Paradigms Have Deep Roots

Linda Tuhiwai Smith (2018:54-56) writes about the value-related struggles of the scientists she works with in a program that tries to help them learn Indigenous worldview:

“In a collaborative research project, my colleagues and I have been working to bring scientists, Māori, and traditional knowledge experts into a constructed interface that we have called a negotiated space to help develop processes for constructive dialogue (Hudson et al. 2011, 2012). The outcomes from this project are relevant to evaluation in that we analyze how negotiating the interface can become a constructive space, a constructive ecology. The project follows on from work that Fiona Cram and colleagues (2002) have done on understanding how scientists engage with indigenous communities and how much better they could be doing in that engagement. There are groups of scientists, particularly in the biological and environmental sciences, resource management, and public and community health, who are genuinely interested in indigenous knowledge about such things as navigational technologies, plants and medicines, planting strategies, and weather knowledge. As a group, however, the record of scientists in establishing and sustaining relationships, working ethically with indigenous communities, and producing mutually beneficial outcomes has been somewhat dismal . . . The negotiations [to facilitate collaboration between team members from Māori and Western traditions] were probably more important for moving the scientists from their paradigms and deep cultural assumptions to a recognition of the Other. Understanding their positioning as scientists, and what that represents symbolically to nonscientists and to indigenous knowledge holders, was very powerful and, in some individual cases, overwhelming and insightful. Their authority over their subject matter was a source of power and personal pride for them and was part of the power dynamic between them and other scientists. Some struggled to be silent and to listen respectfully to the indigenous knowledge experts. Some wanted to argue about differences between science and belief systems or science and indigenous knowledge, or the history of science and its applications to indigenous knowledge and to indigenous environments. Although claiming science to be value free, scientists had to acknowledge that they held values and considered their values to be more important than other values.”

The situation with respect to evaluators, rather than scientists, is very much the same — because the issues that make it so hard for people to transition are cultural rather than disciplinary. Nan Wehipeihana (2019:177) points out that “Non-Indigenous evaluators occupy a privileged position that has conferred the authority and power to define reality . . . It can therefore be challenging for non-Indigenous evaluators to change their practice and to relinquish power and privilege. They have to want to do things differently or have a reason to see the world through alternative eyes.”

Major paradigm shifts are not just about ideas. They engage us at deep levels we usually don’t discover until the shift tugs on them in ways that make us very uncomfortable. Part 3 of this exercise provides resources to support you through that part of the process.

Click here to return to the list of pages at Weaving the Basket.
Click here for list of References.