“We shall not cease from exploration/ And the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive at where we started/ And know the place for the first time.” – T.S. Eliot, 1943

“… the dominant epistemological order is inscribed in the material institutions and relationships of modern capitalism and imperialism… Feminist and postcolonial [theorists challenge the representations of reality made by ‘normal science’, and ask the questions:] who has the authority to represent reality?... who must be silenced in order that these representations prevail? whose voice is deprived of authority so that they may prevail?” – Anna Yeatman, 1994

“Every choice we make can be a celebration of the world we want” – Frances Moore Lappé, c. 2004

Karen and David Welchman Gegeo, 1984, with Solomon Islands village children who were participants in their language socialization study from 1978-1992

The past few years have been among the most intellectually and personally exciting years of my life. My professional commitment to research and art toward transformation of consciousness and the pursuit of social justice has increasingly become a personal voyage into ontology, epistemology, and identity.

Research awards

Distinguished Scholar/Researcher Award, American Educational Research Association’s Standing Committee on the Role and Status of Minorities in Educational Research and Development, 1988. (Senior Scholar award for excellence in research on and mentoring of minority graduate students in education.

“Festschrift Honoring Karen Watson-Gegeo for Her Contributions to Pacific Anthropology, a Special Session on The Social Responsibilities of Anthropologists,” organized by Prof. Richard Feinberg.  Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania international meetings, Kona, Hawai‘i, 11 February 1996.

Research areas and goals

Since 1978, David Welchman Gegeo and I have worked in his culture, Kwara‘ae on  Mala‘ita island, in Solomon Islands. We have published extensively on: child culture and children’s language and culture learning; dispute settling, family counseling, and marriage; rural development; and indigenous epistemology, ontology, and philosophy. My earlier work on Native Hawaiian children’s talk-story oral discourse was a good foundation for my research on and support for the Hawaiian Language Immersion Program in the late 1980s in Hawai‘i.  Over the years I also conducted research on Hawai‘i Creole English discourse (locally called “Pidgin”), and on social services and educational issues on the U.S. Mainland. 

In all my work, as an anthropologist, applied linguist, and critical social scientist, I examine issues intersecting language (including discourse processes), knowledge systems, ethnic and gender identity, human and community development, and educational practice.  My work is anchored in critical (post-structuralist, postmodernist, postcolonial) and feminist (especially third-wave) theory, and the theoretical work of ethnic minority and third world scholars. My work is multidisciplinary, drawing on anthropology, linguistics, cultural studies, cognitive science, cross-cultural psychology, human development, and community development. Methodologically, I integrate critical forms of ethnography, discourse analysis, and language socialization.

My life-long commitment to pursuing social justice for ethnic minority, “third world,” and other marginalized peoples, and to understanding non-mainstream forms of knowledge creation have driven my research. The first commitment came from my experiences as a mixed ethnicity (Cherokee and white), working-class woman who grew up in rural communities, and worked beside Mexican immigrant farm workers in the fruit during summers in the blistering-hot California Central Valley as a teenager, to earn money to buy clothes for school. Those summers were part of a process of my political radicalization. The second came from realizing that what it means to “be” in the world, and what constitutes knowledge processes in the cultural context of my family, differed from the expectations of mainstream society and schools. So also did my sense of spirituality. My work on indigenous/native and local epistemologies developed out of this second concern, and is important to the first concern because (as ethnic scholars in language planning and policy have argued) human rights include the right to one’s indigenous or first language, and to one’s indigenous epistemology, in educational and other institutional arenas.

Researchers often lament that their work doesn’t “make a difference” in the real world because nobody pays attention to it. Part of the reason for this problem is that academic culture requires research findings to be obscured in highly abstract language and forms  of discourse that are not accessible to people outside the academy.  Research is written in depersonalized styles that distance the researcher from both the findings and readers of research.  This must change.  My graduate students and I have joined feminists and ethnic studies researchers who are creating a new form of academic expression – one that integrates personal narrative, experience, and poetry into the reporting of research.  See, for instance, “Journey to the ‘new normal’ and beyond: Reflections on learning in a community of practice.”

For a full list of my publications, go to: resumé page