Participation as Social Science Method and Theory: Indignous Response in the MacKenzie Delta
The thesis has two primary components. The first is a theoretical overview of the standards of conduct for the participant-observation method in social science. It is argued that these "rules" for the method are predicated upon a set of epistemological and ontological assumptions about the process of knowing and the nature of cultural knowledge. Both monist and dualist approaches to knowledge are examined in relation to participant-observation, and it is argued in the thesis that both confuse ontology with epistemology. This involves a self-contradicting set of expectations about how a researcher can know another culture and about how objective knowledge can be reconciled with relative knowledge. An alternate framework, adapted from monistic traditions, is proposed for understanding the epistemology of participant-observation. This framework suggests that the intersubjectivity of dialogue in locating and evaluating cultural "texts" be utilized in methods of participation.
In the second component of the thesis, a case study of research in the Mackenzie Delta, NWT, is presented. This is based upon participant-observation fieldwork in two Delta communities in 1981. Native and non-Native residents (long-term and transient) were asked about their responses to the methods of research and participation used by 20th century investigators in the region. Both the methods used by social science researchers and the responses to them are presented, with an emphasis upon how local expectations of conduct and reciprocity shaped the application of method and the images held of social science researchers. The nature of conduct and response is presented within a broader context of research sponsorship and ethics for northern social research, as it was determined that the nature of northern response to research, as well as methods themselves, were in turn shpaed by the methodological and practical expectations of primary sponsors: universities, government, and Native organizations. The case study research fills a gap in understanding how host communities contribute to the creation of cultural texts, and how this contribution is in fact influenced by social and political factors outside the community itself. It is concluded that, by using the proposed alternate theoretical framework, the active role of the hosts and their political expectations in bounding, contextualizing, and validating cultural knowledge can be recognized. This role can also be acknowledged through the development of research ethics codes which recognize the responsibilities of both hosts and visitors to account for the learning process.