Cover Image: Decolonizing Data

Decolonizing Data

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Member Reviews

Was interested in reading but this was archived before I actually come around reading it. I only slightly know that it argued on and for indigenous people who are often misrepresented or wrongly evaluated in research.
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Thank you to Jacqueline M. Quinless, NetGalley, and The University of Toronto Press for my ARC of “Decolonizing Data” in exchange for my honest review.

I was extremely interested in reading this because part of my job is conducting research. I have a foot in the world of writing centres and the other is in sports medicine so I think it is vital that as a researcher, especially one with multiple privileges, that I understand how colonisation affected and still affects data. In order to have accurate and representative data, one must decolonize the data, which sadly seems to not be the case in most research studies. As someone currently taking a course in qualitative methods for graduate school, this has been invaluable text to also learn from.

This small (171 pages) text breaks down the colonisation practises Indigenous peoples dealt with in North American, more specifically, Canada, while also discussing how to decolonize your own data collection and interpretations. While I think it is a great starting point for researchers, I think that’s it - a starting point. I would love for Quinless to go more in depth with qualitative methodologies, discussing points around paradigms, ontologies, epistemologies, and axiologies. It would also be nice to hear from other researchers, especially Indigenous researchers, too.

But I think this text is informative, lays things out well for beginning researchers but has value for more expert researchers, too. It is easy to read and understand as it is laid out in an organised way. I hope Quinless eventually creates an expanded second edition.
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Interesting interrogation on the current praxis of social science research in terms of its impact on Indigenous populations in Canada. Quinless's writing is very accessible. It would be a fairly smooth read for readers who are not very acquainted with the whole decolonization theory. Quinless explains everything well.
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“Decolonization is a bridge between two worlds”
And as the author so clearly explains, it's an important and fundamental step towards the well-being of Indigenous people and the respectful and meaningful relationship we need to create and keep improving.

Full review here
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Decolonising Data 

The title itself seems rich in tensions. Surely most of us who are aware of the need to decolonise our academic approaches are over on the qualitative methods side of things.
However, we need data if we wish to justify demands for projects, for laws, for policies that seek to remedy the harms caused by colonialism. And that data should not be gathered using the 'master's tools'.
Therefore, we need books like this, even if we do not gather statistical data ourselves. 

Like Quinless, I work somewhere between sociology and social policy, and I've found that the ability to co-generate data alongside 'subaltern counterpublics', sensitively and confidently, is crucial when communicating the needs of marginalised communities to decision-makers. 

I found the book useful and interesting. When concepts such as social capital are introduced, they are explained clearly but also engaged with in a critical way that shows how indigenous peoples have expanded on, or challenged them. 

The main focus of the book is research into health and wellbeing. If your work focuses elsewhere you may still appreciate the insights but it might not be as directly relevant.
Chapter 5, however, looks at critical research methods more generally.
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At the beginning of Decolonizing Data by Jacqueline M. Quinless, the author states that this book is written to aid academics in the field of research however I felt that as a regular person I also gained value from reading this despite the style. Having worked for Stats Canada, Quinless shows her experience and provides insight into the history of how data has been collected on Indigenous Peoples in Canada and how the Government’s Western colonial point of view has painted a negative and often bleak picture of Indigenous Peoples by applying a one-sided set of standards when collecting data instead of a holistic approach. 

The author does a good job of showing us examples of how the techniques used to collect data on Indigenous Peoples have often just been another tool of colonization. As we are “living in an era of reconciliation”, we as Canadians are still learning about the long lasting catastrophic damage that the Indian Act in this country has had. The statistics provided on Inter-generational trauma from the residential schools is astounding and it’s disheartening to learn that so little action has yet to be taken by the Government on the Truth and Reconciliation calls to action. 

Although this book points out where Canada has gone wrong on how it conducts research, the author provides some hope by highlighting Indigenous led Organizations who are taking the lead in making sure that Indigenous Peoples are at the table when decisions concerning their future are made. The author also provides suggestions and practical solutions on how to apply a two-sided approach which acknowledges both Western and Indigenous cultures that provide a more comprehensive and positive picture of what the future can be for all of us. I learned from this.
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A fascinating and important reader for scholars who want to be allies and learn more, including taking a close look at the biases both potential and inherent in their work. I highly recommend this book and would share it with those will into research pathways, as well as graduate students who are just starting their journey.
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I got this after the publication date - which I didn't know when I requested it - and then when I went to read it it was archived and I couldn't. RIP. I will still try to read it someday! I guess maybe something weird happened there though.
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One of the primary purposes of this book is exploring how common research practices can lead to negative outcomes for Indigenous peoples.  The focus is on health outcomes, in particular, measures of well-being.  The idea that traditional research methods do not accurately assess Indigenous persons and may be indirectly causing them harm is a topic that deserves serious attention.

One of the author's main arguments is that typical well-being measures based solely on socioeconomic factors do not accurately assess Indigenous persons as they themselves would consider their well-being.  She considers this to be a sort of 'colonization' or structural violence against Indigenous persons.  Later in the text, it is also mentioned that other countries have created well-being assessments based on a wider set of factors, presumably since they had found purely socioeconomic measures of well-being to be inadequate.  The text does not consider that well-being measures based solely on socioeconomic factors may be inadequate for everyone, Indigenous or non-Indigenous.  Without having considered this possibility, the statement that traditional measures of well-being are a type of structural violence against Indigenous persons is premature.

The author does describe a number of negative and 'colonizing' things that the Canadian government has inflicted upon Indigenous populations.  This is very informative, but it might have been more useful to also offer background on how other kinds of ineffective research methodologies have had negative effects on the populations under study.  The summary information of the book left the impression that the text would cover a wider range of research methodologies and the negative impact they can have.  It would be more accurate (and more informative for potential readers), to clearly describe that the book is specifically focused on measures of well-being.

Another concerning aspect is that the author frequently refers to the "Indigenous world view," which seems to (incorrectly) imply that Indigenous persons have some kind of unified world view based in collectivism, non-ownership, living in harmony with nature, and seeing everything as interconnected.  While there is nothing wrong with those characteristics, generalizing them to all or most Indigenous people is a stereotype.  Like other cultural and racial groups, Indigenous persons have a wide variety of world views, both between and within tribes.  By trying to put all Indigenous persons into one category, the author appears to be making the same mistake that non-Indigenous "colonizers" made when they tried to force Indigenous persons to adopt their own worldview.  Just like the "model minority" myth often applied to Asian Americans, even otherwise positive stereotypes are still stereotypes and can still have negative consequences for the people in question.

The book does offer tips for how researchers can respectfully interact with Indigenous persons during the research process, much of which involves maintaining communications with those concerned.  And I do think that having researchers think critically about how dominant cultural perspectives in research can negatively impact minorities is an excellent idea.  This book addresses an important topic, but it has a very clear ideology of Indigenous activism that frequently stands in the way of what the author is trying to communicate about research methodology.  Most academic research tries to at least take the appearance of objectivity in order to be free from bias.  I think this book would have been considerably improved if it was written from a more objective standpoint.  In spite of it's problems, I'm giving it two stars because it does try to raise important points about conducting research on minority populations.
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