essentialism footnote

Alison Jones (2008) takes up the issue of essentialism in her paper, "The dangerous desire for 'getting lost' in educational research" presented at the 2008 American Educational Research Association conference. Jones responds to the challenges of essentialism by stating that offering critiques of essentializing are often the privilege of those in the centre. She suggests:

Patti Lather (p. 9) is suspicious of what she calls the "mastery project" [where one situates oneself as curious and unknowing...think[ing] against our own continued attachments...."] – but what if that project is taken up by the Others who have not yet had their own mastery project to be suspicious of?  

I continue to be in love with uncertainty and complexity; but in my own work these days I cannot give that love free rein. I am excruciatingly conscious that epistemological and methodological calls to uncertainty assume a politics of  knowledge, or a politics of uncertainty, such that the privileged can afford to play with wonder and revel in getting lost, because nothing is seriously at stake for us (p. 11)....The middle classes, perhaps, can tolerate and even celebrate a "less comfortable social science" (Lather: 4). Many indigenous scholars who never did feel that comfort, desire a "more comfortable social science".


For my indigenous students, at least, the pose of certainty and the language of certainty become an emotional and strategic necessity. (p. 10)  

Claims of essentialism, then, can both help and harm, particularly when dealing with marginalized communities, epistemologies, and ontologies.

It was not until I began engaging in dialogic reading, writing, and researching practices that I realized I was dealing with an issue of ontological difference, and the 'answers I was seeking were beyond ontologies I had easy access to within the literature I was reading, and the academy where I was completing my doctorate. To examine these issues required standing firmly on what sometimes seemed like shaky academic ground – shaky at least in the sense that it was outside that being explicitly discussed in most published literature in the field of educational research (Shahjahan, 2005; for an exception, see Dillard, 2006a, 2006b), and also in that it led to charges that my analysis and claims could be deemed essentialist.

After much work shifting discourses powerfully inscribed in my body, and finding other academic animists to converse with, I began to speak more explicitly of the Earth as animate and communicative, and thus an active participant in research and other projects. It wasn't until I was almost done that I was able to speak expressly of being an animist.