My reflection of the study of the volume 3 patrol reports in Central District, Port Moresby, 1944-1946 indicates that there are several factors which could easily influence the outcome of the research in Papua New Guinea. Whether an analysis is considered objective really depends on the answer to the question: to what extent an researcher is able to detach himself/herself from his/her spontaneous background knowledge and personal preferences? In addition, the identity of the person who studies and analyzes the patrol reports is one of the most significant elements that make the reflection and analysis various, diverse and sometimes baised. So in the following paragraphs, I will first present my own perspective of interpreting and analyzing my assigned volume and the reasons why I made such aboutness statement and chose the key terms that I think is important. Second, I will also point out the limitations and biases I had while carrying out the research and explore the common mistakes and flaws that could make a research paper or a secondary source biased or misrepresented. Last, I want to share what I have learned from this course and discuss the possible future ways of improving primary material studies.
After comparing my own aboutness statement and chosen key terms to other classmates’ work, I decided to make some adjustments to my chosen keywords and aboutness statement to improve the objectivity and broadness of my work. So my chosen key terms for the patrol reports about Port Moresby in 1944-1946 are census, inspection, recruitment, hygiene, return, pre-war, agriculture, ration, rebuilding, reconstruction, infrastructure, house, garden, murder investigation, sickness and garden damage. In my perspective, this volume is mainly focused on post-war reconstruction. The task of recruitment appears consistently throughout the volume and the reconstruction activities includes house reconstruction, garden reconstruction, ration distribution, infrastructure rebuilding and recruitment. Besides, routine matters such as murder investigation and garden damage caused by rain were also reported towards the end of the volume. It seems that the natives in PNG were undergoing a hard time making a new life after WWII, but patrol reports are generally positive and optimistic about the situation.
During the process of analyzing the patrol reports, we were indeed facing two types of communications. One communication is between the patrols and the natives of PNG and the other one is between the audiences and the patrol reports. If we want to objectively interpret the lives of PNG natives, we must objectively interpret the the two communications described above. If we look at the communication between the patrols and the natives, we can see there were misunderstandings. Since the patrols and the natives have different needs, concerns, cultures, languages and background knowledge, even if the patrols tried to be objective and open-minded, they still had the subconscious tendency in reflecting the biased experiences. In this volume, patrols have a significant role in evaluating the behaviours of the natives and sensing their emotions. The word “happy” was often used to describe the natives’ emotions, but words like “frustrated”, “depressed”, “worried”,“upset” and “angry” were missing. Actually, the way that the patrols chose to describe their emotions by applying simple positive or negatives words could make our attempt to neutrally interpret the natives difficult. Again, the biased interpretation of a certain behaviour is also another obstacle in the communication between the patrols and the natives. In one patrol report, the patrols said that the natives were not putting much effort in garden reconstruction which would latter caused trouble when the rations stopped. In the patrols’ perspectives, the natives refused to work hard because they thought the rations were “free lunch”, but it is indeed impossible to know the truth. In this way, as a audience, I might easily consider that the natives were “lazy people” and “procrastinators”. However, those labels could be unfair and biased.
In addition, as a researcher, when I communicated with the patrol reports, I also brought my own bias in reading and analysis. Before I started my close reading of the patrol reports, I did some background research on the historical context of PNG during 1944-1946, so I tended to focus more on the post-war reconstruction themes of the primary material. Also, as a Math & CS senior, I spontaneously applied my own way of organizing information to the analysis of the patrol reports. Such method induced me to over-generalise the patrol reports with the themes associated with post-war reconstruction instead of paying enough attention to different subjects within a broader scope.
To respond to the course theme: who controls knowledge? We must first critically answer the question: how is knowledge created and passed down? Obviously, unlike mathematics, physics and computer science, social sciences, especially anthropology and history are known much easier to form subjective and biased theories. In mathematics and computer science, a theory or a formula can be proven right or wrong through pure logical languages without personal perspectives, therefore it never involves personal emotions nor biases. However, anthropology and history both rely heavily on personal experiences, memories and perspectives, which are mostly impossible to be proven correct objectively. Therefore, in anthropology, knowledge sometimes is created by representative researchers, who sometimes might form the knowledge based on their own preferred cognitive way of interpretation.
At the very beginning of Stella’s book, Imagining the other: the representation of the Papua New Guinean subject, Edward’s Orientalism was quoted in the introduction. Coincidently, Orientalism was one of books I analyzed in CAT 3 which discussed about the false representation of oriental cultures, religion and people generated by the western scholars. Edward points out that those knowledge were formed based on fractured memories, self-interested ideologies and imaginations. This theory corresponds to Stella’s idea that “representation has never been neutral” (Regis Tove, 2007, 1) . Stella provides evidence of the first representation to show how the natives were misrepresented as “savages”: “Torres constructed the people as savages in a state of nature. ”(Regis Tove, 2007, 4). According to Stella, “Barbarism” and “Savagery” are two terms used to justify the European’s action of slaughtering the natives of PNG. Hence, in this way, misrepresentation became the very first version of knowledge, controlled and manipulated by the colonists as a powerful weapon of political correctness. In addition, Smith also mentions that “The word itself, ‘research, is probably one of the dirtiest words in the indigenous world’s vocabulary.’” (Linda Tuhiwai, 2012, 1). This reminds me of the power of plausible knowledge, misrepresentation. To create true knowledge and carry out authentic research, Smith suggests the use of “decolonizing methodologies ”, which emphasizes the importance of sharing and confirming the knowledge with the people studied in order to correctly and fairly represent the subjects and neutralise the knowledge obtained. I think this way of studying not only produces more accurate outcome of research, but also promotes better communications and more efficient delivery of knowledge.
In my opinion, knowledge should be flexible, which means it can always be edited, overridden and improved over time. In the history of knowledge, we can see many dramatic moments when the old knowledge was updated and replaced by the new knowledge with more concrete evidence. Even if some theories in natural science subjects seem more objective and neutral than those in some social sciences subjects, they are not always guaranteed to be true. So is the knowledge in anthropology. Fortunately, today’s anthropology research seems to be more and more objective and critical, and I believe this will help us construct more reliable knowledge than we did in the past : the video named “Participatory Video Giving Voice to Pacific People” shows that anthropologist were hearing voices and perspectives from the people of PNG about their research articles. Even though there were still a lot complaints about the knowledge, I think it was a great start of getting more precise knowledge in anthropology.
Back to the keywords and analysis I constructed, I don’t think they are perfect and best chosen, but I do think I did a good job of narrowing down the topics. Though the key terms still seem too narrow and too focused, I think it is also the whole point of picking key terms. I know it is always controversial to discuss the definition of key terms. From my perspective, key terms are chosen from a given text to generalise and summarize the main themes or main events of the provided material. However, it is also reasonable to take the frequency count of words into account. The reason that I think census, inspection, pre-war, recruitment, rations, infrastructure,and agriculture should be the top-level key terms is that, they actually generalise many frequently used words. For example, agriculture includes gardens, food, vegetables, rice and so on. Nevertheless, I also think those keywords could be better chosen. I think the key is to balance the frequency count with the generalisation and representation of words. I believe, in the future, we can design an new algorithm which can help us better complete this tedious job of finding keywords: maybe first scan and format each words first, and then count the frequency of each words, then use a list of “meaningless” words such as “is”, “be”.etc to filter out the insignificant words. Lastly, use machine learning to find the relationships among the words left, and see whether some words can be represented or generalised by the others so that words which can be represented by others are eliminated and the words eventually left become the final keywords.
Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. 2012. Decolonizing methodologies: research and indigenous peoples. London: Zed. (pg. 1-9, 9-19 )
Stella, Regis Tove. 2007. Imagining the other: the representation of the Papua New Guinean subject. Honolulu: University Of Hawaiʻi Press. (pg. 1-9, 12-28)
ClimateAndCommunity. 2012. “Participatory Video Giving Voice to Pacific People” YouTube Video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QXR7vwW0Ny8