The Possibilities of Decolonial Pacific Studies: Learning from an Oceanic Genealogy of Transformative Academic Practice




Hennessy, Bianca

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This thesis is about the academic community of Pacific studies. In it, I ask how scholars in this community seek to enact a decolonial agenda within and beyond universities. My research demonstrates the ways that the Pacific studies community attempts to reveal coloniality and the various marginalisations faced by Pacific Islander communities and scholars, and how they practice academia differently to transform the ways we know, learn and relate. Pacific studies has a genealogy of transformative and activist academic practice which sees it necessary to work with plural epistemologies, ground teaching and research in place, community and indigeneity, transform relationships among students and staff towards rebalanced power dynamics and inclusivity, and resist the ways that academia tends to claim authoritative mastery of knowledge about people in the Pacific. I explore strategies used to achieve such visions, discuss the complicated claims of decoloniality that Pacific studies can make, and caution regarding the very real cost of this kind of work on scholars' lives. I establish the Pacific studies canon as a representation of genealogical kinship informed by real human connection, discuss the possibilities of trans-indigenous academic work, and consider the aspects of race and identity that make a politicised and affective academic practice both difficult and necessary. With respect to Pacific studies' decolonial agenda, I demonstrate that the specific experience of indigeneity that is both rooted in Pacific island belonging and also experienced in diaspora, in mobility, and in connection to the ocean or region means that Pacific studies requires particular ways of expressing and enacting politics of sovereignty and colonial resistance. I argue that this is done by Pacific Islander scholars without dampening the political urgency of decolonial claims. In conclusion, I consider the possibilities of Pacific studies: what can be achieved by a community bound by kinship and underpinned by a decolonial political agenda? I argue that Pacific studies offers tools for people working across critical humanities to reckon with and dismantle coloniality, opening up space for us to rethink the purpose, methods and impacts of academic work. Against neocolonial managerialism in the Pacific and looming climatic catastrophe, I argue that Pacific studies is a powerful example of the transformative possibilities of academic work.






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