Oct 032012

I’ve had the privilege of taking a class with Dr. Katie Cannon this semester, and one component of the class has been to examine shifting approaches to research in the social sciences. Today we discussed a new way of understanding how the whole process of research changes when the one doing the research recognizes the ways in which the particulars of who they are (race, class, background, etc), play into now only how they view others, but how they are viewed.

One thing that came up today was the idea of “going native” – the situation in which a researcher is so embedded with a particular culture that their scientific data is considered flawed – their objectivity is lost. While part of me laughs at the idea that we might truly be able to be objective in a situation in which our whole goal is to observe people, another part of me got caught up on the language around “natives,” and how often “native” translates as “savage” and how often that allows us to dehumanize people. And, well, this led me to write the poem below.

Theo-ethicist Carter Heyward talks about the experience of connection found in the gaze between people weary with the weight of existence. I know it may be a bold assumption to make, but I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that there are moments when we are all weary with the weight of existence.  Life is hard, and it is heavy.  We live in a divided world, a divided country, a divided church.  I’m grateful today for all of those moments, all of those gazes I’ve shared with people where we’ve allowed ourselves to trust in the space between us, to acknowledge that we are weary, or ashamed, or scared – even just that we are confused as all get out with the madness of the world.

I think we can only find that space of trust if we allow ourselves to be seen, to take the chance that in the moments of vulnerability we might find a connection to someone or something beyond ourselves. It means putting aside (or at least holding at bay) assumptions we might make about others, and acknowledging assumptions they might make about us. What if we saw not only the gifts people bring to the table, but also recognized the gifts we have to give? What if “going native” about building relationships with others and learning more about ourselves?  How would it be if we stepped into every interpersonal interaction we have with the expectation that we can learn from one another something vital about how to live in the world?

Let us go native.
     Let our research be the quest
     for the good of all humanity.
Let us humble ourselves.
Let us redefine research.
Let us recognize and admit:
     we do not have all the answers.
Let us recognize:
     we all have something to learn.
     we all have gifts to offer
Let us continue to imagine,
And to work for a world
     in which all people have the opportunity
to take responsibility for their lives.
Let us take risks.
Let us pray
     that we might be
     so embedded
     in our research
          (read research: the quest for the good of humanity;
          read humanity: every living person)
that we lose the line
     between the “researched”
     and “researching.”
Let the recognition that someone has
     “gone native”
          be one
     that is made
not by the outsider, but
     by the “natives.”
Let us re-define native.
Let us celebrate the power in
     that kind of relation.
Let us continue to dream.
Let us get to work.

  3 Responses to “Going Native”

  1. Yes

  2. I was thinking today. Is it so important to be objective? Didn’t God go native, in Jesus Christ? There is something profoundly beautiful about going native.

  3. Wonderful. What a fantastic post. Love this blog, friend.

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