We saw this as an opportunity to develop experimental knowledges: Reflections on the Transregional Academy
Bianca Hennessy is a final-year PhD candidate at the Australian National University based in Canberra, on Ngunnawal land. Her PhD is under the supervision of Associate Professor Katerina Teaiwa in the School of Culture, History and Language in the College of Asia and the Pacific.
We really enjoyed the Transregional Academy and the group workshop format was a highlight. Our group featured the following members: Sarah Comyn (University of Dublin), Sylvia Frain (Auckland University of Technology), Bianca Hennessy (Australian National University), Rebecca Hogue (University of California, Davis), Kristin Oberiano (Harvard University), Nathaniel Rigler (Victoria University of Wellington), and Tammy Tabe (University of the South Pacific). We were assisted by steering committee member Associate Professor Katerina Teaiwa from the Australian National University.
Our group’s papers were diverse in geographical focus, method and discipline. We discussed papers focusing on many different places in the Pacific and Australia, some of which took historical approaches and others focused on contemporary communities.
Although our group members were at different stages of academic careers, we considered each paper as a work-in-progress, which allowed us to offer constructive advice to widen and strengthen each paper. The diverse academic and personal backgrounds of the group meant that with each paper, we were able to suggest ways each work could be made more complex, with an eye still remaining on the need for a compelling central narrative.
The format of the Academy meant that we had time to get to know each other well, which not only made for a very fun week, but also meant that we could give more nuanced feedback on how each researcher’s background could inform their work. We generally came to a view that it is better to be strategic with one’s positionality, to leverage it to strengthen the work. For some of our group members, this meant more deeply engaging with their own ancestors and kin, while for others it meant writing more fully about the ambivalent and conflicting vantage points that we all inhabit.
Key takeaway points discussed among multiple presentations was a need to break down binary narratives so common in anti-colonial scholarship. The power of indigenization of place and ideology add nuanced complexity to each story, whether we consider Filipinos on Guam, militarization of the Marianas Archipelago or Solomon Islands national identity among Gilbertese. Each narrative required a detailed examination of assumptions implicit about lack of agency.
Our conversations considered how knowledge(s) have historically travelled across both time and space and how this flow continues across digital platforms and in online spaces today. As well as focusing on flows of knowledge, we also consistently returned to considerations of how colonialism and militarism mediates or obstructs these flows. Questions of power necessarily became centered as we analysed each person’s research.
Agency and subjectivity were discussed through unpacking who “knows” what, and which narratives are privileged in our research. We reflected on interconnection between academia and activism, and the burden many carry along with becoming well-known on an international stage. Gaining such status has benefits such as educating the public and informing policy, but we questioned what leaders of academic and activist movements sacrifice personally, and how we can better attend to the political project of self- and community care.
We were fortunate to have a relaxed time-frame to thoroughly address many of these open-ended questions and complex concepts. We saw this as an opportunity to develop experimental knowledges and foster relationships for the future. Our collaboration during the time we spent in Berkeley made us hopeful that as Oceania’s future unfolds across liquid borders, our academic work can help tell the stories of migration and mobility, resistance against colonialism and miltarism, and better understand how history impacts the present across our diverse and changing region.