Reviewed by: Council on Anthropology and Education
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Indigeneity
Secondary Theme: Identity and Equity
Karen Watson-Gegeo’s scholarship began to appear in the 1970’s with her important dissertation research work on Native Hawaiian children’s “talk story” oral discourse. This critical anthropological and linguistic work demonstrated the rich cultural and linguistic resources that Native Hawaiian children deployed in their everyday sociocultural worlds, but that were often neglected and disparaged by U.S. educational practitioners. She was part of a new generation of scholars in the latter quarter of the 20th century that began to critically examine and challenge hegemonic Western ways of knowing that had been imposed on native indigenous and minority populations throughout the globe. This work would take her to the Kwara’ae peoples on Mala’ita island in the Solomon Islands in the Pacific. It was her experience with learning and loving in Kwara’ae culture that Karen Watson-Gegeo emerged as a leading critical, intersectional scholar in numerous fields: anthropology, linguistics, cross-cultural psychology, human development, cultural studies, education and community development. Watson-Gegeo was inspired by and brought to bear insights from third wave feminism, post-colonial studies, and indigenous epistemology into her work to illuminate how Western imperial notions of culture, language, cognition and education, far from being neutral, universal concepts, were laden with heteronormative, white supremacist, and colonial power relations. Her work challenges us to continue to ask the question: “Who has the right to represent reality?” As a result of this work, Watson-Gegeo would be recognized in 1988 with a Distinguished Scholar/Research Award by the American Educational Research Association’s Standing Committee on the Role and Status of Minorities in Educational Research and Development. Watson-Gegeo would also be recognized in 1996 by the Association for Social Anthropology at the Oceania International meetings in Kona, Hawai’i for her contributions to Pacific Anthropology in a special session on “The Social Responsibilities of Anthropologists”.
Karen Watson-Gegeo is retiring this year and over the years has gifted us, her students and colleagues, a body of work full of intersectional and critical insights on language learning, cultural transmission and indigenous epistemology, as well as emphasizing and honoring the voices of indigenous and minority populations. Watson-Gegeo’s life-long commitment to pursuing social justice for non-mainstream cultures has laid the foundation for many of us to continue and build on her valuable contributions and on the voices of those at the margins of society. The various roundtable presenters in the session will illuminate the multiple ways that Karen Watson-Gegeo has been an influential scholar, ethnographic methods expert, pedagogue and loving mentor to a generation of established and up-coming scholars.