Connecting past research: reflecting on old research in new settings - returning materials to the field fifty years on (15186)
Fifty years ago social research in Indigenous communities was broadly colonial and extractive. It was common for data to be extracted from community members without protocols or ethics approvals. A shift towards a responsibility to do good rather than simply minimise harm has slowly gained traction in the privileged settings of academe, but is widely advocated by Indigenous scholars.
This paper brings current community-centred research ethics and methods to the question of the return of archival materials collected under very different protocols. We review ethical, practical and conceptual issues in a project assessing longer term changes in social, economic and environmental circumstances of Aboriginal people in a small rural community in Australia. The current researchers seek to build from the original data, collected in 1965, to better understand the diverse, competing and even contradictory narratives of change.
The original analysis is being reconsidered in the light of a lifetime of feminist practice, and a current PhD project. The paper also considers the ethics of dealing with related materials collected from local non-Indigenous informants and issues surrounding confidentiality and ownership.
In this complex setting, ethics, research design, social theory and politics form a crucible in which the politics of 'giving back' demand attention. There is no singular solution that might provide a set of checklists to evaluate research across multiple settings, but the paper identifies themes and reference points that might guide the journeys that the development of community archives and community-engaged research tackling longer timeframes might consider.