Episode 23: Episode 22: Decolonial Feminist Research

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In this episode Dr. Kakali Bhattacharya (University of Florida) interviews Dr. Jeong-eun Rhee (Long Island University) about her scholarship in the field of qualitative research and her notion of 'transnational intergenerational decolonial feminist knowledge' and her recent book, Decolonial Feminist Research: Haunting Rememory and Mothers.
The following presents a transcription of the conversation.
Dr. Bhattacharya 0:24
Welcome everyone listening in it is my honor to be your guest podcast host today. My name is Dr. Kakali Bhattacharya. I'm a qualitative research professor at the University of Florida. With me is Dr. Jeong-eun Rhee, professor of education at Long Island University. This podcast, Qualitative Conversations, is produced by the qualitative research SIG at AERA. Professor Jeongeun Rhee recently authored a text the Decolonial Feminist Research: Haunting Rememory and Mothers, which is part of my Futures of Data Analysis and Qualitative Research series hosted with Routledge. The book has already created a lot of buzz, and challenged people's understanding of home memories relationality transnational existence, and multiple forces of oppression that cross borders without being categorized as a specific kind of qualitative research. It is my distinct pleasure to welcome Dr. Jeong-eun Rhee, welcome.
Dr. Rhee 1:27
Thank you for that wonderful introduction. Kakali, I feel so honored to be here.
Dr. Bhattacharya 1:34
So to begin our conversation, give us an overview of your academic journey and how you came to write the book.
Dr. Rhee 1:43
There are so many different ways which I think I can answer that question. But at the same time, I'm not sure if I can clearly they up out of past I have, walked. that let me write this book. At least what I can share, though, is that my academic journey has been never separable from my personal, cultural, geopolitical and even spiritual journey. And I think this recognition is in fact how I was able to write this book. But, of course, it was not simply my journey, either. Right? So my journey has intersected or integrated with my family's journey in the context of larger historical relations. As well, as having said that, I also think if we assume that we can now and explain how we've come to where we are, in certainty, I think it can be our arrogant assumption. And I think that's also point I make I made in my book. I mean, the question that I pursued in the book was, what do we do with What do we can never explain? Right? So I think there are certain aspects that I do not know how to explain in terms of how, you know, my last four years of academic life, including my graduate school experiences, etc, has led me to write this book. But, But I know is that I could write this book, because I have learned or remembered how to connect with my mother's not just singular but plural, right, my mother's and ancestors of this land, and then their lands who have prepared a space for me to do my work. And this book is in fact a testimony or or even a question about my journey, both academic and spiritual, that reveals these connections.
Dr. Bhattacharya 4:48
Thank you. Thank you for sharing that. It is really interesting. Like, it's not like something that you can like, fully map, but it could be another book and in and of itself, if you just write it. The the journey to writing this book like it's a prequel to the book, perhaps you know, I know that I introduced your book as something that doesn't really fit a certain category or certain type of qualitative research very distinctively, it would be really lovely to hear how you see this book in the larger context of the terrain of qualitative research.
Dr. Rhee 5:25
So let me first express my gratitude to you Kakali as a series editor on feature of data analysis and qualitative research, who really encouraged me to think of your series as an outlet of my book. And as I actually talked about, in my book, I had worked on this book almost five years. And during those years, I actually didn't plan out to slate, my work as a qualitative research role, per se. I mean, in fact, I didn't know how to characterize the book until I completed the manuscript. I mean, what I knew was that this work was an inquiry, my inquiry, but but I was unsure if the qualitative research field itself was big enough to include my work as a qualitative research. And so I'm Kakali your gesture of welcoming however, you know, slight that move was like in the context and the large context of the whole field, still made a such a big impact on how I saw potentials of both my work and the field of qualitative research. So I just want to thank you for your vision for your field. And also, you're using our editorial position to open up and expand the boundary of the field.
Dr. Rhee 7:12
From my perspective, as a qualitative researcher, what I hope that my will contribute to is to offer more possibilities. So producing, sharing, and then remembering killing knowledge. I think it's interesting that, you know, technically, as I also shared in the book, I didn't have a proposal, research proposal for this book, I didn't have a human subject, nor methodology. You know, my field work included both physical and metaphysical interactions. In my theoretical perspectives came from Toni Morrison's fiction, beloved, and ... experimental autobiographical poetry ... In my research question was like, What do you do when you're haunted by your mother's rememory? But in this writing, as the inquiry process would, I was able to notice and learn was that, in fact, there have been so much work done that I could build on to pursue my question. Also, my question was not simply my question. There have been so many other women, particularly of color, who have asked similar questions. This was how I realized that my work was a part of a larger knowledge project, which I named, eventually, in the book, transnational intergenerational decolonial feminist knowledge process. I hope that my work shows how our deeply personal question is, in fact, a way to connect with a larger collective question that many interconnected diverse communities have pursued. And when we build those connections between our personal and collective we can produce different knowledge different. I think here what mattered was not about following particular techniques or mythology is in terms of technicality, utility, productivity, and also rules and regulations, but about being able to ask and work with and live with our questions. Yeah, so
Dr. Bhattacharya 10:00
You know, your question? I mean, your response to my question makes me think about how qualitative research broadly is moving away from being like this technocratic social science, to a more humanistic oriented inquiry, versus, you know, certain steps and procedures we do. To think in very technocratic social science way we do these steps, we collect this data, we analyze it, we doing four or five different strategies or steps or approaches, then we triangulate everything to make everything check and confirm with everything else and have verifiability. And then we know we got something, whereas you are doing this work. And you're saying that the unknown is this, this fertile ground of inquiry, and it can still remain unknown as a result of the inquiry to, or it can create many types of knowings, without any certainty or any members check or any triangulation, or any peer debriefing, it can still remain a very open ended inquiry as a result of an inquiry.
Dr. Rhee 11:10
Right. So at the level of, you know, I think methodology like, absolutely, I think that's kind of what I tried to, I guess, a share, not purposefully, but because that's what happened, but then at the level of epistemology, and then even episteme, I think what I tried to show is that actually, by really paying attention to this intergenerational transnational, decolonial feminist knowledge that have existed across the globe, right, that I was able to actually connect with it in the name of science, and how that opened up a new way, or different way, or, you know, relational kind of way of actually noticing the part of reality that I actually forgot.
Dr. Bhattacharya 12:18
Yeah, yeah. And that's, that's a Western training and colonizing training that teaches us to forget our own knowledge is and that's so that's always a question that I keep asking myself, what knowledge am I forgetting? What knowledge am I forgetting? There are two anchoring ideas in your book that are re-memory and haunting, which is appropriate for forgetting knowledge or haunted by the met the notion of losing our connectivity? Could you talk a bit about how you came across this ideas, and why they become such critical anchoring for you.
Dr. Rhee 12:57
So, read memory and hunting are affective concepts, meaning that to now what they are, you have to feel them. That's how you learn what rememory and haunting are no amount of reading will allow you to know what they are, how they work, and how they change you. And so I want to kind of put this out first, and, you know, conceptually, remember, it was first coined and introduced by Toni Morrison in our book beloved. And according to Morrison rememory is worth remembering and forgetting at the same time, that stays both in person and place that can be encountered by others. This notion, or even existence of remembering completely ruptures how empirical modern science functions. And then think about it. What does this mean that we memories, both remembering and forgetting, at the same time? How is it possible for one's rememory stay both in and outside a person's mind? If remember his base in place, as well, who's remembering? I mean, I can go on with all these questions, right that come from our scientific intelligibility. And to me, rememory of place has become like the source of a haunting as it is someone else's rumery that changes us. And so hunting becomes a demand from those who refuse to be forgotten. And I highlighted effective aspects of remembering and hunting, because I have read beloved so many times. But I really didn't get it. I mean, I cognitively understood what they were when the after my mother's death, and after my mother left to her remote memory for for me to encounter, I became able to see what rememory and hunting were. And so I think like this is the the point that I wanted to put out in terms of like, what I meant by affective concepts. And I think, you know, the famous instruction of Audrey Lorde, who said that masters tool cannot dismantle the masters house, it is very relevant here. I don't think I could figure out how to ask my questions with my academic training only. But with this absolutely non scientific concepts of remembering and haunting, which doesn't mean that they're not true, right. But with those, I started my super personal inquiry through my mother's death, and her remote remember is haunting. And and, in fact of her life was deeply implicated in US Imperial War in Korea. And through my work, now I'm carrying her memor, in this territory of the United States, where my mother's rememory interact with other mothers of colors from memories. And without this kind of embodied the spiritual relationships that have been that have become the source of knowledge. I don't think I could have made this and so my experience and wrote this work.
QR SIG Add 17:26
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Dr. Bhattacharya 18:20
You know, this is such a good reminder of the value of other ways of knowing and being then just using the the way that is, and that disconnects you from your body and from your emotionality is, this is like deeply embodied very, very emotion based but not just that, but there is a, there is a sort of like a beautiful spiritual understanding as well, you know, and those sorts of culturally grounded Ways of Knowing that can't all be translated and, you know, like, repurposed in research language and put it out for the world to consume, either you sort of know how to be in those ways of knowing and being and in those connections, or you don't, and that's okay, either way, but those are the connections that spoke to you, which is interesting, because as I was reading your work, I found myself crying, cheering, laughing, cussing, and just going on this journey with you, which was ultimately very healing, you know, from bearing witness, and also from my own embodied experience as well. So could you talk about the role of healing in your work and how it might have shaped your thinking?
Dr. Rhee 19:42
So I think I want to reiterate that it took me five years to complete this book. The whole process of writing this book was a process of intentional process of bringing in justice to my mother's life. I mean, as I mentioned briefly already, I want to emphasize that, you know, this wasn't only about my biological mother, but also other mothers of color, who had prepared place for me to come and encounter, there were memories in this territory. So while that was my intention, the process has also become also the process of healing and re storytelling for me. And in fact, those five years became the time I needed to be healed. Through my loss, while I was fighting for justice, to my mother's of color, through my writing as inquiry. I think before I actually talk other things, I must acknowledge that, you know, this time luxury, my taking five years, partly came from my positional privilege is a full professor where I didn't have to worry about, you know, creating, getting tenured or, or getting promoted, etc. But at the same time, I want out other quality researchers to consider or have some time, we need this long staying in a certain kind of work, especially if the work is healing us. In fact, through this work, I have reaffirmed how important it is for us to produce work that heals us as researchers in the process of working on it, working through it, because the work that heals us, as researchers will help others as well, whether they are our participants, readers or communities we work for. So perhaps now we can even ask what is a mean that we as researchers work toward the healing knowledge? What different methodologies reveal bearable for us to do such?
Dr. Bhattacharya 22:40
That's, that's a lot, you know, I think, like I have always taught about the work of justice, you know, is it has to be complemented with the work of healing, you know, so the work of justice, or the work of equity, or the work of creating space and visibility from previous unjust things, you know, requires a healing, it doesn't require it's almost foolish to require the dominant group to be responsible for creating anything because the privilege are not incentivized to do anything for those that they oppress. Right. So then how do we do this work without always being in relationship with the colonizer, the privilege, the masterclass all of that. And so I always felt that the work of any kind of equity based work, you know, where you're, you know, demonstrating the oppression demonstrating the wounds require a complimentary healing piece attached to it, you know, justice work and healing work should go hand in hand. So, I know that we don't have a lot of time to discuss all the great things about your work, because there is so much to discuss. So to the listeners, please go and buy her book, decolonial feminist research: haunting rememory and mothers. And I want to sort of wrap up this conversation with advice that you might have for someone whose approach to qualitative research is non traditional, and maybe culturally situated, but doesn't have a concrete path for doing that work and might be feeling unsure. And, you know, what might they think about? Or how might they think about doing this work? there? There are no steps, but what might be some guiding points of consideration
Dr. Rhee 24:38
I must say that a colonial Western modern episteme really screwed us. I think our value on universality is a colonial desire. Meaning that, you know, cultural outsiders like me are trained to think that our particular Somehow too particular, meaning that, you know, not valuable not useful. But uh, but our particular existence constitute our interdependent ecology. So I think we have to remember that particularly particularity, and universality are not opposite concepts, but rather they constitute each other. So the challenge is how we can research and remember those interdependence and connectivity, our particularity has with other particularities, and also a larger historical and cultural context. And so actually, you know, as a way to do that, I encourage researchers to be real, like authentic in their questions. I think sometimes it's scary to put out our real, authentic question. I mean, I must admit that I felt that when I wrote this book, but to me, authenticity is our response ability to our particularity. And we doubt our particularity, there is no way for us to respond to what's around us. And then we must remember, there's always a rich tradition and history of knowledge productions, in any community or culture. And so I think we need to remember that we're not alone or interdependent. And what we need is the work of remembering our connectivity from our location.
Dr. Bhattacharya 26:59
Yeah, I appreciate that so much, I you know, I get the authentic bit, I feel scared to use the word now. Because every time I use authentic, I hear like all these critiques in my head, how people would say this, and what is co opted and nod and essentially a nod. And then sometimes I like, some things are just what it is, you know, you can say authentic or change it to genuine if you want, change it to sincere if you want, but there are certain ways in which we show up that is unguarded, that is a free flowing version of ourselves in that moment, you know, in which we are allowing things to rise to the surface, including these questions, and and allowing us the freedom to choose to be curious about those questions have a beginner's mind with these questions? So I think that is a really strong advice that people should pursue that and know that knowledge exists beyond what has been presented to them. It exists pretty much in the world in various forms, relationships, things that are within academia, but things that are even outside of academia, outside of our fields, and all of that,
Dr. Rhee 28:08
If I add one more, what do we represent, as a knowledge always betrays an actual reality we try to share made. So here I'm not simply talking about how our not least a partial and limited, but when we try to represent there's always violence involved, right. And so when we take this betrayal of representation seriously, I think we as researchers can approach ethics of doing research at another level, especially when we do our work in the name of decolonial, justice and equity.
Dr. Bhattacharya 28:53
Yeah, thank you so much for your time and your generosity and opening yourself up to share your thoughts and how you came about writing the book and your thoughts about qualitative inquiry. There is much to unpack here. Unfortunately, we don't have the time to unpack all of it, but I want to thank you and I want to thank the qualitative research SIG for allowing me the honor to interview you.
Dr. Rhee 29:19
Thank you so much.

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