsey 2004] and critical ethnographic methods would belong, by raising awareness of the everyday. Chronicles have also been popular in CRT, for example in Matsuda, or Montoya (2002) using 'discursive sub- versions, identity formation, and healing and transformation'. Gillborn (2009) has also used fictional chronicles, apparently in education. There is also performance ethnography cited by Denzin to explore colourblindness and White privilege in classrooms to actively challenge racism (10). This is part of a general urging to develop activism as well as qualitative research, to empower others. Some might use Freirian dialogue (11).

There seems to be agreement that a key element of social research is political engagement, social and cultural criticism to recognise inequality, tackle oppression more than one front. We must understand everyday reality, challenge anything that appears to be value neutral, apolitical, positivist. Researchers should identify with the subject. Take sides, actually enter the research and this is what CRT recommends.

There is no easy answer to define what CRT methodology is because that would 'reflect a pedantic essentialism and anathema to critical race theorists'. It is a question instead of 'the spirit of CRT… Practical liberatory transformative elements… Not theoretically abstract more dogmatically defined, neither is it for armchair theorists' (12). It is 'grounded in the experience of our collective realities… [It] should demonstrate a response to challenging subordination and oppression… It is informed by active struggle and in turn informs the struggle'. 'If poorly considered [methodologies, poorly applied] can also stymie these activities'.

We have to be aware of only talking the talk. We must agitate for change and defend positions it can be marginal 'and sometimes plain unpopular' we have to keep commenting on race, disrupt and challenge, sometimes contradicting apparent ethical practice by 'encouraging a more central positioning in the research process' (13). However even categories like race and racism can be  'arbitrary and laden with "everyday" ambiguity' and CRT methodologies must navigate this and be aware of these ambiguities [how though?].

There is a nice handy diagram of key considerations for us. Different researchers have emphasise different aspects of it

§ The ‘spirit’ of CRT
§ No methods are inherently CRT though some have more utility than others
§ Social justice  focus
§ A challenge to oppression and subordination
§ Strategic challenge to racism/Challenge convention
§ Centre the Black voice/Black experience
§ Research is for, not on, the subjects in question.
§ Conceptually strategic/pragmatic/anti--‐essentialist/
§ Intersectionality: strategic incorporation of class, gender, sexuality and other oppressive social categories, however they are less likely to be foregrounded in the first instance.
§ Counter--‐storytelling
§ Praxis oriented.
§ Activist scholarship
§ Participatory Approach
§ Researcher as part of the process
§ Challenges  the passive reproduction of established questions and practices.

[completes the weaselling and backpedalling -- all very vague and  acceptable]