Insiders and outsiders in Asian diaspora research
I was involved in a short conversation on Twitter yesterday about whether only Asian researchers could do academic work on Asian American/Australian/etc. issues.
There’s a long debate on insider and outsider status in sociological research (see Merton 1972, “Insiders and Outsiders: A Chapter in the Sociology of Knowledge”) and I think most would agree that there are advantages and disadvantages to both. In any case, no one is ever a total insider or total outsider, because the boundaries of “inside” knowledge can be drawn so narrowly as to include just one person.
Unsurprisingly, Kate Bagnall, a white Australian researching Chinese Australian history, does not think that outsider status should make her research invalid.
I responded that the question needed to be reframed. Instead of asking whether only Asians can or should do work on Asian diaspora issues, one ought to ask whether Asians in the humanities and social sciences should be expected to work on these issues.
In the end, there seems to be broad consensus about the need for reflexivity and acknowledgement of privilege and position.
Those of you who were not part of the original conversation: what would you add to this?