He Whakaaro Studying abroad

Dec 21, 2016

Nā Matt Scobie

In the last five years I’ve gone from being a student who happens to be “part Ngāi Tahu” (whatever that means) to a Ngāi Tahu person who happens to be a student. Other than learning about myself and those who came before me, an important part of this never-ending journey is discovering that some things I’ve been taught are “wrong”. One of these things is how to “do research”. This is all in the context that I’m trying my best to conduct a Kaupapa Māori research project in a city which is almost as physically far away as you can get from our takiwā. From where I am in Sheffield, Ōtepoti and Ōtautahi are the two farthest-away cities in the world.

I’m doing a PhD in Management, but specifically in social accounting. Broadly, this area of study explores ways to hold ourselves, others, and organisations “to account” for wider social, environmental, cultural, and economic impacts. I believe that because Ngāi Tahu is guided by the whakataukī “Mō tātou, ā, mō kā uri, ā muri ake nei”, the members and organisations within will hold wisdom and insight towards more holistic and long-term accountability processes. The title of this project is Indigenising the concept and process of accountability, and it is inspired by Dr Eruera Tarena’s project on “indigenising the corporation”, which he discussed here previously (TE KARAKA, Issue 70). I also hope to do another study with an indigenous organisation in a different country. But why on Earth am I over here if the wisdom that I’m exploring is back home and abroad? To be honest, I’m not completely sure. There are benefits to studying in the United Kingdom – the proximity to other students, scholars, countries, and cultures to learn from and with, and cheap cheese. But there are challenges – being far from whānau and the whenua that I draw inspiration and knowledge from.

I’ve met little resistance to the suggestion that certain methods of research and instruments of business – i.e accounting – use assumptions that could have a negative effect on others who don’t share those assumptions.

So what’s it like trying to do a kaupapa Māori project at a business school in a UK university? Lots of people think it must be a challenge, and while this is true, it has also been a pleasure. I have the support of supervisors and staff at the University of Sheffield and mentors back home to investigate things that they know are important to me. They leave enough room to explore this, and sometimes get lost, but still provide guidance on how to fit this into a UK programme. I’ve also met little resistance to the suggestion that certain methods of research and instruments of business – i.e. accounting – use assumptions that could have a negative effect on others who don’t share those assumptions.

In fact, I’ve met less resistance to this project here than I might at home. I think here this kaupapa is seen as new, intellectually stimulating, and an alternative to some of the ills we are all aware of. At home it is seen by some, particularly in the accounting world, as a threat to presumed superiorities – a challenge to the existing order and a questioning of certain ways of knowing, behaving, and discharging accountability that should not be questioned. I also sometimes doubt my own identity and whether I know enough about tikanga or mātauranga Māori to be able to do this, which is exhausting. So I expected my identity to come into question a lot here because of my … “fair” complexion, but the only time I’ve been asked the classic “how much” question is when a non-Māori Kiwi came to visit.

But this year has been the easy part. The real challenge is next. I’m coming home. I don’t know exactly what I’ll ask, but I know it’s something to do with accounting and accountability, and making these systems more responsive to social, environmental, and cultural aspirations. According to certain strands of Western research this is bad practice – “You don’t have well-defined questions or models to test.” But for me and many others who want to create knowledge that is useful for their communities, it is the only way. How could I know what is important to the communities I want to work with before I’ve had a kōrero kanohi ki te kanohi? Research is about asking communities what is important to them, creating that knowledge, and then trying to fit it into the narrow metrics that academic careers are now measured and evaluated on afterwards. This is controversial for some, but I couldn’t sleep at night if I was putting my “research career” ahead of the people who are sharing their knowledge with me. I have always been a student and I always will be. Humility and reflection are crucial.

Matt Scobie is Kāti Huirapa – Ngāi Tahu. He is currently completing PHD study at the University of Sheffield. His research is focused on exploring ways to hold business and government accountable for their wider social and environmental impacts. He is particularly interested in engagement around the operations of extractive industries in areas of importance to indigenous groups.