In class the other night, I posed the question if a focus group can be decolonial.
I feel that perhaps the very format of a focus group dictates a power structure. For my participatory action research class, we read an article by Shoshana Pollack that spoke to the power of a focus group for decolonial research methodology. Pollack states that focus group methodology is useful “for research with oppressed and marginalized groups because they have the potential to shift power from the researcher to the participants” (Pollack, 2003, pg. 461). I think that this CAN be true, but it is still dictated by researcher positionality. If I as a white person go in to a group of people of color to conduct a focus group on race relations, I am likely not going to get the same responses as a researcher of color. I feel that a focus group still is instantiated in a power structure, privileging the researcher, who has called the group together, who asks the questions, who may set the agenda. How is this liberatory?
Further, is a methodological choice not still a power move? Only researchers get to make these decisions. Unless we are embarking on a research project like the Sangtin project, where the group already organically existed, can we ever defuse power from the researcher? I think even the notion and the move to attempt to diffuse power is still a power move. It is only those with power that can make that move. Even if I opt to attempt to disrobe my power, it is still my choice to opt to disrobe power structures.
That being said, I am not sure that a researcher of privilege can even do decolonial research alone. Unless that person also embodies a subaltern identity, I think this would be hard. Even for western researchers who are not individuals with vast amounts of privilege, I think that this would be a challenge. We are so trained within our own understanding of the world as a western context, it would be hard to challenge these norms.