OPF Discusses: Reflexivity and Positionality as Students, Researchers, and Practitioners of International Development Studies

By: Tasneem Mewa

On August 17th, 2020 the Knowledge Equity Lab (KEL) and Open Praxis Forum (OPF) hosted the Centre for Critical Development Studies (CCDS) 2020 Thesis Award Winners Sana Najafi and Alyssa Esparaz to discuss reflexivity and positionality in their role as students and practitioners of International Development. 

The agenda for the discussion was as follows: 

  • Land Acknowledgement 
  • Brief Overview of KEL and OPF 
  • Structured Discussion with Sana and Alyssa re: research, positionality and reflexivity
  • Open Discussion with Participants

We were joined by around 20 participants during our live discussion. Our goal during this event was to emulate the kind of discussion we hope OPF will inspire. OPF itself is a website on which researchers are invited to submit their work; work that exists in a variety of mediums, papers, photos, vidoes, etc. In addition to final works, OPF hopes to feature works in progress, pieces that highlight the research process, not simply research outputs. With these goals in mind, we ask our contributors to consider questions they may not normally be encouraged to ask: questions surrounding ethics of care, the communities that take part in the research, the consequences of their knowledge creation, their positionality within it, and to truly reflect on the individuality and particularity of their research experiences. 

Considering OPF’s vision and mission, our event began with a land acknowledgement that recognized the necessity of decolonizing knowledge and epistemology in the cyberspace and space within academia that we occupy – the potential harm and or power relations imbued in our presence, our responsibilities to listen and unlearn, and supporting and upholding indigenous knowledge sovereignty. Ultimately, this process is crucial to understanding where we are and how we must situate ourselves in various contexts. We grounded this acknowledgement and moment of reflection with the following resources: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=voXySM-knRc&feature=emb_title and https://native-land.ca

As mentioned previously, the structured discussion was geared towards emulating the kinds of conversations, co-creation, and collaborative learning that would take place on OPF as authors discuss their work with each other via comments, or by getting in touch with one another. Sana and Alyssa summarised their thesis topics, the serendipity and passion through which they came about researching these topics, the challenges they faced along the way due to the multiplicity of their identities, and their learnings throughout the process. Beyond the discussion itself, given the urgency of our current moment, not only do we need to amplify the voices of women of colour and BIPOC folkx, we need to have these discussions to shift the focus of academia from arbitrarily valuing “objective” knowledge to the value and insights one can gain from embodied “subjective” knowledge based on a constant and evolving examination of your positionality in a variety of contexts. Once we move beyond binary categorizations and valuations of knowledge, with these kinds of conversations as a starting point, we can begin to create more equity within both the consumption and creation of knowledge. 

“Beyond the discussion itself, given the urgency of our current moment, not only do we need to amplify the voices of women of colour and BIPOC folkx, we need to have these discussions to shift the focus of academia from arbitrarily valuing “objective” knowledge to the value and insights one can gain from embodied “subjective” knowledge based on a constant and evolving examination of your positionality in a variety of contexts.”

– Tasneem Mewa

In addition to the content and format of the discussion, in the spirit of OPF, we did our best to create a safe and accessible space for our participants to engage in meaningful conversations about their own experiences within academia and research. The discussion landed on topics such as imposter syndrome, advocating for yourself and your research, what it means to be critical, various research strategies, and how to care for yourself during the process. 

This event is one of many events featuring KEL projects as we prepare for the launch of KEL on September 24th, 2020. Save the date for the launch event and keep an eye out for recorded excerpts of the OPF event and further reflections from the conversation!

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