Beyond Research on Cultural Minorities: Challenges and Implications of Research as Situated Cultural Practice

Article excerpt

Researchers have conducted studies on cultural minorities as a means to produce knowledge that can be used to serve the educational and psychological needs of our increasingly multicultural society. Although this is an important strategy to produce research knowledge that is responsive to heterogeneous populations, it falls short on several key theoretical grounds. Thus, this article examines theoretically the cultural nature of research. We pursue this goal by developing two arguments; namely, we highlight the theoretical and methodological limits of the traditional practice of research on cultural minority groups and outline the idea of research as situated cultural practice. Instead of devoting efforts to do research on certain minority groups as special cases, we assume humans are cultural beings. The term "minority" is not used to reflect numerical representation. Instead, we use Gibson's (1991) definition of minority to describe groups that occupy a "subordinate position in a multiethnic society, suffering from the disabilities of prejudice and discrimination, and maintaining a separate group identity. Even though individual members of the group may improve their social status, the group itself remains in a subordinate position in terms of its power to shape the dominant value system of the society or to share fully in its rewards" (p. 358).

The notion of research as situated cultural practice proposes that what drives research, its purposes and uses, how meaning is made during the implementation of research practices, and the knowledge and representations that are produced are culturally and socially mediated and negotiated processes. The idea of research as situated cultural practice requires that the analytic spotlight be widened from an exclusive focus on certain groups to shed light on two additional aspects. These are the sociocultural location of the researcher as an individual and a member of a scientific field, and the cultural presuppositions in the habitual practices of a field (e.g., theoretical categories, data collection and analysis tools; Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992; Goodwin, 2002; Latour, 1999; Rosaldo, 1993). We define practices as "actions that are repeated, shared with others in a social group, and invested with normative expectations and with meanings or significances that go beyond the immediate goals of the action" (Miller & Goodnow, 1995, p. 7).

Our analysis is based on the premise that research is one of the best tools societies have to generate knowledge in systematic ways, to inform professional practice, and ultimately to help mold the future of our communities (King, 1968). We must refine how research is theorized in psychology and special education as researchers respond to the rapid and ongoing transformation of the sociodemographic profile of the school population. (Although we present examples from special education and psychology, the literature from which we draw to make our arguments is interdisciplinary and has applications for the social sciences in general.) Current demographic trends challenge researchers to produce knowledge bases that respond to the needs of growing groups of cultural minority students and to address the longstanding pattern of unequal outcomes (e.g., educational performance) across majority and minority groups of students (Lee, 2002).

The bulk of responses to addressing the needs of growing groups of cultural minorities and the pattern of unequal outcomes have been twofold: to ignore diversity or to make use of it (Cole, 1998). Examples of the former include English-only curricula and pedagogical approaches adopted in states like Arizona, Massachusetts, and California. In contrast, efforts that make use of diversity include multicultural approaches and culturally responsive pedagogy (Banks & Banks, 2004). Many of these efforts are grounded in research on the cultural traits and practices of various groups that are then infused in psychological and educational interventions. …