Anthropologists in the Field: Cases in Participant Observation

By Lynne Hume; Jane Mulcock | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 16
Multi-sited Methodologies
"Homework" in Australia, Fiji, and Kiribati

Katerina Martina Teaiwa

As a master's degree student at the Center for Pacific Islands Studies at the University of Hawai'i (UH), I was driven by one central purpose—to decolonize Banaban history.1 This meant, among other things, letting Banaban voices speak (mine most loudly), and critiquing every piece of writing on Banaban history or culture produced by white scholars. I believed that the role of the "native" in the academy was to centralize cultural identity and to personalize and politicize our scholarship (cf. T. Teaiwa 1995; Trask 1999). My experiences as a doctoral student at The Australian National University (ANU) complicated that idea, committing me to a somewhat different approach to, and motive for, knowledge production.

This chapter is about the process and results of multisited "homework" undertaken in Fiji, Australia, and Kiribati between 1999 and 2002.2 Kamala Visweswaran (1994) has described "homework" as a critique of the centrality that fieldwork holds for the discipline of anthropology. Clifford (1997b:85) suggests that Visweswaran's reflections, rather than standing in opposition to exoticist fieldwork, offer "a critical confrontation with the invisible processes of learning … that shape us as subjects … "placing an emphasis on the" discipline of unlearning as much as of learning." The result of my movements among multiple research sites was the displacement of the conventional single-site anthropological paradigm and the unlearning of anthropological and indigenous authority. As I detail below, homework, rather than fieldwork, thus became a more appropriate frame for my research project.

I was investigating the impact of phosphate mining on the indigenous people of Banaba in the Republic of Kiribati, or what Europeans called Ocean Island. This island was the home of my paternal great-grandfather,

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