Community Values

I’m in a muddle this week pondering over community and individual values.

The literature on Native Science is infused with communitarian values: the community takes priority over the individual. This makes loads of sense in theory.

But in practice?

In practice we reward individual accomplishments, particularly in academe. In my field of inquiry, which is social science, your reward is achieving tenure following your provisional entrance into the academy. Tenure means the community of scholars accepts you and that your position is secure.

The measure of your accomplishments is pretty much your own work, rather than teamwork. That doesn’t mean you can’t be part of a team that answers an important question. But folks who judge your work treat you as an individual, rather than a team. At least, that’s how it works in my field.

We spend a lot of time teaching our kids the value of working in teams. When First Daughter was in Kindergarten she arrived home one day to proudly announce a new word: cooperation. She learned early that cooperation is a value.
But for most of her work throughout her years in school—and now in her doctoral program—she is being judged on her individual accomplishments. Still, she finds ways to be part of a community. For example, she is part of a group of writers who reviews each other’s work and offers feedback. And being part of that group will bolster her when exam time rolls around: a critical element of the doctoral process. But she’ll be writing those exams solo.

As a student I also depended on pals to help me study for tests and gather data. Some of us even wrote conference papers as a team, but for the most part, your work is solitary. I wrote 5 doctoral exams on my own and one dissertation on my own. And when folks judged me as tenure-worthy, they considered my individual accomplishments, not my team spirit.

Yet, everything I read about Native Science and Native values point me to the importance of community. Native epistemologies are grounded in place, nature, community and relationships. So when my work leads me to consider how Native science arises from relationships, and how Western science dislocates relationship from its context for an objective view, my head gets muddled. In the academy we might publicly announce that communities are important, that relationships are sacrosanct, but when it comes to rewards and accolades, the academy honors the pilot who flies.

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About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. She is enrolled with the Osage tribe.
This entry was posted in authenticity, Indian, Native Science, science, writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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