Research as a Human Right

Writing in 2006, the anthropologist and globalization scholar Arjun Appadurai argued that every human being has an intrinsic "right to research"—a "universal and elementary ability" to develop skills of inquiry, discovery, and validation. Appadurai observed that research "is rarely seen as a capacity with democratic potential, much less as belonging to the family of rights."* Twelve years later, Appadurai's argument could hardly be more salient. Arguably, the need to gain strategic information—and to make sense of an array of "truthiness" and "alternative facts"—is the most important educational goal today.

Yet, this call to arms to make research a "human right" raises thorny questions. Is research truly for everyone, or only a privileged few?  Is it ethical to "teach" research skills to populations and groups who may never need them, or use them?  Is it another form of neocolonialism, or a Western savior's mentality, to teach research skills to non-Westerners?  Is it possible to teach research skills to everyone, for example to small children or to illiterate populations? Furthermore, is it right to assume that everyone will be able to use research skills for democratic benefits?

More questions: What is meant by "research"? Do we mean the sophisticated research frameworks of the West?  Is research the same as evaluation, and synonymous with assessment?  Do we mean the social sciences, the sciences, and is research the same as data collection?  It turns out that the very nature of research as an enterprise raises fascinating philosophical and ethical questions. Appadurai defines "research" nicely as "a specialized name for a generalized capacity, the capacity to make disciplined inquiries into those things we need to know, but do not know yet." But, what constitutes a "disciplined inquiry" is, in fact, normative, nor is it clear what "things we need to know."

Arguably, action research flips this dichotomy by having local populations decide or take part in deciding what we need to know. My interest is in translating the basic steps of research to a generalizable audience. I'm especially interested in the step of problem-solving; how problems are identified as problems and how a problem is defined. More soon.

* Arjun Appadurai, "The Right to Research," Globalisation, Societies and Education, 4 (2), July 2006, 167-177.

An educator's and learner's journey to Pokhara, Nepal

Dear friends and followers,

I'm excited to announce that I will be one of the inaugural Fellows of Global Vision International (GVI). GVI is an award-winning experiential education association formed in 1998, which operates sustainable development programs in 13 countries located on five continents. GVI works with local partners and communities on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. 

My project will focus on teaching research methods skills to citizens in Pokhara, Nepal. Along with local GVI staff, we'll also be forming a small research team and working on strengthening and sustaining the research capacities of GVI. More details on the research project will be coming soon.

I've had wonderful conversations so far with GVI Staff, including Shayle Havemann, Director of Programs; Melissa Torres, Vice President for Institutional Relations; Cheryl Martin, Regional Director for India and Nepal; and Kim Coetzee, Head of Education and Sustainable Development. I am excited that they see wide potential for this project; I hope it is something that could be long-term and useful for the organization as a whole.

Along the way in my journey to Nepal (which will happen in Spring 2019), I will be trying to make contact and form partnerships with local universities in Pokhara and Kathmandu, both around this project and regarding the internationalization of education in Nepal. 

I've titled this post a "learner's journey." One thing I've learned from my years in international education is how important it is to learn rather than to teach. It is also important to understand and grapple with how Nepal has been conceptualized and imagined in the West -- to learn about the Orientalism and exotic imaginaries of what it means to "go to Nepal." For this insight, I am reading a wonderful book by the anthropologist Mark Liechty, Out Here in Kathmandu: Modernity on the Global Periphery (2011), which is rich with empirical and theoretical information, as well as grounded narratives. 

Other books and reports on my reading list include:

I'll post more information in the coming months. In the meantime, if you have any reading suggestions, please let me know (bwm561@mail.harvard.edu)

Bryan