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April 2014

In Support of Collaborative Research

Jay T. Johnson and Soren C. Larsen are the editors of A Deeper Sense of Place, released by OSU Press last fall, and the recent recipients of a collaborative fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies to begin their next book project, being-together-in-place. Jay Johnson is also a recent recipient of the Association of American Geographers Enhancing Diversity Award.

On the blog, Johnson and Larsen use their own experience to reflect on the evolution and intricacy of collaborative research as a whole—and, like A Deeper Sense of Place itself, put academic work within Indigenous communities and the process of collaboration into conversation.


When Soren Larsen and I proposed a session at the 2010 Association of American Geographers annual meeting in Washington DC on the topic of research collaboration, we had no idea how many of our colleagues would have such extraordinary and moving stories to tell about their transformative experiences of working within Indigenous communities. Our call for papers asked authors to present the “real stories of academics—some Native, others not—who have worked collaboratively with Indigenous communities and in so doing have had their own geographical understandings questioned, challenged, and finally expanded into deeper senses of place.” We were overwhelmed by the volume and enthusiasm of the response. The call attracted so much attention that we ended up with three sessions at the conference, and the clear impression that a shift had occurred in the academy towards a new way of thinking about and doing collaborative Indigenous research.

When Native culture became a topic of formal academic study in the nineteenth century, most fieldworkers simply took collaboration to mean finding a way to gain access to the community or identifying the best cultural informants—if, that is, they thought about it as collaboration at all. Much of the research from that time was extractive, manipulative, or “salvage” in nature. The nature of collaboration changed—albeit slowly—over the course of the twentieth century. Institutional ethics statements and procedures guarded Indigenous rights in the research process, and legislation began to protect their control of material culture, ancestral remains, and cultural knowledge. Protocols for the return of research materials emerged and research activity itself focused increasingly on the social, political, and environmental concerns of Indigenous peoples. Perhaps most notably, some Native people became professional researchers themselves. A distinctively Indigenous geography came to fruition, one that eschewed the abstract and conceptual aims of the academy and grounded research instead within Indigenous ways of knowing and learning.

While the academy was taking research with Indigenous communities much more seriously by the 1970s, much has been written since then questioning the depth, quality, and process of collaboration. Are researchers really including the community and its leaders as collaborators with decision making power over how or even if the research will take place? Are the academics taking the time to build the relationships needed to understand the needs and perspectives of the community? Do collaborative projects really accommodate the radically different ways Indigenous people think about and do research? Or are they just “old school” research projects under the guise of collaboration? What are the interpersonal elements of the research process that don’t ever get talked about (at least not in research journals and formal reports), but are nonetheless critical to successful and meaningful collaboration?

The authors in A Deeper Sense of Place reflect on their own collaboration experiences to explore these and other questions. These highly personal stories come from Native and non-Native practitioners who are doing work in communities all over the world. They don’t just describe the challenges and joys of doing collaborative research, but instead trace the transformative process of a kind of research that draws together emotional, interpersonal, and geographical ways of knowing within the more conventional pursuit of conceptual knowledge and tangible outcomes like reports, databases, and articles. These are stories about the complex and awkward process of negotiating the inexorable relationships of power that infuse all collaborative research. These are stories about the reality that research always takes place, and that where research happens is just as important as why or how it happens. Finally, these are stories about finding a new sense of place—a new way of thinking about and doing research—that brings the art and practice of collaboration more fully into the fold of Indigenous geography.

—Jay T. Johnson & Soren C. Larsen

You can order A Deeper Sense of Place here. More information on the First Peoples: New Directions in Indigenous Studies series is available here.

Jay T. Johnson is an Associate Professor of Geography and Indigenous Studies at the University of Kansas and Soren C. Larsen is an Associate Professor of Geography at the University of Missouri. 

A Gradual Quest For More Meaningful News

Renowned journalist and broadcaster Peter Laufer has written a new book, Slow News: A Manifesto for the Critical News Consumer. Slow News challenges us to reevaluate our relationships with the news, relationships that, Laufer argues, have deeply harmful effects—the intellectual equivalent of consuming an empty-calorie diet. Today on the blog, Peter Laufer reflects on current events to make a case for why we need to slow down our news. 

Was a friend or relative or colleague of yours on the lost Malaysia airliner? Were your neighbors inundated by the tragic mudslide in Washington state? Probably not. Nonetheless the CNNs of the world spewed unending accounts of both recent news stories, often reporting nothing. Reporters interviewed reporters who knew nothing but who did not hesitate to speculate. Reporters interviewed so-called experts who knew nothing but often did not hesitate to speculate.

Of course both are riveting stories of tragedy and we hoped for survival. Human nature draws us to such tales as we consider our own mortality and engage in what the National Enquirer told me years ago is the basic criteria for all its reportage: each story must either make you wish you were the protagonist or make you relieved you are not.

Nonetheless, unless we did know a passenger on the plane or a resident of Oso, Washington, how necessary is it for us to subject ourselves to the minute-by-minute stressors of the updates that spiked CNN's ratings? Aren't these examples of stories that can wait for us to digest them once they're resolved? Shouldn't we prioritize our news consumption, especially in this era of too much information?

I believe that such rationing is mandatory for our mental health. That's why I wrote Slow News: A Manifesto for the Critical News Consumer. It is a step-by-step guide on how to wean ourselves from the 24-hour news cycle. It is a paean to my motto, "Yesterday's News Tomorrow." We simply do not need all the dismal details of the daily downer creating anxiety and brain clutter in our overwrought heads.

Used with permission from The New Yorker

Of course it is imperative to know as fast as possible if there is a pending crisis in our midst. But when there is passing trouble half a world distance, details can wait until the reporters spewing noise at us at least know the basics of the story. And allowing ourselves to be consumed by the disaster-of-the-moment or the celebrity-divorce-of-the-moment diverts our attention from more difficult to analyze geopolitical world events that deserve our attention.  

Not too long after CNN moves its news cycle past the anomalies of Malaysia Flight 370, the Russian invasion of Crimea will continue to reverberate world affairs for hundreds of millions of us in America, Europe and Asia. So I invite you to join my Slow News Movement and reject addiction to faux news. 

—Peter Laufer

You can order Slow News here.

An award-winning author, journalist, broadcaster, and documentarian, Peter Laufer has written more than a dozen books, including Mission Rejected: U.S. Soldiers Who Say No to Iraq, Forbidden Creatures: Inside the World of Animal Smuggling, and The Dangerous World of Butterflies. He reported for NBC and CBS radio around the world, and wrote and produced several documentaries as an NBC news correspondent, winning the George Polk Award for his study of Americans incarcerated overseas. He is the James Wallace Chair in the School of Journalism and Communications at the University of Oregon in Eugene. To learn more, visit his website here

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