A challenge to Community Informatics

At the Community Informatics Research Network Conference:

Anne Milne, Mike Usmar: Exploring authentic community informatics taxonomy from a Maori and Pacific worldview.  Te Rongo Haeata – the informative beam of light.

This presentation at the Community Informatics Research Network conference in Prato, Italy, is important. Anne Milne, Principal of Kia Aroha College in Auckland, delivered the most challenging and credible presentation I’ve heard for a very long time. It cast, yes, a fierce beam of light on research that, despite the context of Community Informatics, focuses on the informatics and doesn’t really show much interest in community. What I heard was a strong call for authentic responses to community empowerment issues, grounded in real commitment to research and practice that honours cultural context and values of self-determination. Implicit in the address was a sense that conventional approaches continue to embed top-down, institutionalised interests that serve elites and perpetuate inequity. A cogent questioning of the ethics of much community research was implicit.

Milne spoke of it being unthinkable to embark on any research that would continue to inflict damage on Maori and Pasifika people. Are we sure the benefits of research will outweigh the cost? Her reference to Eve Tuck’s article (2009) drew our attention to “deficit models” and “damage-centred research” that “operates, even benevolently, from a theory of change that establishes harm or injury in order to achieve reparation” (Tuck, 2009, p.413). Tuck sees this as a flawed theory, often used to leverage resources for marginalised communities but simultaneously the research reinforces their position. Ouch, on behalf of so many CI researchers…

Some critical points made:
. Whose knowledge counts? Oracy is paramount in Maori & Pasifika culture.
. Kaupapa Maori (Maori philosophy) methodology recognises storytelling as a counter to the deficit and damage stories of traditional research
. Research must be culturally relevant. Otara, where there is widespread mistrust of research, has been over-researched for decades, and under the media microscope. Technology still happens “at” Maori. IT becomes a further instrument of colonisation.
. Understanding these cultural differences is critical to Computer Clubhouse 274. Her, youth are engaged in learning through design – they create their own social networks, games, animations – and learn how to express themselves through their use.
. Sociocultural constructionism “argues that individual and community development are reciprocally enhanced by independent and shared constructive activity that is resonant with both the social environment of a community of learners, as well as the culture of the learners themselves” (Pinkett, R.D., 2002, p. 366). A sociocultural construction is “a physical, virtual, or cognitive artifact that is resonant with the social and cultural milieu” (ibid.).
. Paolo Freire (1972) argued that education should be learner-centred, empowering, and liberating.
. Few Computer Clubhouses are on school sites, where the structures and environments can be counter-productive to creativity
. A framework for addressing Maori knowledge in research, science and technology (Cunningham, 2000)
. What about a Community Informatics Research Taxonomy? Community centred – community driven?
. Authentic research: refer to “Culture counts: changing power relations in education
(Di Russell Bishop,Ted Glynn, 1999) where the idea of “whanau of interest” is argued.
. Who has the power?
. Planning must include making indigenous knowledge explicit and embedded

Maori know about a way that is born of time, connectedness, kinship, commitment and participation

Milne put forward some serious challenges to the power relations and ethical positions inherent in other “community” informatics research – an implicit message being that the community is not truly considered at all.

Tuck, E. (2009). Suspending damage: A letter to communities. Harvard Educational Review, 79 (3), p. 409 – 427.

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