Higher Education as Institution of Decolonization: Role of Quantitative Methods Pedagogy

Higher Education as Institution of Decolonization: Role of Quantitative Methods Pedagogy

Kevin Lujan Lee, Ngoc T. Phan
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-7736-3.ch001
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Higher education should be an institution of decolonization––one centered on the repatriation of land and ocean to Indigenous peoples. Quantitative methods are used to perpetuate the historical and ongoing processes of Indigenous dispossession. However, quantitative methods courses often fail to reckon with these colonial histories and are taught in ways that are inaccessible for Indigenous students. Drawing from the first author's experiences as a professor of political science in Hawai‘i, this chapter proposes three classroom-level interventions that educators can pursue to make quantitative methods relatable and empowering for Indigenous students: (1) designing lectures to center the experiences of Indigenous students, (2) designing assignments that invite Indigenous students to interrogate the settler-colonial and neocolonial structures perpetuating Indigenous dispossession, and (3) maintaining university-community partnerships that provide Indigenous students with opportunities to use quantitative methods to support Indigenous sovereignty movements.
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Quantitative social science methods––including statistics and machine-learning––often present themselves as “objective” ways of knowing and explaining the world (Sayer, 2009). However, as Indigenous peoples know all too well, quantitative methods are not objective. Indeed, the data-generating process and theoretical conclusions of statistical methods are at least partly shaped by researcher positionality.

To this end, the authors open this chapter by way of disclosing their own positionalities. The first author is CHamoru––an Indigenous person of the Northern Mariana Islands with ancestral roots in Guåhan (familian Capili, taotao Barrigada), who was raised in diaspora in Malaysia and Singapore. Trained primarily as an undocumented youth organizer and community economic development planner in the United States, he is currently a PhD candidate in urban planning and an Indigenous settler of occupied Tongva territory in West Los Angeles, California. His research and practice is grounded in the CHamoru principle of inafa’maolek––entails alignment with social movements seeking to redress racial injustice and Indigenous dispossession. The second author is a junior faculty member at a small liberal arts college in Hawai‘i. She considers herself an Vietnamese-American settler ally for Indigenous self-determination and has built ties to Native Hawaiian communities and Pacific Islander communities across Oceania through her community-based participatory research and through her teaching. She teaches courses in general education, political science and international studies; and she honors Indigenous methodologies through weaving in the research and writings of Indigenous scholars and communities into the classroom. In this way, she centers the voices of Indigenous communities, and actively works to ensure that they are the core of course syllabi and classroom discussions.

Quantitative methods, both intentionally and unintentionally, have often been used to perpetuate the historical and ongoing domination of oppressed peoples around the world––a premise shared by critical race (Sablan, 2019) and feminist scholars (D’Ignazio & Klein, 2020) alike. In particular, quantitative methods have been used to perpetuate Indigenous dispossession in myriad ways––by misrepresenting and mischaracterizing Indigenous peoples, by emphasizing deficits rather than assets of Indigenous communities, by obscuring its own biases and presenting false claims to universality and objectivity. As a result, it is no wonder that “quantitative methods are often perceived as having a Eurocentric, non-Indigenous face, and therefore, of little benefit and relevance to Indigenous communities” (Hayward et al., 2021, p. 9).

Yet, as Walter and Suina (2019, 233) remind us, “Indigenous peoples are, and have always been, highly numerate in how we understand our worlds. Complex formulas and calculations underpin/ned Indigenous cropping, hunting and navigation to name just a few traditional daily activities.” Indeed, following the publication of Māori scholar Linda Tuhiwai Smith's (1999) landmark monograph Decolonizing Methodologies, Research and Indigenous Peoples, a global community of Indigenous scholars have been actively drawing on decolonial and Indigenous methodologies to chart out formal interventions within quantitative methods (Carroll et al., 2019; Hayward et al., 2021, p. 201; Kukutai & Taylor, 2016; Madden et al., 2016; Walter & Andersen, 2013).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Indigenous: A designated group of people who trace their genealogy to a certain piece of land and/or ocean, and who become “Indigenous” by virtue of their encounter with colonial, settler-colonial and/or neocolonial processes of formal and informal domination.

Social Sciences: The systematic study of state, market, society, and their overlaps.

Decolonization: The political and intellectual project of promoting the repatriation of land and ocean back to Indigenous peoples.

Quantitative Methods: A way of knowing centered on mathematical models and numerical objects of analysis.

Resource Allocation: Process by which material resources (such as funding, information, natural resources) are distributed and redistributed between populations across space.

Oceania: Epeli Hau’ofa’s term to describe the Pacific Islands, in order to emphasize the shared, overlapping interconnectedness of people, land and ocean.

Pedagogy: Method and practice of teaching.

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