Advancing Anticolonial Methods in Laboratory Research

March 16, 2023

In their book Pollution Is Colonialism, Indigenous scholar Max Liboiron presents a framework for understanding scientific research methods as practices that can align with or against colonialism. They point out that even when researchers are working toward benevolent goals, environmental science and activism are often premised on a colonial worldview and access to land.

Focusing on plastic pollution, the book models an anticolonial scientific practice aligned with Indigenous, particularly Métis, concepts of land, ethics, and relations. Liboiron draws on their work in the Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research (CLEAR)—an anticolonial science laboratory in Newfoundland, Canada—to illuminate how pollution is not a symptom of capitalism but a violent enactment of colonial land relations that claim access to Indigenous land.

Guided by Dr. Liboiron’s work, Wall Scholar Rachel Scholes new PWIAS-funded project will explore how methods used in research labs at UBC can often intersect with, and perpetuate, colonialism. The project will also focus on piloting new methodologies aligned with anticolonial values.

Dr. Scholes and her collaborators (Wall Scholars, grad students and other trainees) will moderate a series of interdisciplinary, book-club style discussions focused on Dr. Liboiron’s Pollution is Colonialism to an audience of different research groups at UBC.

This project asks researchers to question our core ideals and engage in critiquing methods used in our research. Through interdisciplinary conversations, we will examine the established standards and norms of our disciplines and ask how those methods cause harm, and challenge ourselves to change how we go about our research.

Rachel Scholes, Wall Scholar

The project will build from conversations to action by developing, implementing and documenting methodological shifts towards more relational approaches at UBC. This pilot phase will be iterative and ongoing with new learnings and shifts in approach emerging over multiple years.

The PWIAS Catalyst Program provides funding for collaborative projects that address the urgency, scale and complexity of the climate and biodiversity crises and movements for climate justice.