Subscribers to the Women’s Caucus listserve received a message yesterday with the following information:  “Due to the volume and content of recent messages on the WC-CPSA list serve, and following consultation with members of the WC, the WC-CPSA is now a moderated list-serve. Its purpose is to share information about job opportunities and future events of interest to WC subscribers”.  It is also noted that Janice Newton is the person who will moderate the listserve (see Email from Jane Arscott on the Ethics page of this blog).

And just when things were starting to get interesting.  I had posted a message (see Widdowson Letter to Women’s Caucus – January 4 on the Ethics page) in response to an email from Jill Vickers, who was warning Janet Ajzenstat about the perils of ”casting aspersions on a  colleagues’ [sic] professional  reputation using   this public medium without [key]  information” (see Email from Jill Vickers – January 3).  Then, Rhoda Howard-Hassmann told me she was intending to send a message to the listserve encouraging the Women’s Caucus to support the presentation of my work (see Email from Howard-Hassmann – January 4).  Unfortunately, members were prevented from receiving Howard-Hassmann’s message, which also provided some important criticisms of research ethics restrictions on the study of aboriginal peoples.

Now, I would be a little more open to the idea that the listserve is only supposed to “share information about job opportunities and future events of interest to WC subscribers”, if it had not been used for a month in 2008 to make libelous claims about my conduct.  “Casting aspersions” about my “professional reputation” was certainly not objected to; rather it appeared to be enthusiatically supported.  Janice Newton, the person now appointed to “moderate” the listserve even compiled the anonymous and unsubstantiated allegations that “overt and blatant racism” had been expressed at a CPSA panel – “aspersions” that were then distributed on the listserve and then made public on the Women’s Caucus’ website.

There is one other interesting piece of information in Arscott’s message.  It is noted that the decision to go to a moderated discussion occurred “following consultation with members of the WC”.  But who are the “members of the WC”?  All women in the Canadian Political Science Association?   All women who subscribe to the listserve?  I am a female member of the CPSA who subscribes to the listserve, but I was not consulted.  This means that “members of the WC” are actually a clique masquerading as the voice of women within the CPSA.

The battle with certain members of the Women’s Caucus of the Canadian Political Science Association appears to be entering a new phase.  In a posting on the Women’s Caucus listserve, the distinguished political science professor from McMaster University, Janet Ajzenstat, weighed in with the following (for the full posting see “WC email – Janet Ajzenstat” on the Ethics page of this blog):

“In a recent contribution Jill Vickers speaks of “an issue” but doesn’t elaborate [see  "WC email - Jill Vickers" on the Ethics page of this blog]. She apparently wants to settle an issue. Let me suggest two issues the Caucus might discuss. Neither can be easily settled.

The first is that Kiera Ladner seems to have left herself open to a charge of unprofessionalism. I may not be in possession of all the facts. Correct me if I am wrong. It seems – a number of people may conclude – that Ladner rejected Frances Widdowson’s submission for a panel presentation at the CPSA this spring because it criticizes Ladner’s research.

I’m in touch with Widdowson. I read her Mount Royal University blog. I understand that she was offered a poster session. For goodness sakes! She could fill an auditorium. She should have been invited to address the Congress at large.

Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry (with co-author Albert Howard) has attracted almost unprecedented attention in academe and in the public sphere. Widdowson and Howard are major contributors to what many see as the most important domestic problem in this country: the wretched poverty on some reserves, the appalling condition of housing, and aboriginal exclusion from Canadian political life. Not everyone agrees with the analysis in Disrobing, but the argument is extensive, well grounded, and must be addressed openly. A few panel presentations will not suffice. There will be – there should be – continuing exploration of Widdowson’s facts and arguments. She must be allowed to develop her argument and take it in new directions. We can expect years of fruitful debate.

The second – related -  issue is this: Widdowson is tackling the problem of cultural relativism. The book has additional gravity because it deals head on with one of the central philosophical themes of our age. The main outlines of the argument on cultural relativism are well established. I won’t rehearse them. “Aboriginal ways of knowing,” “women’s ways of knowing”: there is every reason to welcome discussion of the subject. Indeed it can’t be suppressed. It cannot be adequately pursued on a poster board.

Widdowson’s current research promises an investigation into the SSHRC’s insistence that research on aboriginal reserves be limited by respect for “aboriginal ways of knowing.” Let me urge the Women’s Caucus to endorse investigation of this topic. Widdowson writes (Mount Royal blog): ‘If the CPSA were really interested in open and vigorous debate, as it claims, it would organize a debate on aboriginal epistemologies in political science between Kiera Ladner and myself.’ I agree. I’d nominate Rhoda Hassmann as commentator/chair”.

Ajzenstat’s comments about cultural relativism are especially pertinent.  If it can be believed, it seems that the question “is criticism of cultural relativism racist?” is being answered in the affirmative by certain members of the Women’s Caucus of the Canadian Political Science Association.  Although there has been no substantiation of the anonymous allegations that “racist remarks” were made and “overt and blatant racism” was expressed in my presentation, a person attending the 2008 Women’s Caucus meeting inferred that it was my “critique of aboriginal epistemology which was racist and offensive” (see the “Email exchange between F and and L” on the Ethics page of this blog).  Because these members of the Women’s Caucus appear to assume that questioning the scholarly value of “aboriginal ways of knowing” is “racist”, they feel that it is appropriate to prevent this viewpoint from being discussed.

But does it make sense to argue that there are “aboriginal ways of knowing”?  To do so is to assume that ancestry (race?!) determines philosophy – a proposition that is actually racist.

This is not to argue the point, as Joanna Quinn has attributed to me (see Letter from Joanna Quinn on the Ethics page), that “aboriginal scholars have nothing to contribute simply because they are aboriginal”.  It is to state that all people, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, must use rigorous methods if they are to make a meaningful contribution to political science.   As I pointed out in “Native Studies and Canadian Political Science: The Implications of ‘Decolonizing the Discipline” (see the Advocacy Studies page of this blog), what is referred to as “aboriginal ways of knowing” in the Native Studies literature does not really constitute “knowledge” at all, since it asserts that subjective opinions are fact and maintains that unsubstantiated supernatural forces shape the nature of the universe.