“They Don’t Need Me to Amplify Their Voices, I Need Them to Render Visibility to My Research.”: Making Sense of Marginalized Ethnic Minority Youth Narratives

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 17:30
Oral Presentation
Lavanya BALACHANDRAN, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, Singapore
Discussions about researching marginalized groups have often acknowledged the politics endemic in knowledge production and the research practices that produce them. To deal with that, reflexive practice in qualitative research has urged scholars including ‘natives’ and ‘insiders’ to be honest and upfront about their class, race and gendered locations, recognize their privilege and appreciate the ‘difference’ between themselves, as knowledge producers, and the researched, their subjects. Despite the calls for transparency, the ultimate act of knowledge production – theorizing - has often been less than rewarding because it remains distanced from the pain of alienation experienced by disadvantaged subjects whom researchers at worst patronize and at best feel guilty about. This paper is situated within the broader context of destabilizing the alleged mutual exclusivity of the outsider/insider, native/non-native, us/them, colonizer/colonized binaries. In particular, I draw upon my own methodological trajectory in my study of educational underachievement in Singapore amongst ethnic minority Indian youths in terms of how their lives intersect with my biography as a researcher from the same ethnic community. Here, I suggest how reflexivity carries with it a certain responsibility of humility that sensitizes us not just to differences between the researcher and researched but also the shared experiences of anxiety about belonging and acceptance, fear of failure, moments of exclusion, articulations of resistance and expressions of resilience; about how all of us as social actors are embedded in multiple hierarchies in the same context that simultaneously make us advantaged and disadvantaged, outsider and insider, us and them, accommodate and resist; and how when these experiences translate into acts of theorizing, they still require a language of reason that can be inclusive without showing benevolence, and intellectually contribute towards understanding the struggles of the marginalized and produce morally and politically enabling knowledges.