By ‘Ema Wolfgramm-Foliaki 

Throughout my days of being a student, I struggled to find my voice in my writing. ‘I mean, what is it all about anyway?’, I used to ask myself. The preferred style of writing, the expectations of the academy together with my desire to fit into a new learning environment made it all rather scary.

I settled into writing ‘in the third person’s voice’. I was lucky enough though, that by the time I got to write my doctoral thesis, I had the privilege of reading the works of Pacific Island scholars such as Konai Helu Thaman. I was struck by how much I could relate to her style of writing and how easy it was to understand her message. Her style of writing was not the ‘third person’s voice’ that I had adhered to in the belief that this was how you do it in academia. 

I aspired to have the confidence to write like Prof Thaman­–one day maybe.  When I read her work I could almost hear her talking and I could also visualise the different nuances that a Pasifika writer could evoke in other fellow Pacific Islanders. She definitely has found her space and has made it her own while at the same time doing something that is a kind of balancing act: validating Pasifika thought and knowledge within western constructs.

In my doctoral thesis I employed Thaman’s Kakala framework in my data gathering process. I also used a case study format in my results section to allow my participants’ voices to be heard. This partially enabled them to be part of my journey and endorsed their sense of reality and way of speaking and thinking. I was slowly gaining confidence to infuse my identity into how I position myself.

I am now more confident to employ a more personal style of writing whereby I draw on my cultural values and employ Pacific thought in my writing. In doing so, I acknowledge that my cultural values and knowledge is not only relevant in this western context, but more importantly it has a place in academia. It makes a significant contribution.

In writing this blog, I am reminded of Huffer and Qalo (2004), who posed the question of whether we have been thinking upside-down in relation to the development of Pacific thought in western constructs. We think upside-down when we ignore our own knowledge base and allow the dominant construct to permeate our thinking and ways of being. Drawing from your culture and your own identity allows you to find your voice, and validates your worldview–and your space in academia. Instead of thinking upside down, now I encourage others to follow fellow indigenous scholars by thinking from within.

Do you have a comment on the doctoral writer’s route to finding an authentic voice, or the need for academia to learn to hear different accents?  We’d be especially interested in hearing from scholars who are struggling to create voices that may not necessarily be well represented in mainstream academic discourse.

Huffer, E., & Qalo, R., (2004). Have we been thinking upside down? The contemporary emergence of Pacific theoretical thought, The Contemporary Pacific, Volume 16, Number 1, 87-116.

Dr ‘Ema Wolfgramm-Foliaki is of Tongan descent and is a lecturer at the Centre for  Learning and Research in Higher Education, University of Auckland, New Zealand. She is particularly interested in how Pacific Island people’s (both staff and students) experience academia.