My PhD research is about my own academic community, Pacific Studies. This community has taken methodological and theoretical tools from its disciplinary forebears, and fused these with urgent and tangible political projects: namely, addressing the dispossession and disadvantage of Islander peoples and cultures through 200 or so years of colonial contact, exchange, invasion and occupation. Pacific Studies members see a need to radically reconfigure the dynamics of research and teaching, so as to empower, embolden and enrich the lives and minds of Pacific Islander peoples. My work takes up decolonial theory (which argues for the very epistemological essence of what we do to be transformed away from its current colonised nature) and uses it to understand the Pacific Studies agenda. What does it mean to do academic work 'of and for' a group of people (Wesley-Smith 2016)? What does this look like in research, teaching, and institution-building?
This seminar will report on ethnographic fieldwork in Suva and Wellington, as well as ongoing analysis of other arenas in which this community interacts (online and in published material), and will reflect on the methodological idiosyncrasies of such a reflexive research orientation. At its heart, my research is about ideology and about community, and what happens when these two interact. I will argue that, contrary to ‘ivory tower’ assumptions about academia, the Pacific Studies community has been engendering a world-making project, actualising a decolonial vision of Oceania. They're not just theorising or representing a decolonised Pacific, they're creating it. Pacific Studies is using the machinery of the academy to animate theory and breathe life into notions of epistemic justice.