Relationality and Ethical Know-how in Indigenous Research

Professor Estelle Barrett
Research and HDR Coordinator
Institute of Koorie Education
Deakin University

Keywords: relationality, ethics, knowledge as intra-action, relational methodologies, Indigenous, research, art, practice

The central aims of principles and protocols for ethics and ethical conduct of Indigenous research such as those found in AIATSIS Guidelines for Ethical Research in Indigenous Studies (2012) and those on pre- ethics protocols recently developed by emerging researchers in this field (Martin, Barrett, Koolmatrie et al, 2015) has been to address the problem of non-Indigenous researchers remaining blind to their own limitations, overlooking the partial and situated perspectives and assumptions that underpin their approaches to research and hence creating asymmetrical relations between researcher and participant – usually to the detriment of the latter. However, we may ask whether these principals, in themselves, are enough to achieve this aim if the very ontological and epistemological foundations of western research in Indigenous contexts remain the same?

In this paper I want to demonstrate how notions of relationality and relatedness fundamental to protocols of engagement with Indigenous communities in research, needs to be extended to the actual processes and operations of research in order to enhance ethical know-how of conducting not only cross cultural research, but research involving human participants  across the general field of research in more profound and practical ways. Drawing on Indigenous scholarship, I argue that “relationality” recasts how we understand key concepts of research such as “knowledge” “methodology”, ““data” and “interpretation” allowing the design of “relational methodologies” that imbed a more reflexive and culturally appropriate ethical know-how at all stages of the enquiry process.

Estelle Barrett is Professor and HDR Coordinator at the Institute of Koorie Education, Deakin University. She has co-edited three books with Barbara Bolt: Material Inventions: Applying Creative Research (2014) Carnal Knowledge: Towards a “New Materialism” Through the Arts, (2012) and Practice as Research: Approaches to Creative Arts Enquiry, (2007; reprinted 2010). She has published reviews and articles in Cultural Studies Review, Zetesis, Real Time, Artlink, Text, Social Semiotics, Double Dialogues, The International Journal of Critical Arts and the Journal of Visual Arts Practice. Her monograph, Kristeva Reframed: Interpreting Key Thinkers for the Arts, (2011), examines the relevance of the work of Julia Kristeva for the creative arts and creative arts research. She is an international Research Fellow of the International Centre for Fine Arts Research, Birmingham University.