Academic journal article Canadian Review of Sociology

Toward a Sociology of the Reconciliation of Conflicting Desires

Academic journal article Canadian Review of Sociology

Toward a Sociology of the Reconciliation of Conflicting Desires

Article excerpt

WE BELIEVE THAT SOCIOLOGICAL research can contribute to justice for Indigenous peoples; however, the focus of the research needs to change. The starting point for our contribution is the analysis by Eve Tuck (2009) of the need to suspend damage-centered research in Indigenous communities. According to Tuck (2009), damage-centered research documents everything that is broken or wrong in Indigenous communities. The result is that Indigenous people see themselves as damaged. Much of the current and past sociological research on Indigenous communities is damage centered. The research can look at historical and political causes such as colonization to explain poverty, ill health, and social dysfunction in Indigenous communities but the result is the same: we understand Indigenous communities and people to be broken, needing to be fixed. The damage in Indigenous communities has also been documented extensively in reports from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC; 2015), the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Anaya 2014), and the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP; 1996). The mass media also reports regularly on the damage, loss, pain, and deficits. Every Canadian is aware of the "Indigenous problem."

Tuck (2009) believes there was a need for damage-centered research in the past, to document the stories, but now it is time to shift, to craft research so that it focuses on desire instead of damage. Desire-based research captures the complexity and contradictions of everyday lives. It documents not only the painful elements but also the wisdom and hope, because Indigenous communities are so much more than broken. It remains important to expose ongoing structures of inequity; desire-based research does not ignore oppression but rather makes good choices available for people.

Tuck (2009) explains that many Indigenous communities participate in damage-centered research in the hope that it will bring about change. However, this approach is based on a flawed theory of social change: by establishing harm or injury, reparation will be achieved; by testifying that damage was caused, the perpetrators will be forced to be accountable. The flaw in this theory of social change is that reparation has never been achieved. We will add that at the time of writing, the newest federal government has stated its intention to enact all the recommendations of the TRC. It is good to hope that the government will make the changes required to achieve justice for Indigenous peoples; however, a review of the history of government action strongly suggests otherwise. Indigenous people desire to make decisions for themselves rather than have them made for them by the Department of Indigenous Affairs and Northern Development. Indigenous people desire to determine their own destiny and shape their own future. Fulfilling this particular desire requires colonial structures to be replaced with structures that recognize the principle of self-determination.

Crucially for our analysis, Tuck (2009) also makes the point that desires can be conflicting. We can desire to be critically conscious and also desire something that maintains oppressive social structures. Our contribution expands from that point: we believe that sociology has a unique role to play by doing research on these conflicting desires. All groups of people have desires that may conflict internally. How we as a society reconcile these desires will determine the extent to which true justice for all Indigenous peoples will be achieved. We propose a sociology of the reconciliation of conflicting desires and suggest some practical ways that this type of research could move forward.


Indigenous authors working across Canada are leading the analysis of settler colonialism, including Taiaiake Alfred (2005, 2009), Marie Battiste (2013), Jeff Corntassel (2012), Glen Coulthard (2014), Pamela Palmater (2011), Leanne Simpson (2014), and Eve Tuck and K. …

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