Writing Subjugated Knowledges: A Research Narrative, 2012-2019

(After 7 years of kind of non-stop research and writing I decided that it would be a useful exercise to prepare a narrative of my research journey to draw together the threads of my various projects. I share it here not only for its insights into how research interests can inform and build upon one another, but in the hope of illustrating for other librarians considering developing their own research agendas the unexpected and serendipitous but exciting ways in which they can progress and evolve, as well as the opportunities they can afford! — MD).

  1. Overview of Research Agenda

As the librarian for Indigenous Studies, Urban and Inner City Studies as well as history and political science – and more recently Women’s and Gender Studies and Disability Studies – I believe that these subject specialties necessitate a critical, theoretically-informed praxis premised on a recognition of structures of power and the mechanisms of knowledge production and subjugation in the academy in particular and society generally. I have therefore taken a specific interest in exploring the ways in which the dominant colonial, Eurocentric society has sought to marginalize other knowledges and worldviews, with an emphasis on the role of libraries in these practices. As such, my writing and publishing has from the start focused on identifying and critiquing these structures, with reference to postcolonial theory, Critical Race theory, Indigenous world views, feminism and queer theory, etc.

Among the subjugated bodies of knowledge considered in my work has been the Shakespeare Authorship Question, which I consider to be emblematic and prototypical of these processes, and in devoting several papers to it I furnished myself with the necessary theories and methods for developing my research agenda, which I shall explain below.

The opportunity to contribute to scholarship — to become a part of the scholarly conversation — is of course an exciting one; yet my research and writing are also animated by some personal and professional philosophies. One is that I find I am better able to learn and integrate ideas and theories if I write about them, more so than merely reading about them. Therefore, on obtaining my present position I felt it was essential to engage actively in the relevant literatures and theories in order to perform my work thoughtfully and successfully, which was a primary motivator for starting this blog.

The second is the simple fact that engaging in scholarship opens doors to other opportunities: quite apart from the multiple conferences at which I’ve presented (OLA, CAPAL, MLA), my writing has led to further engagements with the University and the community which otherwise would not have been afforded to me (see Research Outcomes, below). The more I do in this regard, I find that the more I am able to do.

Finally, given the constituencies with whom I work – not only the student groups but the scholarly disciplines I support – I feel a professional obligation to engage critically in the scholarly conversation regarding knowledge production, representation, marginalization and subjugation.

  1. Peer Reviewed Articles

Soon after being hired in 2012 I set about developing a research agenda into decolonizing libraries, into deconstructing Eurocentric assumptions about what constitutes valid knowledge and how it should be organized. When I began reading the literature of postcolonial theory I was struck by how the language that has been traditionally used to describe “The West” is remarkably similar to the way we are taught to understand Shakespeare. Civilization and modernity we read, are the result of the “Natural Genius” of the West that came to dominate the world, just as Shakespeare was “blessed by Nature Herself with natural genius.”

I explored this theme in my first paper, “By Nature Fram’d to Wear a Crown? Decolonizing the Shakespeare Authorship Question” which was published in the Shakespeare authorship journal Brief Chronicles in 2014. I concluded that this quasi-religious grace of “natural genius” effectively removes both Shakespeare and the white colonizer from historical consciousness, making Shakespeare’s “natural genius” foundational to notions of Western exceptionalism. Among the critical sources I discovered in researching this paper to discuss the marginalization of non-Western knowledge was Sami scholar Rauna Kuokkanen’s book, Reshaping the University: Responsibility, Indigenous Epistemes, and the Logic of the Gift (2008), which argues that, instead of being viewed as inferior to Western epistemes, Indigenous worldviews should be received by the academy as a “gift,” a theme I’ve carried through in other writings and in information literacy sessions for Indigenous Studies.

Having explored this mythic, chauvinistic idea of Shakespeare at the cultural level, I wanted to understand how it is institutionalized, both in the academy and in the academic library. In “Knowledge Ill-Inhabited: The Subjugation of Post-Stratfordian Scholarship in Academic Libraries” published in the 2015 edition of The Oxfordian, I examined the potential for academic libraries to marginalize knowledge through biased collection development and knowledge organization systems (KOS). For this paper I developed a literature review focusing on Foucauldian understandings of subjugated knowledge in the academy as well as the work of LIS scholars including Gary Radford and Birger Hjorland, before examining holdings of Shakespeare-related titles in Canadian university libraries published since 2000. By analyzing the availability of the sample titles in WorldCat and shelf locations and Library of Congress Subject Headings, I was able to demonstrate a marked disparity in holdings between conventional biographies and those skeptical of the traditional attribution, as well as pejorative access points in the catalogue regarding the latter.

While the theories and methods in this paper were almost entirely derived from library science, I opted to publish it in a Shakespeare authorship journal rather than in an LIS journal because I wanted to explore theories of knowledge subjugation in the academy, rather than having to explain in detail what the Authorship Question involved, which would have been necessary in the case of the latter. I did however – with permission of the journal’s editor — adapt the literature review regarding the nature and sources of biases in academic library collection development for the Decolonized Librarian essays, “Subjugating Knowledge in Academic Libraries (parts 1 & 2).”

The theories and methods used in this publication significantly informed my next paper, which explored how KOS marginalize the history of Indigenous genocides, and how these correspond to the scholarship of genocide studies. The article, “A Library Matter of Genocide: The Library of Congress and the Historiography of the Native American Holocaust” was published by The International Indigenous Policy Journal in late 2017 as part of their 2-volume special issues on “Reconciling Research: Perspectives on Research Involving Indigenous Peoples.” In this paper, I examined a sample of books featuring variations of “genocide” or “holocaust” in the title and recorded the subject headings and call numbers assigned to them, discovering that the majority (60%) included no subject access points related to the concept of genocide, arguing that this ambivalent stance towards the historical reality of genocide in the Americas was reflected in the scholarship of genocide studies itself. Again, given the theoretical focus of the paper on genocide studies and historiography rather than LIS scholarship, I decided that a journal of Indigenous Studies would be a better home for this paper rather than an LIS journal.

Following my enrolment in a Library Juice Academy course on cultural competence in the spring of 2018, I reflected on and began researching the limits of the concept, finding much more resonance with cultural safety as practiced by Indigenous nurses, both here and in New Zealand. Around the same time, the Canadian Journal of Academic Librarianship issued a call for papers for a special issue on diversity, so I began work on what would become “Multidimensional Cultural Safety in Academic Libraries,” which has now been published. The paper argues that the discourse of cultural competence, being limited to a focus on the skills of the practitioner within a context of presumed cultural neutrality and equality, forecloses the ability of the librarian to address structural inequalities in their own institutions and in society. I proposed a hybrid model of Multi-Dimensional Cultural Safety borrowing elements from Indigenous nursing and psychology, and which helped me to articulate the approach to which I’ve aspired in my work with the University’s microcommunities.

Having now connected two marginalized scholarly discourses (the authorship of Shakespeare and Indigenous genocide) to their treatment in library knowledge organization systems (KOS), I speculated that the approaches and methods taken in my papers may be novel in LIS and therefore merited being situated theoretically and methodologically. Again, a call for papers from Canadian Journal of Academic Librarianshipthis time for a special issue on research in LIS — seemed to present an ideal opportunity to pursue this line of inquiry. The resulting paper, “Liberating Knowledge at the Margins: Towards a Discursive-Transactional Research Paradigm in LIS,” connects biases in KOS to external discourses related to matters of race and gender and seeks to articulate a means by which to theorize about the discursive origins as well as the discursive and non-discursive effects these biased taxonomies and structures may have on users, scholars and scholarship across disciplines and time. The paper proposes considering index terms and classifications as Foucauldian “statements” unto themselves to aid in mapping their origins. This article has also been accepted by CJAL and is now in the copyediting process.

  1. Other Scholarship

In 2017, I undertook a qualitative analysis of the lived experience – or phenomenology – of transcending knowledge-subjugating processes. In “Becoming an Oxfordian: The Phenomenology of the Paradigm Shift in Shakespearean Biography,” I analyzed 50 personal essays published by the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship as part of their series, “How I Became an Oxfordian.” What made this study particularly significant for me personally was that I utilized a framework developed by my mother, Dr. Nancy Dudley in her doctoral work on the phenomenology of paradigm shifts, which greatly enhanced my ability to analyze the essays and draw out meaningful themes. I submitted this article for to two different peer-reviewed journals in the humanities, and received valuable comments on it, but ended up publishing it in an abbreviated form in the De Vere Society Newsletter (a UK-based authorship organization, available to members only), with the full version published on WinnSpace.

Additional scholarship emerged from book reviewing: that is, what started as book reviews became far more substantial review essays, such as my review of the book Shakespeare and the Digital World, which ended up integrating theories of the philosophy of technology to argue that the editors and contributors were pursuing questions without any kind of theoretical foundation, and this lack seriously impaired the success of their project. Similarly, I found that Hal Niedzvewcki’s book Trees on Mars,  while not concerning library science, had great resonance with LIS literature concerning future libraries and this analysis became the basis of a CAPAL conference presentation. My blog The Decolonized Librarian has also been a venue for more reflective writing that has also been extremely useful for contributing to or extending my scholarship. For example, “A Library Matter of Genocide” saw its origin in two blog posts.

  1. Research Outcomes

My first two Shakespeare-related papers became the basis for conference presentations at CAPAL, one of which was awarded a travel grant in 2015 from the University Research Office. “A Library Matter of Genocide” was also awarded a grant for travel to the Ontario Library Association conference in 2016. It has now been cited twice in scholarly articles published in 2018. As well, I presented this paper at the OLA Superconference in January 2016; the Concordia University Library Research Forum, April 2016; the Manitoba Libraries Conference, May 2016; and the Pathways to Reconciliation Conference (University of Winnipeg) in June 2016. It was also featured as additional guest lectures for the History and Political Science departments. Findings from this paper were integrated into my library subject guide for  Massacres and Genocides in World History.

Other opportunities to connect with the University of Winnipeg and broader community have emerged from my research agenda. Writing a review of the special issue of The Review of Education Pedagogy and Cultural Studies (co-edited by Angela Failler, Peter Ives and Heather Milne) for the journal’s launch on November 4th 2015 (the review was later posted to my blog) led to my invitation become a member of the University’s Cultural Studies Research Group, to which I spoke twice in 2019. I also now sit Policy Working Group of the Centre for Research in Cultural Studies (CRiCS).

A 2015 blog post on LGBTQ issues and biases in the Library of Congress subject headings and classification led to my involvement in the University’s Pride Committee, and a presentation as part of Pride Week’s speakers’ series that I later delivered to the Manitoba Association of Library Technicians, and integrated into a Queer Studies library research guide.

My Shakespeare-related research has been a popular choice for the University’s +55 Skywalk lectures and Speaker’s Series (featured at both the Winnipeg Public Library and at the three seniors’ residences), the Collegiate and the Theatre and Film Department, and for the University of Winnipeg Retirees Association. A video of my “Becoming an Oxfordian” talk was mounted to the YouTube channel of the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship in April 2018, where it has been viewed over 3,200 times. Another video, “Academic Libraries and the Shakespeare Authorship Debate” has been watched 5,700 times. Most significantly, I am confirmed as a speaker for the University of Winnipeg’s 2019 TEDx talks related to “Freedom,” where I will present a talk called “Liberating Shakespeare,” which also offers a narrative of my research.

Looking ahead to 2019 I will be presenting my recent CJAL paper at two conferences, and an upcoming paper at yet another.

  1. Conclusion and Future Research Directions

With foundations established in matters of knowledge subjugation, my recent and current research has turned to transcending such limitations and uncovering, rediscovering and reclaiming knowledge. The “Becoming an Oxfordian” project was a rewarding investigation into the phenomenology of such transcendence. My experience working with the Indigenous Summer Scholar Project program in 2018 is the subject of a book chapter which I am co-writing with April Blackbird (forthcoming from ACRL), and this reflective process will be instrumental in informing the Library’s recently-approved ISSP project for 2019 investigating the presence of Indigenous Language content in the Library’s collections. Given the significance of this project being carried out in the UN’s International Year of Indigenous Languages, I’ll be keeping my eye on potential publication venues to explore the process and outcomes of this project as well.

Since 2012 I have been engaged in examining processes of knowledge production and marginalization in the academy, and the place of the academic library in these processes. The discourses in question represent examples of what Michel Foucault called “subjugated knowledge” or “historical contents that have been buried or disguised” by mainstream Western scholarship and institutions. While it might seem at first that the debate over the authorship of Shakespeare has no bearing on matters of race, colonialism and power, I see it as not only intimately tied to notions of Western exceptionalism and supremacy, but its very invisibility in the academy serves to disguise these foundations. Furthermore, the theories and methods I developed to establish and elaborate upon my ideas in this regard then allowed me to apply them to the historiography of Indigenous genocide, and upon reflection, to further theorize upon the place of the academic library in broader scholarly discourses. 

I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to carry out and report on these various research projects, for I believe they have greatly enriched my professional praxis.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s