“The body of the people is in that landscape so when it’s mined and crushed and dug up, you’re not just doing it with rock, you’re also doing it with people, with the remains of people, and we know that happened on Banaba.”
Katerina Teaiwa, Associate Professor at the School of Culture, History and Language at ANU, author of ‘Consuming Ocean Island: Stories of People and Phosphate from Banaba’, and current Vice-President of the Australian Association for Pacific Studies, spoke to our own Simon Theobald about phosphate mining on Banaba Island. They discuss the history of phosphate mining and the spread of Banaba around the world through the global agricultural industry, the impact of the mining on the indigenous people of Banaba, continue The Familiar Strange’s exploration of decolonisation in the social sciences, and critique the current modes of knowledge production in academia, before ending with one of modern anthropology’s ultimate questions: do outsiders have the right to makes comments about other cultures?
Simon: “Banaba ends up spread across the world effectively in the form of this phosphate industry.”
Katerina: “It’s not just a metaphor. It’s literally a material fact that the island gets spread across the world and enters these ecological and food chains, so it ends up in animals, it ends up in humans.”
“There are lots of ideas about scale and about significance of scale when it comes to thinking about what matters in this world, you know, like global forces impact: the big influence the little. In the case of something like phosphate in the islands of Nauru and Banaba, it’s the little impacting the big.”
“Land, body and people are not disconnected from each other … The breaking apart of that means culturally, socially, spiritually, those relationships start to fragment and become unhooked from each other.”
“Our ancestors are buried over and over again in that landscape which means, from a very organic perspective, our ancestors are part of that landscape.”
“We were taught to question everything in academia, to not take texts and ideas at face-value and just because they’d been written down by some powerful guy or, you know, famous people, that was truth.”
“Part of decolonization training that I had received at the University of Hawai’i was also challenging normative forms of knowledge production which are mainly textual and when you come from cultures that are mainly oral or visual or performance-based or embodied, your mode of knowledge production is immediately seen to be less than textual forms. So as long as somebody writes it down, theirs is authoritative even if it’s the worst missionary on the planet.”
“I say this to my students … I am learning as much as you are. This is an exchange of knowledge and ideas.”
“Empowerment isn’t just about race, or class, or ethnicity. Empowerment is about helping people feel comfortable to be able to critique their own positions, their own positionality, without falling apart.”
What would a decolonised social science look like? “I think of it as a very transdisciplinary kind of project, meaning it would be decolonised in terms of form as much as content. So form in terms of words, texts, journals, journal articles, books, conference papers, that being challenged and made equal with performance, embodied forms of knowledge production, the visual arts, exhibitions, you know, those sorts of things. All of those things would count.”
CITATIONS AND LINKS
Teaiwa K. (2014) Consuming Ocean Island: stories of people and phosphate from Banaba, Indiana: Indiana University Press.
For an introduction to the concept of ’embodiment’, give this a watch by Nicholas Herriman (2012):
For an overview of the life of late Professor Greg Dening and his contributions, see:
You can read more about Kirin Narayan here:
and Paige West here:
For more on TFS’ discussion about decolonisation, check out our podcast episode with Sana Ashraf and Bruma Rios-Mendoza here:
This anthropology podcast is supported by the Australian Anthropological Society, the ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific and College of Arts and Social Sciences, and the Australian Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, and is produced in collaboration with the American Anthropological Association.
Show notes by Deanna Catto
[Image:”The site of secondary mining of Phosphate rock in Nauru 2007″ by Lorrie Graham via Department of Foreign Affair and Trade on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dfataustralianaid/10729889683]
Simon Theobald: 00:00 Hey everyone, first off, we at the Familiar Strange want to acknowledge and celebrate the first Australians on whose traditional lands we are recording this podcast and pay our respects to the elders of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples past, present, and emerging. Let's go.
Simon Theobald: 00:26 Welcome to the podcast brought to you with support from the Australian anthropological society, the Australian National University's College of Asia and Pacific, and the College of Arts and Social Sciences, the Australian Center for the public awareness of science and produced in collaboration with the American Anthropological Association.
Simon Theobald: 00:43 So, ladies and gentlemen. Our executive producer Ian Pollock is off to the United States this week to the 'Triple A' conference in California and also to visit family in New York. I, for one am very envious of him. I wish I was joining him for the nice, refreshing, cold weather in New York - here in Canberra it's starting to get very hot.
Simon Theobald: 00:59 Our interviewee today is Associate Professor Katerina Teaiwa. Katerina was born and raised in Fiji and is of Banaban, I-Kiribati and African American descent. She was convener of Pacific Studies at ANU from 2007 to 2015. Head of the Department of Gender, Media and Cultural studies from 2014 to 2015 and founder of the Pacific Australia outreach program with Professor Kent Anderson from 2007 to 2012.
Simon Theobald: 01:25 She is now Associate Professor in the School of Culture, History, and Language at ANU. In our episode, we talk about her research on the island of Banaba and the impact that phosphate mining and colonization have had on the island. She tells us that parts of Banaba are quite literally spread across the globe, as fertilizer used in industrial agriculture in countries like Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere. We also talk a little about our ongoing theme of decolonization, discussing what a decolonized anthropology might look like and what methods it might employ. So here it is. Without further ado, me and Katerina Teaiwa, talking about phosphate mining in Banaba and the ongoing decolonization of Anthropology.
Simon Theobald: 02:12 If you don't mind, what I'd like to do first is get you to take us on a journey of a lump of phosphate. Because you wrote your first book about Banaba Island, which is a major point in the phosphate mining industry during the British and Australian colonial period ultimately. So can you talk us through what happened on Banaba Island and what role did phosphate play in that?
Katerina Teaiwa: 02:37 So Banaba is in the Central Pacific, um, it's about 200 kilometres away from Nauru. So Nauru is probably a, or is its closest neighbour and it's also, it's twin in terms of its geological formation, which is mainly phosphate rock. And phosphate rock is partially sourced from Guano, but also sourced from sedimentation of rock underneath the ocean. And that pressure creating and a much older version of phosphate than Guano, which is sort of fresh bird poo.
Simon Theobald: 03:19 Yeah.
Katerina Teaiwa: 03:20 So part of what phosphate rock is, is ancient maritime or marine life, you know, the bones and fossils of ancient marine life sedimented through that water pressure over hundreds and thousands of years. So I guess to understand the journey of a piece of phosphate or a lump of phosphate rock, you have to imagine how islands are created over hundreds of thousands and even millions of years. So what I was trying to get at in my book is this understanding of land in deep time and then comparing that with human time or industrial time and the huge differences between those conceptions of land in place and also to think about how industry can transform something that took millions of years to grow in a very, very short space of time.
Katerina Teaiwa: 04:20 So if you include that journey of how long it takes to make phosphate rock, it's a million year process.
Simon Theobald: 04:28 A very long, time.
Katerina Teaiwa: 04:29 A very, very long time. But then once it gets into the hands of mining operations and mining companies, it is then seen as this commodity, as a commodity of relevance to the agricultural industry. The global agricultural industry. Because it's a major input into farming, into mass industrial farming. And so the phosphate, depending on what era you're mining, it is extracted from the landscape and phosphate forms between these pinnacles. So the skeleton of the island is the pinnacle and the phosphate forms in between. So it's like this calcium carbonate skeleton and then the phosphate kind of fills in the gaps.
Simon Theobald: 05:19 So that's why we get that ....
Katerina Teaiwa: 05:21 Pinnacle shape, which is prominent on Nauru, very prominent on Banaba and also probably on Christmas Island. Not the Christmas Island in Kiribati but the Christmas Island, which is part of Australia, which is in the Indian Ocean, which was a previous phosphate mine and also houses detention centres for people seeking refugee status.
Katerina Teaiwa: 05:48 So there is this really not very nice relationship between phosphate islands and offshore processing centres, um, of asylum seekers. So the phosphate is excavated or extracted either mechanically or in the beginning of the, the mining on Banaba by hand. So you had people with wheelbarrows and shovels and picks and all kinds of implements to kind of break up the rock. And the first thing that has to happen on the island is any water needs to be extracted. So there's a kind of a process where you take it from the rock face and then you put it in these drying bins that extract all the moisture, all the water out of it, and then from there it sort of ground down into these much finer, much smaller particles and then shipped offshore from the extraction and drying phase two processing plants in Australia or New Zealand in the case of the rock mine from Banaba and at one time other places such as Japan, Honolulu places in Europe.
Katerina Teaiwa: 06:57 I came across one piece of the archive that said that... Showed me the shipments that went to Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, which was like, whoa. So that phosphate rock goes to whoever the buyers are. And usually it's fertilizer manufacturers. So with the Banaba phosphate, it was people who were producing super phosphate. So basically what happens is you take sulphuric acid and you add it to that dried crushed rock and that sort of called a process of beneficiation. I think I'm pronouncing it correctly, which I thought was such an amazing word, you know, beneficiation. And then it becomes phosphoric acid, which is the P2O5, so phosphorus and oxygen and that P2O5 is like the liquid gold of the fertilizer, the global fertilizer industry. It's the way manufacturers and producers and consumers know how valuable the rock is by how much P205 you can get out of it.
Katerina Teaiwa: 08:11 And how much work has to go in to getting a higher percentage of P205. So there's some phosphate rock that needs a heap of work to get this much P205. And then there's some which is so rich in phosphate that you'd need to do less work to get that P205. Banaba and Nauru were, if not the highest, yielded some of the highest percentages of P205. Compared to how much rock had to be, you know, mined. The big trick for the mining industry was just getting it offshore into the ships, to the ports where the super phosphate could be manufactured. Because there aren't these natural ports and harbours and places that you can anchor on Banaba and so the shipping process was actually really, really super difficult, but once you get it to the port, then it goes through that chemical process with sulfuric acid and then it's made into super phosphate fertilizer and depending on whether or not you're in New Zealand or Australia, it's then distributed to farmers and spread across the landscapes.
Katerina Teaiwa: 09:27 So in New Zealand that was mainly done from the sky through aerial topdressing because there was so much hilly country in New Zealand. So they had to figure out a way, how do we get this super phosphate onto this, you know, these hilly landscapes and spreading it by hand or by truck or whatever. It didn't make a lot of sense. So they, after World War One and World War Two, they figured out a way to use old military aircraft in order to distribute it from the sky.
Simon Theobald: 10:01 Wow.
Katerina Teaiwa: 10:01 So it's this amazing loop if you factor in the Guano part of what makes phosphate rock where you have two sources of phosphate, one from the sky and one from the sea. So you have the marine phosphate, you have the bird, Guano, um, source of phosphate, and then in the context of New Zealand, it kind of goes back to the sky and then gets distributed across the land in that way.
Katerina Teaiwa: 10:28 And then in Australia was taken by train tracks, say across Geelong, across all of those Victorian farming spaces, and some in South Australia, some in New South Wales, some in Western Australia. In these hessian or burlap sacks and then distributed to the farmers who had various ways of putting it across their land. And so some of it was used for wheat and grain and that sort of thing. I mean, basically what phosphate does is it strengthens the roots of plants and it makes it able to absorb nutrients and minerals and other things from the soil in a way that it wouldn't without the phosphate. So it just makes the root stronger and everything more nutritious. You do have to have water to for that to work. So it's not just you add phosphate and everything's great.
Katerina Teaiwa: 11:28 In the context of a drought, it would be very, very hard for that to work. If there is water than the phosphate does its work and everything grows and everything's amazing and you can use it on pastures for cattle and sheep and all of that or for wheat and grain and it essentially it increased agricultural production and exports exponentially. So there was a direct relationship with how much phosphate was applied and the increase in production and exports of agriculture in both Australia and New Zealand.
Simon Theobald: 12:06 So Banaba ends up spread across the world, effectively, in the form of this industry.
Katerina Teaiwa: 12:11 Yes. It's not just a metaphor. It's literally a material fact that the island gets spread across the world and enters these ecological and food chains. So it ends up in animals. It ends up in humans comes out the other side. Some of it leeches out into waterways. So it just spread everywhere.
Simon Theobald: 12:33 What did it mean for the other people who lived on the island?
Katerina Teaiwa: 12:36 So there's a number of ways in which you can think about how that movement of the land impacts the people. One is a straight economic way of thinking, so in the context of mining and other kinds of natural resource extraction, the compensation is usually money. So, 'we'll pay you to lease your land' or 'we'll pay you royalties for how much we dig up'. So in one way there was a relatively small amount of monetary compensation that came from the mining, so that was one way in which it was impacted. But from an indigenous perspective the impact was even greater than that. And I can imagine it would be for any indigenous group whose landscape is mind for any kind of mineral, not just phosphate.
Katerina Teaiwa: 13:27 So for Banaba, one of the key factors in my work is thinking about how small it is because there are lots of ideas about scale and about significance of scale when it comes to thinking about what matters in this world. Like global forces impact: the big influence, the little. In the case of something like phosphate and the islands of Nauru and Banaba, it's the little impacting the big. Because you have a six square kilometer, so two and a half square mile Island that somehow yields $22 million tons of phosphate that can then get distributed across much, much larger landscapes and make their products grow exponentially. So the impact on the Banabans who see land not just as land as a commodity or an object to be bought and sold, how Banabans see it, and the concept I used in my work was this word tea apa which means 'the land', but it also means 'the people'. So tea apa can mean: land, rock and people. That is one complex. That is one integrated complex where land body and people are not disconnected from each other. And that's, that was the case over thousands of years on Banaba.
Katerina Teaiwa: 15:01 The breaking apart of that means culturally, socially, spiritually, those relationships start to fragment and become unhooked from each other. On top of that, Banabans were displaced. So their land was moved and they were moved so it's this double displacement of both the landscape and the people. So the way I think about it as a Banaban, is in terms of fragmented identities and that fragmentation, not just being a social or cultural thing, but a material thing because the two are interconnected and even if the land moves and travels, it doesn't mean we're disconnected from it, but it does make who we are more complex and very multi sited, not just because people have moved, but because the foundation of who we are has moved which is the land, the landscape.
Katerina Teaiwa: 16:02 And that landscape is activated in that way, through a number of processes, not just the spiritual significance of the landscape and the way in which people imagined how the universe came to be, through so through cosmologies but also through the fact that our ancestors are buried over and over again in that landscape. Which means from a very organic perspective, your ancestors are part of that landscape because there isn't, it's six square kilometers, there's not a lot of place to put people, so literally the body of the people is in that landscape so when its mined and crushed and dug up, you're not just doing it with rock, you're also doing it with people, with the remains of people. And we know that happened on Banaba for sure.
Simon Theobald: 16:52 Can you talk to me a little bit about how you managed through this, this really interesting multi-sided piece of field work and how your experiences as a partially Banaban person influenced the ways that we can do anthropology because I know that you've been critical of the kind of objectivist God's eye view of anthropology. Can you talk us through a little bit of that?
Katerina Teaiwa: 17:16 So, I'm critical of the objectivist bird's eye view of all social science and humanities and you know, even natural science research for similar and different reasons. From, from this project and my life as an academic, I suppose. But I guess, one of the reasons I was always sceptical about that approach in anthropology in the social sciences was because my main motivation for doing a PhD and for becoming an academic was to be able to unpack and uncover this particular personal history. So people have different reasons for pursuing PhD's. The stories I often hear a fairly random, you know, they're like: 'What part of the world is fascinating and interesting? I shall go there and there.' and there isn't a deep connection or relationship to the people or place and I am not motivated by those sorts of things. I'm always motivated by relationships. I'm always motivated by mutual obligations and reciprocity and those sorts of things that that is the norm in the Pacific where I was born and raised. You always think about things in terms of relationships.
Katerina Teaiwa: 18:41 So being in academia for me was always about doing something that deepens those kinds of relationships. And in the case of Banaba, it's human relationships and kinship, but it's also this relationship to the past and to honoring that and to thinking about that in terms of issues of social justice or historical justice or challenging colonial and imperial histories and activities. When I started doing my PhD, I had just come out of a Master's program in Pacific island studies and interdisciplinary program at the University of Hawaii in the centre for Pacific island studies. And that was an incredibly liberating and powerful and empowering experience where we were taught to question everything in academia, to not take texts and ideas at face value and just because they'd been written down by some powerful guys or famous people that that was truth.
Katerina Teaiwa: 19:52 We were actually taught to really critically unpack and question knowledge because we knew that knowledge really benefited islanders and islands and natives and indigenous people or people of colour in general. So I'd come out of that training I suppose, in the master's program, and had supervisors who were activists who would be on the front line marching for indigenous sovereignty and indigenous rights. Especially in the Hawaiian context. So then I come to ANU and it's the complete opposite. There is no marching involved. It's very hierarchical. It's very privileged. It's very comfortable with, its form of knowledge production and the power and the hierarchies and status involved that. So I don't know if they hadn't had a pacific islander for a while or what in anthropology, but I was immediately confronted with what for me were quite offensive ideas actually.
Katerina Teaiwa: 21:04 I sat in some seminars where anthropologists said "indigenous people are not so stupid. They don't think rocks think. They know the rocks don't speak and the rocks don't think." And that was extremely offensive to me and I was brand new, like literally, like that was probably in my first couple of months in anthropology and I had to be in anthropology because my supervisor was in anthropology. So it just kind of followed that way. And I suddenly realized I was in a context in which, people didn't value indigenous ways of knowing and being. They studied it and built their careers off of that. But they didn't believe it themselves. And even more so, they didn't think the people they were studying actually believed it. They thought it was all strategic or some kind of tricky way of being in the world. Which I also found offensive.
Simon Theobald: 22:10 Yes. Fairly.
Katerina Teaiwa: 22:12 Especially if you write books about it, you never believed it for a second you thought they were all duped because they were all backwards anyway.
Katerina Teaiwa: 22:20 So I got that kind of feeling in the seminars and symposia and conferences and I quickly realized that that was not, that wasn't gonna work for me. I was also challenged on the fact that I was from the culture that I was engaging with. Somebody said to me "aren't you cheating because you're from that place, these are your people, you are cheating." and I thought, okay, in the wrong discipline. So I found that offensive. And then on top of it, I didn't just want to look at Banaban history and culture and these histories of mining and displacement. But I wanted to do it in a creative way. Because part of the decolonization training that I had received at the University of Hawaii was also challenging normative forms of knowledge production, which are mainly textual and when you come from cultures that are mainly oral or visual or performance-based or embodied your mode of knowledge production is immediately seen to be less than textual forms.
Katerina Teaiwa: 23:30 So as long as somebody writes it down, theirs is authoritative, even if it's the worst missionary on the planet. Because they wrote it down, that text in the archives is going to be seen as being more truthful than the, the song or the chant or the dance that was created at the same time. So I was already sceptical of that stuff and I wanted to be able to explore, these histories and cultural expressions associated with those histories in other ways. And interestingly enough, one of the first things that happened, and this is something I'm very cognizant of now, as a more senior quote-unquote senior academic. I was empowered by senior academics then in my first three months of doing my PhD to embrace other ways of doing research. It wasn't everyone. It certainly didn't come out of anthropology, but it was from this quite prominent historian, Professor Greg Dening who was widely known and widely missed today as one of these people who really loved his students and worked really closely with his students and would run these two week-long amazing workshops which he'd call challenges to perform knowledge.
Katerina Teaiwa: 25:04 And he ran them at the, ANU and it was back in the days when CASS had a centre for cross-cultural research and all these quite innovative research groups that were really trying to, I think empower students to do things differently. He ran this two-week workshop and whole bunch of us who were doing Pacific topics signed up, and that, it was almost like that gave me permission to just do things my way. Because what he had us do was, we did have to read texts and we had to do a little bit of thinking, but we came with our PhD's, our topics, our thesis statements, and then he said, and now you have to perform it. So it didn't matter what discipline you were from, it was completely open to people from the sciences, from engineering, humanities, anthropology, etc. And they all had to reimagine their projects for that two weeks and perform it.
Katerina Teaiwa: 26:01 So I already had this background in dance and I was like "woohoo!" I knew exactly what to do. So from then on my project changed and luckily I had a supervisor, Margaret Jolly, who had already known me as a master student and kind of knew, the kind of critical work that I would do, responding to these normative hierarchical forms of knowledge production. She let me explore these other ways of doing things and everything in the archives. Everything in my ethnographic research completely backed up, my creative ideas. But I realized I would not have privileged those things and I might not even have noticed those things if I'd followed a conventional anthropology methodology, theoretical framework track. Greg Dening’s workshop gave us permission to go: "Everything is relevant and you can reframe, recreate and reproduce it in other ways as well. You don't have to just put everything on the page."
Katerina Teaiwa: 27:20 So that completely changed my whole, I think my whole career trajectory. It just opened up all kinds of pathways and everyone who was in that workshop and this workshop was in 1999, this PhD workshop. Everyone who was in that, or most people, are doing amazing things today. They're in these amazing positions and they know how to integrate creative thinking and creative work into their, into their roles and into the kind of research and teaching that they do. So, it was such a formative moment, which I've often dreamed 'this too can happen again at ANU'. Maybe
Simon Theobald: 28:06 You talk about decolonizing the social sciences and it's something we've tried to talk about a bit on this show just recently. Do you think we've come anyway in doing so? And what do you think? There's still a kind of mountain there to be travailed.
Katerina Teaiwa: 28:25 I think at ANU there's a mountain left to climb. Beyond ANU I think there are departments and programs that are definitely, putting themselves out there and trying to critically think through this. And I definitely think it's happening a lot in the US. So when you look at American Anthropology, they're always asking these questions about their practice and about their discipline and about themselves and they're always thinking about the politics of it. The thinking about the politics of it is not something I see as much, in anthro here. Which is partly why I don't find as much kinship with it. I would, if people, grappled with the politics of knowledge production. So I do think there's a way to go. I think ANU is a bit hard because it's been quite successful doing the form of anthropology that it does and hasn't felt compelled by the public or by politics to do anything differently. So it's almost like a safe space for conventional...
Simon Theobald: 29:45 Conservative...
Katerina Teaiwa: 29:46 Conservative is the better word, conservative approaches. So I think there's a long journey ahead. In my day as a student, I definitely tried and I was definitely, what's a good word to use, punished or critiqued publicly for trying to do things differently and very difficult at the time, but also made me stronger in my convictions about the way I do my scholarly work. Because you don't learn unless you go through something super difficult and painful publicly, as happened a couple of times to me. But I found a lot of, what's the word - support - and like a home within anthropology in feminist anthropology and in the work of people like Kirin Narayan where stories were kind of the focus rather than some abstract conceptual framework that you then tried to shove everything into.
Katerina Teaiwa: 31:06 So I did find places or peoples or genealogies within the discipline that made more sense to me. There's definitely an indigenous or native anthropology kind of space. There's feminist anthropology, there's people who do creative work, but over time their work was less valued. So as I saw the discipline kind of changing and more neo-liberal conservative ways, which actually privileged European thinking more rather than less, I stayed on the margins if not right outside the box of anthropology.
Simon Theobald: 31:50 What do you think a decolonized social sciences would look like?
Katerina Teaiwa: 32:02 I think of it as very trans-disciplinary kind of project. Meaning it would be decolonized in terms of form as much as content. So form in terms of words, text journals, journal articles, books, conference papers that being challenged and made equal with performance, embodied forms of knowledge production, the visual arts exhibitions, those sorts of things. All of those things would count. All of those things would seem to be scholarly would be seen to be critical and nuanced and productive kinds of expressions of work. Our work.
Katerina Teaiwa: 32:56 So that would be one front. It would be in terms of form and format and platform and materials. The other would be in terms of seriously dealing with power with the politics of it all with the hierarchies and this idea that some people are more expert than other people. Which I don't fully buy, and I, I say this to my students, to my undergraduate students, 'I am learning as much as you are. This is an exchange of knowledge and ideas and this stuff that you have and that you know, that I don't know.' So it's not a top-down transfer of knowledge. And so decolonizing the hierarchy and dealing with the politics is another kind of work that requires some self-reflection and ability to humble yourself in the face of other ways of knowing and doing.
Katerina Teaiwa: 34:04 And I think some people are able to do that. Like I really liked, Paige West’s recent editing of voices speaking to, I think it was the Hau Journal drama, which was a pretty big drama. I liked the way she talked about the decolonizing work that needs to be done. And I also think what she's talking about is what indigenous academics and indigenous scholars and scholars of colour have been trying to do for decades. Trying to do things differently and think about things differently and not reproduce the same hierarchies and the same relationships of power. So those would be the two fronts, I think that would have to be where decolonizing projects would have to be worked on, but then it would have to be manifested as much as in pedagogy and teaching as it was in research and producing knowledge and also the other dimension of that would be outreach, engaging communities, engaging the public, engaging the popular, engaging policymakers and all those other stakeholders in knowledge.
Katerina Teaiwa: 35:27 All of that for me constitutes a trans-disciplinary approach for me. Trans-disciplinarity is what the centre for public awareness of science is doing. Meaning it's working across different fields and disciplines and approaches and methodologies, but then it's moving beyond the academy. So the 'trans' part for me in transdisciplinary is when you truly step outside of the academy and you say, "who does this matter to? Who do we need to talk with? Who do we need to share? What we're doing? Is it children? Is it families? Is it the public? Is it policy makers? And politicians, is it doctors, nurses?". That's the trans-disciplinary part, which I think some social scientists do and do well because their work has some immediate relevance to some industry or area and some don't do ever because they're not compelled to or people haven't shown them how their work might be relevant and I don't think everyone has to push themselves to do that sort of thing. But I think everyone ought to think about it and consider it.
Katerina Teaiwa: 36:39 The other thing, I was just talking about to my colleagues today in an earlier meeting, was for me the best time to do that thinking about creativity, about decolonization, about trans-disciplinarity is in the beginning of your project. Sure you can do it in the middle or at the end because some new idea forms. But if you build it in at the beginning because somebody has said, this is okay, you can do this now. You can experiment now. Even though you're a new PhD student, it's okay. You don't have to do everything like me. You don't have to jump through all the hoops before you're allowed to innovate. If you can do that at the beginning and design your project in a way that is open and inclusive and way finds through knowledge rather than targeting certain things, "I must answer this thesis statement or I will incorporate that theoretical framework". No, no, no. You follow the people and you follow the story and you follow the thing and then you think about that other stuff later. So if you build that in at the beginning, I think it makes for a greater potential of decolonization. I'm not saying it's going to be successful but yeah, I do think you need to be empowered at the beginning.
Simon Theobald: 38:11 It's again, it's really nice to hear someone say that because I certainly know from my own experience, I'm writing up now, I often wish I could do more creative things and I would really like to, sometimes I think I could just chuck the theory out and stick with something nice and ethnographic.
Katerina Teaiwa: 38:29 Well when you try to publish a thesis, your publisher probably will tell you to chuck out all theory. So, you know, people make you do that stuff to prove that you're smart or worthy or whatever and I don't think it necessarily serves the content or the process or the people or the PhD student. It's a jumping through hoops kind of process, which I don't really agree with.
Simon Theobald: 39:03 We have a tiny little bit of time left, and I'm about to open a can of worms, but I have an anxiety because I'm an anthropologist, as much as I loathe using this term, who learned from people who are "outside of my culture" and it's been a lot of discussion lately, particularly, on Twitter, about whether or not there's any place for people to study "outside" in inverted commas, of their own culture. It's a really big topic but do you have any, any feel for that?
Katerina Teaiwa: 39:37 Okay. So the first thing I'll say: is it's already been happening for centuries. So step one, permission has neither been sought nor given for all the work that's been produced up until now by people outside of other people's cultures. So that's the norm. So today when that's being challenged and people go, "oh my god, there's no place for me, oh my god, do I need permission?" I feel like that's the wrong reaction. That's the wrong response. So a more productive way of doing it isn't reactive, isn't to go, this is a black and white thing you're in or you're out, you're an insider or you're an outsider. That's not really a good representation of reality. Anyway, things are more complex. I've got students who are, you know, Anglo-Australian who are doing Pacific Studies and who have come through my classes going, "am I allowed, am I?"
Katerina Teaiwa: 40:43 And again, what I try to say is a more productive way of thinking about it is if I genuinely and humbly learn from and then incorporate indigenous, for example, if we're talking about the indigenous context, indigenous ways of relating and thinking and knowing and being and doing, is that a more equal way of doing my work versus thinking about this in terms of ethnicity and race and all of those sorts of things. So that's definitely one way to think about it. If you're not of the heritage of the people you're working with, you're an automatic outsider or a better way of thinking about it is to about it from an epistemological and ontological perspective. And I don't want to go into too much detail on those things in terms of what anthropology has been trying to do with those things, but what I'm saying is: can one really humbly, inhabit other perspectives and ways of knowing and being and doing and be transformed by it?
Katerina Teaiwa: 41:59 So not studying it from the outside so you can say "this is the way those people think" but saying "this is valuable and people have survived for centuries in difficult environments thinking this way. So probably I've got something to learn here and to be transformed by in my own life" and that's what I empower my students to do so that I don't have to tell them what critical political questions to ask. They're asking it. Even if they're not indigenous, they know how to champion these ideas and these ways of doing things and not feel like there's no place for them. Empowerment isn't just about race or class or ethnicity. Empowerment is about helping people feel comfortable to be able to critique their own positions, their own positionality without falling apart. Being strong in that self-reflection and critique and also not seeing that as some kind of wishy-washy navel-gazing kind of process or practice, but actually being empowered to be critical and therefore better allies and better champions for other ways of knowing and other ways of doing things. Which I think Paige West is a good example of that. I'm sure that didn't come to her overnight in her seniority as a professor, but something that she'd been critically thinking about along the way and somebody probably empowered her to do that.
Simon Theobald: 43:39 I think unfortunately we're out of time. Katerina Teaiwa, thank you so much for coming on. It's been a, personally moving, for me actually, to hear you talk. I really appreciate it.
Katerina Teaiwa: 43:49 Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Simon Theobald: 44:07 So that was it. Me and Katerina Teaiwa. Today's episode was produced by me, Simon Theobald, with help from the other Familiar Strangers: Julia Brown, Ian Pollock and Jodie Lee-Trembath. Our executive producer is Ian Pollock and our assistant producers are Deanna Catto and Matthew Phung and our interns this year are Alina Rizvi and Alisa Asmalovskaya. Subscribe to the Familiar Strange podcast. You can find us on iTunes, Spotify and all the other familiar places and don't forget to leave us a rating or review with your likes and dislikes. It helps people find the show and helps us make the show better. You can find the show notes, including a list of all the books and papers mentioned today, plus our blog about anthropology's place in the world at thefamiliarstrange.com. If you want to contribute to the blog, or have anything to say to me or the other hosts of this program email us at email@example.com, tweet to us at @TFSTweets or look us up on facebook and instagram. Music by Pete Dabro. Special thanks Nick Farrelly, Will Grant and Maude Rowe. Thanks for listening. See you in two weeks. Until next time, keep talking strange.