Kulini: Framing Ethical Listening and Power-Sensitive Dialogue in Remote Aboriginal Education and Research

LCJ 22 front cover

Sam Osborne

LCJ: Special Issue: Decolonising Research Practices, 22, pp. 26-37

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Osborne, S. (2017). Kulini: Framing Ethical Listening and Power-Sensitive Dialogue in Remote Aboriginal Education and Research. Learning Communities: International Journal of Learning in Social Contexts [Special Issue: Decolonising Research Practices], 22, 26-37. DOI: https://doi.org/10.18793/LCJ2017.22.04



Indigenous people often complain that they aren’t being listened to, that researchers, institutions and policy makers aren’t taking them seriously or listening properly to their concerns (Donald, 2016). In response, researchers, politicians and interested ‘others’ make commitments to do a better job. The language of ‘better listening’ is framed in terms such as to ‘listen deeply’ (Kohn, 2016; Wallace & Lovell, 2009), or listen ‘truly’ (Snowden, 2017), and in some cases, notions of ‘listening’ as opposed to ‘hearing’ as an act of good faith in responding to Indigenous peoples’ concerns is argued (Davis, 2016).

As an ‘outsider’ working in Indigenous research, it is a primary concern to respectfully engage with, interpret, and ultimately, represent the voices and concerns of Indigenous people as ethically and truthfully as possible within a broader understanding of the limitations on us to do so well, if at all. In reality, this is a precarious negotiation at the best of times and requires careful ethical/methodological consideration to better represent claims that research is ultimately beneficial to participants and the communities they represent.

This paper adopts the Pitjantjatjara language term ‘kulini’ (listen to, hear) to mark out the terms of ‘ethical listening’ at the cultural interface (Nakata, 2007a) through an Aboriginal language lens. Ethical responsibilities for initiating dialogue towards action is then developed as a model based on Delpit’s (1993) framing of ethical listening and action in educating ‘other people’s children’. Working from the kulini frame provides methodological cues that can orient research towards justice and more just possibilities.


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