Humility as a research ethic

A culture-centered project is a journey in humility, an ongoing process of "learning to unlearn" the theories, concepts, and tools one has been taught to learn to excel in the academic pursuit of success.

To listen to voices of communities at the margins of the social system of which the academic is a part, one has to look carefully at one's own position as an academic within this network of privilege. To look at and carefully examine one's own position is to acknowledge the confluence of structures that reproduce this privilege, the very structures that also produce under-privilege. What are my privileges, how have and how are these privileges produced, and how do I benefit from these privileges? How do my privileges produce under-privilege?

In other words, privilege and under-privilege are two sides of the same coin.

Because I am privileged, because I occupy a position of privilege, someone else is positioned as without privilege. In this sense, I as an academic am part of the problem of the production of the margins. This acknowledgment hopefully marks the beginning of a lifelong journey of research practices that seek to interrogate the unequal production and circulation of privilege in social systems.

To work with the margins therefore, my acknowledgment of the circuits of privilege and the ways in which these circuits of privilege profit from the production of the margins is a starting point. Through this acknowledgment, I as a researcher can begin to see how privilege is produced and tied to distributions of power in society. My ability to have a voice is intertwined with the erasure of multiple other voices from multiple other positionalities.

For this close reflection that turns the lens on the academic and on his/her location at the center of knowledge production, cultivating humility is a necessity. The practice of humility as research ethic teaches the researcher/activist/advocate the impossibility of representation while throwing open the challenges of re-presenting articulations from the margins to interrupt into the structures.


Nien Yuan Cheng said…
I really like this idea of "humility" in research. In the field of oral history and performance studies the keyword is often instead "vulnerability". This trope often produces the genre of "success-in-failure" fieldwork stories that act as an alibi for self-reflexivity, and only serve to pat oneself on the back for knowing how to 'listen', how to be 'open', how to have the 'courage' to be 'vulnerable'. How oxymoronic! Self-reflexivity cannot become a safe space for academics to advertise themselves in yet another way. Humility, when truly incorporated, could be the answer.

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