The Australian has reported that the Australian Research Council is proposing to create a new Field of Research (FOR) code for Indigenous Studies.
For a bit of background, the Government released a report last year which was all but ignored by the mainstream, Review of Higher Education Access and Outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. Deep in its guts, you come across the National Tertiary Education Union’s (sigh) comments about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research needing to be excluded from the Excellence in Research for Australia scheme. It’s pretty much a nonsense argument, but it does cause the panel to think about a bigger issue:
The Review heard concerns of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander PhD holders during consultations that the ERA as a framework does not sufficiently provide for the assessment of research regarding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The National Tertiary Education Union’s submission argues that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research should be treated separately from ERA because it:
may not conform with Western research methodologies and protocols … [and] is applied … and motivated by achieving practical outcomes rather than prioritising publication in prestigious international journals (submission no. 45, National Tertiary Education Union, p. 8).
Whether or not one accepts this view, there is an issue in the counting of Indigenous research towards rankings. There are currently no two- or four-digit Fields of Research codes within ANZSRC pertaining to Indigenous-specific topics, and the ANZSRC therefore does not explicitly or separately identify research as relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
A preliminary Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) review of its research classification system is due to be undertaken in 2013. The Panel notes that there would be value in the ABS, in consultation with the Australian Research Council, considering the viability of including an Indigenous knowledge research code as a separate field of research to then be utilised in future ERA collections.
There are limitations in the sorts of adjustments that can be made to the ERA framework. However, as the ERA initiative is increasingly influential in driving support for research in universities, it reinforces a culture that gives priority to the production of research that is published in high-ranking journals.
There is a risk that while a number of universities have a focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research, without levers to balance the ERA mechanism, such research may not receive sufficient ongoing support to make it viable or productive in the longer term, which could result in further degradation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research capacity. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research in its many forms has important value for communities.
The Panel supports effort to balance university research culture to ensure that the social, economic and environmental impacts of research are measured and valued along with excellence to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research is appropriately valued and recognised. [Source]
Despite being in favour of the creation of a FOR code for Classics, it might surprise people that I’m not in favour of an FOR code for Indigenous Studies. The main reason is perhaps the easiest to elucidate: all the existing FOR codes should not be seen to be ‘non-Indigenous’ by default.
Let’s say my magnum opus on legal theory is published and, for whatever reason, I decide that it’s more philosophy than law. I can use the FOR code 220204. My neighbour publishes her magnum opus on indigenous legal theory and, for whatever reason, she decides that it’s more philosophy than law. It seems rational that she would use the same FOR code: 220204. There are no white codes or black codes. Her indigenous legal theory work is in the same category as my non-indigenous theory work.
The second reason is technical and makes it difficult to fit into a Quick Post. For the ERA, you are limited on the number of codes you can assign to a piece of work. The creation of a new code ends up spreading the work quite thinly across codes — from an ERA perspective, there becomes a bit of an incentive not to declare the Indigenous Studies code. Let’s say the rule for a particular round says you can only split a work across two four digit codes. My work mentioned above ends up in, say, 2202 (History and Philosophy of a Particular Field) and 1801 (Law). Let’s say the ARC creates a new Indigenous Studies two digit code (Division 23) and creates new Indigenous Studies four digit codes by using the 23 prefix on the existing divisions. Indigenous Studies Law would become 2318; Indigenous Studies Philosophy would become 2322. ERA only permits two codes, so which of 2202, 1801, 2318, and 2322 does my neighbour use? It is more than likely that the 23-codes would be sacrificed.
At the same time, I completely understand the importance of recognising Indigenous Studies and celebrating it. One way of getting around this problem is to have an FOR code modifier which indicates that the work within a particular field is also relevant to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. My neighbour could classify her work as 220204+. I agree, this could still make it feel like her work does not legitimately fit within the classification (it’s augmented or a subset) but it would allow people working in those fields to say that their work both fits in the common classification and is entitled to sit in the common classification, and that the work is worthy of additional attention as being part of a broader, interdisciplinary group of Indigenous Studies.
The TL;DR version: we don’t have a ‘White Studies’ FOR code to study those things which are peculiar and analytical about white people — why should we partition Indigenous Studies?
It’s a difficult area to discuss because debates can often look like ‘What about the white folk?!?!?! Where’s their FOR code?!?!’ and ‘Indigenous Studies isn’t worthy separate recognition!’ This is perhaps the reason why not many people are contributing to the discussion. But there are ways of recognising the importance and uniqueness of Indigenous Studies without isolating it within classification systems.