Notes on: Richardson, T. (2015)  Indigenous Methodologies and Educational Research for Meaningful Change: Parsing Postpositivist Philosophy of Science and Mixed Methods in the Collaborative Research Settings. Journal of American Indian Education, Vol. 54, No. 1 (Spring 2015), pp. 33-62 .

Dave Harris

Place, language and narrative seem to be the principal elements but there are different facets. postpositivism and mixed methods may offer an alternative way to offer meaningful interventions.

[Lots of references exist on page 33, including L Smith]. The intention is to combat indigenous knowledge as prescientific. Qualitative research, say in Denzin and Lincoln, and feminist research have led to further discussions of indigenous epistemology and methodology. These has always been linked to indigenous self-determination, and the need to conform to indigenous ethics and philosophies, authentic and thus different methods. This led in turn to a discussion about how they differ, and the usual list: 'understanding principles of relationality and reciprocity, deep attentiveness to place, engagement with specific Native narrative traditions et cetera' (36), although some have argued that seeing method as a tool only, any method can be used. Others have stressed the need for links with intellectual traditions leading to story work or conversational methods as crucial. One example cited here has two approaches one from the worldview of indigenous methodologies, and one from a more conventional one — a mixed methodology.

There are obvious problems in generalising, but this seems to be a consensus on 'the broad characteristics of indigenous methodologies' especially in the North American and Pacific contexts. This seems to be an agreement that the activities involved are 'empirical, tactile, emotional, regulatory and most often narratively organised' (37). The methods may also centre on place, 'intimate interactions with specific lands and waters' (38) [there is a claim that they have been tested over the generations and thus 'proven reliable']. Together, this shows the importance of relationality, ties to place and community, social relations which reflect these ties and extend them to generations [the examples chosen here are Native Americans]. The self emerges as a relation as well, and it fosters 'reciprocity and non-domination'.

Relationality guides the aims and practices of research as well, because it entails responsibilities to community and land, even a kind of healing, 'an attentiveness to one's actions, approach and efforts as a researcher'. There is often a ceremonial dimension. Dreams may be important as a source of knowledge, as might other kinds of revelation: these or serve ceremonial dimension.

Storytelling can show all these elements, as relational or 'synergistic', offering both power and knowledge as people are brought together. There is a 'highly ethical character' (40), often based on kinship duties [which could also be seen as a constraint?]. There is an emphasis on process rather than outcome.

The emphasis is on local rather than global, as in LT Smith [who goes on to argue that the global focus is characteristic of positivism]. Wilson has seen some continuities with indigenous methodology and postpositivism, although both share the goal of pursuing knowledge for its own sake, or discovering truth, leading to prediction and control. This is the definition taken here. One example is research from the American Psychological Association which talks of rigorous systematic and objective procedures based on observation and experiment, and objective data. This is apparently Postpositivist [!] [Because it is pragmatic and procedural rather than philosophically committed?]. Scientism is Eurocentric.

Philosophers of science might disagree with social scientists, and actual researchers in proper sciences. For them, this is too narrow a methodology and they currently welcome 'historical, philosophical, ethnographic and mixed methodological approaches'(43). This is more promising for links with indigenous self-determination. One particular philosopher of science, Phillips, has opposed the definition of science supported by US politicians as far too narrow, enshrining RCT, for example.

Phillips argues that philosophers have a new understanding of positivism but they do not wish to return to it. He saw Comte as foundational, and Mill, Mach and Dewey. The Vienna Circle developed the philosophical positions best — '(1) a "hostility towards metaphysics"; (2) the verifiability principle… "Something is meaningful if and only if it is verifiable empirically or is a tautology of mathematics or logic"; that the verifiability "had to be in terms of simple "rock bottom" direct and indisputable descriptions of sense experience"; (4) that the logical positivists "often took a non-realist stance' (44-45). It is a mistake to see this as the same as behaviourism or empiricism.

Popper did not want to totally dismiss metaphysics as meaningless, but he did see science as offering testable statements. Some scientific research programs may indeed be based on principles that are not subject to empirical refutation, so science can never be free of metaphysics, and these forms of knowledge still provide meaning [important in making this stance Postpositivist]. Verifiability never worked because so many entities are unverifiable [what about falsification?] like those in nuclear physics or those in human processes — they can be no rock bottom sense experience descriptions of them either. [But what about 'basic statements' ultimately related to them] [apparently this difficulty led to the rejection of realism in logical positivism — I can see that it would lead to problems of specifying universal laws because not all of them could be verified. Presumably, they relied on induction?]. Positivists remain as a kind of convenient ghost, however.

Postpositivism for Phillips sees researchers as fallible, a matter of 'viable warrants or chains of argument' drawing upon 'diverse bodies of evidence' offering general support. He implies that different sorts of evidence are better if they can be welded into a coherent case. He also refers to 'quality evidence' [which is?] [NB he has the term warrant here]. He seems to support Dewey who sees science as the extension of normal problem-solving, not the pursuit of some ultimate reality. He fully accepts that scientific research might be based on metaphysical assumptions or something like them, and that it also operates as rhetoric in the classical sense [presumably as a way of persuading people to adopt a worldview] [he nearly gets to Habermas on the well formed argument?]. So language is important and communication is for action. [It all looks pretty pragmatic to me, and assumes that progress is possible and good].

Indigenous researchers should be cautious but should engage and look for points of complementarity. They should share an interest in effective communication. Some already do and he has some examples from Maori.

Bishop sees scientific research as 'the development of warrantable assertions' (48) he wanted to improve relations between teachers and Maori students, trying to see if there was a change in teacher practice after professional development, not in the form of a correlation but in the form of a warrantable assertion. He used evidence from a number of sources and methods including statistical analysis and interviews, but also indigenous methodologies such as cultural meetings discussing 'gifts' provided by visitors which then oblige them to reciprocate, in the form of data. They exercise rights and responsibilities through traditional notions of relationship and join a community, a kind of family. Bishop describes what happens both in terms of traditional Maori terms and as mixed methodologies in postpositivism. He does think that he has provided warrantable descriptions of what developed. Gifting and exchange seems to be crucial extending to the exchange of knowledge and the responsibility for it, providing argument and data which involved Maori as academic researchers. It is debatable whether this just anticipates indigenous customs or whether it is more ambiguous: it might even be an expression of new possibilities of colonialism (51).

In another example on Alaskan natives mathematics education in a locally-based community curriculum was developed, working with local elders and teachers building on '"everyday indigenous subsistence activities"' (52). Insiders and outsifers collaborated — indigenous knowledge was still kept separate, but articulations were sought, a bridge between elders' knowledge and mathematics, especially 'rational number thinking, symmetry, algebraic equality'. Every day practices included 'Equipartitioning' which led to concepts such as fractions ratios and proportions [seems old hat to me]. Classroom tests and assessments were modified, in order to demonstrate positive learning outcomes that paid off both in the everyday world and in assessment for grades. They claimed that working with example such as salmon fishing helped to develop rational number reasoning more effectively. They fully embraced 'the postpositivist fallibility principle' and made frequent changes. [A cynic would also say that they did quite a bit of coaching, in the guise of item analysis and ensuring questions were interpreted correctly].

There is a clear link between postpositivism and the pragmatic practices of indigenous peoples, and claiming them as mixed methodologies can disrupt conservative agendas as long as definitions of research rigour are accepted.

Turning to more focused studies of indigenous methods, Hermes undertook some research on indigenous Native American youth enduring poverty. They criticised the abundance of workshops on culture in the curriculum, sponsored by academics! Material conditions could have been examined from an indigenous perspective, however, and Hermes attempted to do so in a way that was consistent with native oral traditions and narrative methods. She started with economic disadvantages and the recognition that they disrupted school, more than cultural differences. She noted that some indigenous parents had made special efforts to increase school attendance and to focus upon '"low socio-economic status and a myriad related issues"' (56). There was a strong emphasis on past colonialism and dispossession. [There is a strange running commentary on how all this relates to Williams and the Birmingham school — Hermes claims to have discovered the material components independently, but Robinson is a bit sceptical]

He claims to have justified the inclusion of indigenous methods as playing an important part, even though they must be combined in mixed methodologies, and generally embraced within postpositivism.

Indigenous people themselves might approach the issues differently. It might be best to explore research questions in different ways, at the level of funding agencies as well. They might consider a twin study conducted by indigenous scholars as well as official ones. They might share databases. At the same time, courses might be offered for indigenous researchers on matters such as managing official datasets. Beneath this, the whole political and legal relationship between  indigenous people and federal and state government needs to be examined as relevant to research — this context matters as well.

There needs to be a particular focus on the 'material economic conditions' [about time too], and the local capacity to relate. There is no need to preserve 'the federally defined "gold standard" of research' (59), nor is there any need to condemn in a blanket manner science. Postpositivism is required, with a full explanation of the range and variation of methods available. Qualitative research including experiences of indigenous people must be included. Mixed methods studies should become the norm.