An examination of communicative dialectical tensions and paradoxes encountered by Native American researchers in the field and in the academy

Lorenda Belone
Communication Dept., University of New Mexico
July, 2010


This study investigated the communicative dialectical tensions and paradoxical situations faced by Native researchers in the academy and in research with their own communities or with other Native communities. Thematic analysis was conducted on narratives from 12 semi-structured interviews from participants across the country. Three major themes emerged regarding communicative struggles for the participants when conducting research with Native communities: a dialectic of insider/outsider; challenge of developing positive communication; and concerns of appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Four major themes emerged with regards to communication challenges for the participants while working in the academy: insider-outsider dialectic, paradox of walking the talk, navigating the academy, and open and honest communication. This study also examined the successes encountered by the participants. Overall, the participants deemed success in the community as simply engaging in research with the community. Success in the academy centered on issues of support. Two important implications emerged from this study, one theoretical and one practical. First, the study identified two dialectics not previously discussed in dialectic approach/theory and thus makes a contribution to research/theorizing about dialectics. Specifically, there was the dialectic of insider/outsider related to spiritual identity and the dialectic of insider/outsider related to cultural knowledge. Second, the study illustrates the challenges that Native researchers face in conducting community research and in navigating the academy. The findings point to the importance of mentoring Native researchers in managing the dialectics and paradoxes by senior researchers who are sensitive to indigenous research. The key appears to be developing a mentoring program utilizing a CBPR approach.