Pacific researchers are being challenged to ensure their studies will contribute to Pacific communities and not just to academic knowledge production.
Massey University’s Pasifika Director Associate Professor Malakai Koloamatangi believes too much research involves people looking from the outside-in at Pacific communities, rather than from the inside-out.
“I’m concerned that research isn’t directly benefiting Pacific people because it’s being conducted from extraneous, individualistic perspectives,” Dr Koloamatangi says.
Speaking at the Pacific Islands Political Studies Association Conference in Niue recently, Dr Koloamatangi told delegates that for political reform and development to be sustainable it must involve a process of ‘grafting’ where Western, external and indigenous elements are combined to create organic systems to make them more legitimate and easier to own locally.
“Many research projects are controlled by foreign governments because they decide what gets funded,” he says.
“They think they are doing us a favour but Pasifika researchers want to set the agenda.”
Dr Koloamatangi says research is needed on many issues that have a direct impact on communities.
“Issues such as climate change, food security, and access to clean drinking water are life-and-death matters but, because they don’t meet foreign policy objectives, we’re not seeing enough research funding.”
He says researching sovereign trust funds, foreign aid and the potential to develop property markets in the Pacific have their place, but more practical research needs to be prioritised if the Pacific is going to really benefit.
“I would argue that Pacific research should have a practical application to Pacific communities. I think too often we are just doing stuff for the Pacific and to the Pacific, but not with the Pacific.”
Dr Koloamatangi is advocating a conscious search for indigenous systems, rather than “adopting or adapting them willy-nilly” from the outside.
The Pacific Islands Political Studies Association is a leading international academic body devoted to the study of the Pacific Islands states and territories, their societies, politics and systems of government and international relations.