Ethics and consent in more-than-human research: Some considerations from/with/as Gumbaynggirr Country, Australia
Aunty Shaa Smith, Uncle Bud Marshall, Neeyan Smith, Sarah Wright, Lara Daley, Paul Hodge
Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 21 November 2021
A considerable body of recent work within the social sciences has attempted to engage more deeply with place, place-based knowledge, and more-than-human agency. Yet what this might look like in relation to ethical research practice, especially in the case of research proceeding on unceded Indigenous lands, is unclear. Taking more-than-human agency seriously means ethical research practice must be extended beyond a human-centric approach. As a Gumbaynggirr and non Gumbaynggirr research collective researching on, with, and as Gumbaynggirr Country in so-called Australia, we offer a contribution to discussions of research ethics and protocols that centres the consent of Country: the lands, waters, and skies of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander homelands, and the human and more-than-human beings that co-become there. In this paper, we share some of our learnings and discuss how we have tried not just to listen to Country but also to honour its agencies, knowledges, and sovereignties. As part of this honouring, we prioritise in particular the deeply placed Gumbaynggirr knowledges of Aunty Shaa Smith and Uncle Bud Marshall to explore what being guided by Gumbaynggirr Law/Lore and sovereignty means in practice and the challenges and possibilities of gaining consent of Country in ways underpinned by Indigenous Law/Lore. We propose a more expansive understanding of consent that includes attention to more- than- human sovereignties and draw on our collective’s learning to reframe the need for limits on research as openings rather than closures. In sharing our Gumbaynggirr-led and Country-led perspectives, we aim to deepen decolonising research praxis within human geography and the social sciences more broadly.
Editor’s note: We note that the article references the knowledges of Aunty Shaa Smith and Uncle Bud Marshall while also being lead authors on the paper.