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Xiaotao Yang and Heather Mair Title : Priviledging indigenous voices: A participatory oriented approach

3:30 PM, Monday 21 Jun 2021 (30 minutes)
Priviledging indigenous voices: A participatory oriented approach


Xiaotao Yang


Heather Mair

In 2012, Peters andHiggins-Desbiolles, wrote “What is wholly absent [from the tourism literature] …is any recognition of Indigenous peoples as tourists”(p.78).Chambers and Buzinde (2015) acknowledged that “tourism knowledge is still predominantly colonial” (p.1) because Eurocentric epistemologies are still privileged and people from the South continue to be research objects “rather than the producers of tourism knowledge” (p.3). In a similar line,Winter (2009) questioned the repetition of the “western-centric modus operandi of research” (p.13) in interpreting non-western tourism experience and practices.As a response to these claims, this study aims to privilege and center Tibetan peoples’ knowledge as tourists rather than considering Tibetan people as objects for tourists to gaze upon. Further, wepay attention to constructing Indigenous knowledge in a more equitable manner.

Four months of field work was conducted in Tibet, reaching out to 35 participants who generously shared 93 travel stories.Drawing from Indigenous methodologies and community-based participatory research (CBPR), this study adopted a participatory oriented approach, guided by three principles:prioritizing community benefits from the research;cultivating sincere researcher-participant relationships; privileging Indigenous knowledge; and engaging participants as co-researchers (Chilisa, 2012; Smith, 2012; Wilson, 2008). The current paper reports on methodological reflections about the study, leaving specific findings in our other publications. A series of actions wasdrawn from related literature to ensure theapplication of these principles, serving as one of the many possibilities of opening up different ways of knowing. We consider the following four aspects:

1. Giving up the generalizing attempt.

Many scholars, particularly those situated in a de-colonial theoretical perspective, criticize the academic practice that intends to condense universalized and simplified categories into diversified contexts (Ingold, 1995; Mignolo, 1993,2009); by contrast, Indigenous knowledge is “deeply rooted in its context” (Agrawal, 1995b, p.418). Throughout this project many participants were concerned that their individual experiences and opinions would be generalized to the entire Tibetan population.Potential solutions were discussed with participants. Temporary solutions were adding a statement of individual opinions at the very beginning of the thesis; adding personal views while quoting someone who originally addressed the issue as personal view; and avoiding or reducing the use of generational/inferential tones in the writing.

2. Opening up research and interview questions.

Two of the four research questions were proposed by participants, an action which tailored this study to meet participant and community needs and emphasize participants’ ability to exercise agency throughout the research process. For instance, my first research question was initially outlined that: What travel and tourism related issues do Tibetan participants consider important? In the fieldwork, all participants shared their concerns about inappropriate tourist behaviours. Correspondently, my first research question was specified as: what are appropriate code of conduct for tourists who visit Tibet?

Meanwhile, the researchers develop initial interview questions and subsequently revise these questions based on feedback from participants? Such actions helped to tailor the inquiry based on Tibetan culture and to challenge the author’s assumptions.

3. Checking Eurocentric roots embedded in research design.

Although every culture has its own way of knowing and interpreting the world, most methodologies employed within the academy are deeply rooted in Eurocentric culture. The study challenges three common practices in Eurocentric methodologies by using three ‘non-traditional’ practices, namely: inviting friends as participants, using legal names, and engaging accompanied ‘individual interviews’. The latter specifically referred to conducting interviews in the company of the interviewee’s friends.

4. Engaging in non-data collecting activities.

As Grimwood et al. (2012) highlight, “research is a relationship-forming process” (p.220). For this project, engaging in non-data-collecting activities contributed to the inquiry in three important ways: helping me understand Tibetan culture and participants’ views; facilitating and building sincere relationships with participants; and balancing the interaction of research and non-research purposes.


Agrawal, A. (1995b). Dismantling the divide between indigenous and scientific knowledge. Development and Change, 26(3), 413-439.

Castleden, H.,Garvin, T, &Huu-ay-aht First Nation. (2008). Modifying Photovoice for community-based participatory Indigenous research.Social Science & Medicine,66(6), 1393-1405.

Chambers, D., & Buzinde, C. (2015). Tourism and decolonisation: Locating research and self. Annals of Tourism Research, 51, 1-16.

Chilisa, B. (2012). Indigenous research methodologies. Sage Publications.

Grimwood, B. S., Doubleday, N. C., Ljubicic, G. J., Donaldson, S. G., & Blangy, S. (2012). Engaged acclimatization: Towards responsible community‐based participatory research in Nunavut.The Canadian Geographer/Le Géographe canadien,56(2), 211-230.

Ingold, T. (1995). Building, dwelling, living: how animals and people make themselves at home in the world.London: Routledge.

Mignolo, W. D. (1993). Colonial and postcolonial discourse: cultural critique or academic colonialism?. Latin American Research Review, 28(3), 120-134.

Mignolo, W. (2009). Epistemic disobedience, independent thought and de-colonial freedom. Theory, Culture and Society, 26(7–8), 1–23.

Peters, A. & Higgins-Desbiolles, F. (2012). De-Marginalising tourism research: Indigenous Australians as tourists. Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management, 19, 76-84.

Smith, L.T. (2012). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples. Zed Books Ltd., London.

Wilson, S. (2008). Research is ceremony: Indigenous research methods. Fernwood Publishing: Black Point, Nova scotia.

Winter, T. (2009). Asian tourism and the retreat of Anglo-western centrism in tourism theory.Current Issues in Tourism,12(1), 21-31.

University of Waterloo
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