The San and Control over Research

Sunday, 19th March 2017

From March 19, 2017

This is entirely reasonable on the part of the San. The Navajo have a research officer in the US who deals with research groups, and does something similar to this. There may be others who also do this. One interesting question, though, is whether this will be a mechanism to not research something which could be uncomfortable or difficult about their past (and, I’m not thinking of anything specific here about the San in particular, but rather in more general terms). Just as it’s a good thing for them to have a voice in this process, it would not be good to romanticize them as less prone to the follies of any other society, or use a code like this as a marketing tool, which only allows research into things that might make a society look good.

[Addition to post] I should say that of the many things I like about this, one of the main ones is that we need to get away from the division between researchers and research subjects, the first of whom is an active mind and the second of whom is a mute text. There needs to be a collaborative approach, and research findings need to find their way back to the groups affected, framed in a manner than can be used by these groups. That goes for all sorts of research – anthropological, medical, political, and philosophical.

This is why, whatever one might think of some of the theoretical issues in phenomenology and hermeneutics, these approaches are very useful for cultural research. They allow the possibility that the researcher has a horizon of meaning, as does the culture providing the material of research, and the meeting of those horizons leads to fruitful questioning on both sides, and a recognition of the misunderstandings that are rife within any cultural encounter (or really, any encounter at all). I’ve argued in the past that we need to model intercultural dialogue on interdisciplinarity, which, at its best, engages in that kind of questioning and which creates a new space for thinking. Intercultural encounter is not just about figuring out what group X thinks or believes or does, but rather what happens under the conditions of encounter with those asking a new set of (often ill-informed or strange) questions.

So, this move by the San to set up a research code is not just a restrictive step, but one which can potentially set up a very interesting and useful new area of thinking for a culture.

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