Thursday, February 15, 2018

Product: In Processing Settler Complicity Through Indigenous Thought // Joyce Gabiola

You may not read this post until the very end, so I provide two links immediately below, ahead of anything I have to say about the importance of process(ing) in relation to product.

Mapping Indigenous LA
"Uncovering multiple layers of indigenous Los Angeles through digital storytelling & oral history with community leaders, youth and elders from indigenous communities throughout the city."

Eve Tuck 
"Biting the University that Feeds You"  
Upon reading selected works by Indigenous scholars about decolonizing and indigenizing library and information studies (LIS), I share a reflection to assert that process(ing) is as important as the product. Actually, perhaps process(ing) is more important than the product, but that is a conversation or thesis for another time. (I require more time to process that thought.)

At some point while reading Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s Decolonizing Methodologies, thoughts of Horkheimer and the notion that critical theory is emancipatory unexpectedly seeped into my mind. As I set out to give my undivided attention to Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang’s explanation of why decolonization should not be used as a metaphor,[1] I remembered that Marx paralleled a Black man to an animal and later compared him to a machine.[2] While reading Tuck and Yang’s discussion about settler colonialism, forced labor, and excess power,[3] I was interrupted by thoughts of Marx, the means of production, and labor power as a commodity.[4] In those moments where I am learning about the ways in which I am/could be complicit as a researcher, as a colleague, as a settler whose parents are Philippine immigrants, as a queer person of color, I wish I could prevent the non-intersectional ideas, however emancipatory and relevant, of white male theorists from encroaching on the time and place reserved for Indigenous thought. I share these small observations because such intrusive moments seem to serve as reminders of the extent to which seemingly insignificant ideas and actions assert their power. The other side of such moments is how they serve as reminders to always be reflexive as a researcher throughout the research process…and just as a person engaged with one’s everyday environment.

In addition to the disruptive thoughts, I found myself feeling uneasy as I progressed through Tuck and Yang’s article. However, this is not surprising. In my first quarter at UCLA, I enrolled in my very first Asian American Studies course. I am almost embarrassed to admit that I did not know anything about Asian American Studies, besides my own personal experiences and the knowledge that I have produced through those experiences. It was in this course that I first learned of interests in interrogating the notion of empire and it was the first time I had heard the term, settler colonialism, as a fellow classmate referred to herself as a Filipinx settler from Hawai’i. I came to learn that I, too, am a settler, but I did not know the full meaning behind this identity, and in carefully following Tuck and Yang’s discussion about settlers and Janet Mawhinney’s notion of 'settler moves to innocence'—the ways in which settlers attempt to relieve their feelings of guilt and complicity in contributing to settler colonialism,[5] I noted the moment when I said to myself along the lines of "Ah, I don’t do that. I’m not that bad." So while I was pleased that I was finally reading a meaningful examination about settler colonialism to further understand its complexities, my place, my complicity, and my responsibilities to Indigeneity as a settler, I was still compelled to feel (or prove to myself?) that I was at least not as guilty as other settlers. I am not certain how I can express this realization in a more academic way, but to say: That is messed up, right?[6] As I read the explications of how settlers attempt to relieve their feelings of guilt and complicity, I, a settler, identified which moves to innocence did not seem to apply to me and felt relieved in those moments of relief. See? Messed up.

In addition, as Tuck and Yang warn, "The absorption of decolonization by settler social justice frameworks is one way the settler, disturbed by her own settler status, tries to escape or contain the unbearable searchlight of complicity, of having harmed others just by being one’s self,"[7] and yet, I continue to relate their discussion to my research interests in interrogating whiteness/diversity and their relationship to harm/survival within LIS/higher education because what they explicate resonates with me as a queer student of color. In a presentation at the University of Regina, Eve Tuck explained, "When we look at the origin stories of many of the academic disciplines, we see that they are entangled with the project of settler colonialism, justifying the theft of Indigenous land and the demolition of Indigenous life, establishing racial hierarchies to justify the enslavement of Africans."[8] With the dispossession of Indigenous land and destruction of Indigenous life, and our everyday occupation, if fellow settler researchers and I continue to pursue scientific inquiries, then we must do so with direct service to Indigenous peoples. Do you agree?

I am guilty of using decolonization as a metaphor for social justice. I first took notice of the term as I read a tweet posted by a highly regarded archivist as a call to "decolonize archives." I kept hearing the concept of decolonization/decolonizing in the context of LIS by practitioners/educators who pursue critical inquiry and employ social justice frameworks, so I quickly adopted the term and incorporated it into discourse. Upon learning about decolonization as a concept from non-Indigenous archivists and academic librarians, I should have then engaged the works of Indigenous scholars. Through this current process of reading and reflecting on selected works by Indigenous scholars, I somehow started to ponder process(ing) in relation to product in archives. That said, it is almost impossible for archivists to not think of process and product without thinking about "MPLP"—more product, less process[9]—a strategy in which productivity is most valued. 

Proposed by archivists Mark Greene and Dennis Meissner in 2005 as a solution to help relieve backlogs that many repositories face, MPLP requires archivists to spend less time processing archival materials in order to provide access to the materials as soon as possible. While providing access is important, the outcome of the "product" using MPLP could be less than ideal, particularly if the creator/donor/subject is intersectional and marginalized. I assert that process extends beyond the act of processing to include hiring archivists who possess the knowledge and sensitivity to, for example, mindfully process materials and write respectful finding aids. I wonder, then, if I should propose "MPMP"—"more process, meaningful product" as a reminder of our responsibility as archivists and/or researchers to fellow humans/Indigenous peoples, hand-in-hand as a reminder of the forces that control process, product, discourse, and society—settler colonialism, white supremacy, whiteness, and capitalism.


[1] Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang, “Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor,” Decolonization 1:1 (2012): 1-40.
[2] Karl Marx, “Wage Labour and Capital,” The Marx-Engels Reader (New York: WW Norton, 1978): 203-217.
[3] Tuck and Yang, “Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor,” 6.
[4] Marx, “Wage Labour and Capital,” 207. 
[5] Tuck and Yang, “Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor,” 9.
[6] In real life, I did not use "messed up" to convey the disappointment in myself.
[7] Tuck and Yang, Ibid.
[8] Marc Spooner, "Eve Tuck Biting the [University] that Feeds You," YouTube Video, 43:59, August 12, 2015,
[9] Mark A. Greene and Dennis Meissner, "More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Archival Processing," The American Archivist 68 (2005): 208-263.


Greene, Mark A. and Dennis Meissner. "More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Archival Processing." The American Archivist 68 (2005): 208-263.

Marx, Karl. “Wage Labour and Capital.” The Marx-Engels Reader (New York: WW Norton, 1978): 203-217.

Spooner, Marc. "Eve Tuck Biting the [University] that Feeds You," YouTube Video, 43:59.  August 12, 2015.

Tuck, Eve and K. Wayne Yang. “Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor.” Decolonization 1, no. 1 (2012): 

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