James Sanders Students Cross Cultural Fair Trade Research 4
James H. Sanders III
Arts Policy and Administration Program
Department of Art Education
The Ohio State University
Columbus, Ohio – USA
(re)Imagining Research Regarding Fair Trade of Indigenous Artists’ Works:
Decolonizing Development Through Indigenous Artisan-Led Inquiry
In this paper an arts education professor teaching courses in arts policy & arts administration
explores his research collaborations with graduate students and colleagues as they conduct cross-
cultural/international arts-based studies that work toward the ends of human rights, economic,
ecological and social justice, and consider arts education as an instrument of cultural diplomacy.
This paper gestures toward the need for exploring how power is multiply reproduced and
distributed across race, gender, class and ethnicity in the design and conduct of international
research, and in the promotion, consumption, sales operations, and laws governing inter/national
fair trade of cultural properties. The paper surveys some of the varied research methods
employed by students engaged in collaborative and cooperative, co-learning research conduct,
and their alignment between research questions, philosophic and political standpoints, and the
need for sensitivity toward the self-determined interests of indigenous research collaborators.
Reconfirming the need for U.S. researchers to make a sustained commitment to respectful
cultural exchanges that could potentially lead to social transformation, the author begins to
reflexively reconsider his individual and group work, and reconsider the potential benefits and
dangers of engaging in openly ideological research.
(re)Imagining Research Regarding Fair Trade of Indigenous Artists’ Works:
Decolonizing Development Through Indigenous Artisan-Led Inquiry
Over the past decades American Education Researchers in the Arts have increasingly
acknowledged the ethical, moral, economic and cultural challenges unavoidably encountered
when conducting research across international boundaries and with indigenous populations. In
the Americas, both hemispheres are experiencing intensified fiscal and ecological disparities, and
class, gender, sexuality and race-based polarization (Madeley, 1992). The ever-widening gulf
between those with and without power, access to education, health or basic service
infrastructures poses political, social and ecological challenges for researchers, educators,
neighborhoods, related social institutions and groups, while implicating producers and
consumers engaged in cultural trade and commerce (Blowfield, 1998; Kocken, 2003). With the
expansion of the policing functions of governments; from US preoccupation with national
security and protecting borders and industries, to the forms of protectionism enforced by the
World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Free Trade Agreements treatises and GATT (General
Agreement on Tariffs and trade), the resulting local, state, federal, and world government
responses at times create new problems. These responses appear to largely ignore demands for
key social services—not unlike those that continue unaddressed in the U.S. (e.g., fair housing,
high quality public education, universal healthcare, and human rights for citizens of all
sexualities). These needs may be even greater in those Nations still struggling to recover from
centuries of colonial exploitation (Borgerson & Schroeder, 2002; Coote & LeQuesne, 1996).
Given these challenges, local, state, federal, and international aid and development funding
remain important policy consideration (Hage & Powers, 1992), as do the social and political
performances of individuals and corporations (Maignan, 2002)—and both inevitably impact the
contexts in which students and scholars conduct their research.
When conducting and directing graduate student work involving participatory action
studies and field-based research with indigenous populations, it is essential that faculty in higher
education consider the methodological and philosophical lead of indigenous scholars in the field
(Tuwahi-Smith, 1999; Te Awekotuku, 1991; Ballengee-Morris, 2002; Ballengee-Morris & Stuhr,
2001); those who are committed to the development of ethical research conduct. In this paper I
considers it my civic duty to not only examine, discuss, and develop strategic plans for local
change, but to encourage my advisees to take action toward developing economic and cultural
infrastructural supports that support the economic and cultural advancement and well-being of
peoples across hemispheres (Fox, 1991). Sustainable responses to these many challenges face
collectives and communities across cultural sectors—and thus open up opportunity for
innovative forms of inquiry, requiring researchers to reiteratively reexamine the formal and
informal structures through which common objectives and goals are advanced or frustrated (e.g.,
ecological, economic and social justice concerns).
The 2007 American Education Research Association (AERA) annual meeting program
acknowledged that: “Civic capacity requires ... mov[ing] beyond immediate relationships and
specific occupational roles toward the acceptance of ... interdependence and civic responsibility.”
Acting on that civic responsibility, this paper proposes a lively dialogue on research regarding
fair trade—an exchange that I ground in the work of three graduate students at the Ohio State
University. This paper explores how student participants framed their separate study’s
objectives, research methods, findings and recommendations for change. The paper further
explores the students use of survey (Rea & Parker, 2005), (auto)ethnographic (Denzin, 2003),
narrative (Bakhtin, 1981; Casey, 1993) and action research (Stringer, 2007) methods, and my
encouragement of their sharing facets of a larger research agenda and social change commitment
involving fair trade.
Recent advisees research has considered fair trade’s commercial practices, history and
grounding in both religious and political social change initiatives (Shaw & Clarke, 1999). They
developed interventions that expanded the Fair Trade movement’s commitment to public
education. Researchers’ sites could be considered as constituting spaces for communicating the
value of developing ecologically sustainable and equitable economic and cultural exchange—and
how each might be integrated within educational efforts in schools, neighborhoods, and
communities, as well as through retail operations, fairs and festivals, on-line commerce
development, and work with producers in North and South America. Three of the studies to be
considered are grounded in Columbus, Ohio-based Global Gallery, a complex of retail
operations; two studies being based in (auto)ethnographic and participatory action research, a
second using survey and narrative research, and a third employing philosophic inquiry and self-
study. As the advising professor guiding each of the three research projects, I pre-negotiated the
unfolding of information and queries to be explored—setting the stage for conference
presentations that reviewed historic colonial exploitations of populations that fair trade gestured
toward redressing. After briefly describing the three separate studies, I cross-examine this work
and the risks of romanticizing the “native” other through commercial marketing practices, or
mindless participation in self-marginalizing performances of indigenous cultural producers.
Consistent with the AERA 2008 conference theme, this study addresses the work of higher
education in community development and project-based learning across metropolitan settings.
Offering no apologies for its openly ideological nature (Lather, 1986), the research is in-part
based on moral arguments that define, frame, contextualize, explain, and debate solutions to the
ongoing challenge of linking pedagogical practice in schools, neighborhoods, and communities
to matters of civic responsibility and human capacity-building opportunities. While exchanging
findings and standpoints on how power is produced and distributed across race, gender, class and
ethnicity in the promotion, consumption, sales operations, and laws governing (inter)national fair
trade, the study explores the varied research methods each employs, and the alignment between
students’ respective questions and research methods. Reconfirming their commitments to social
transformation, the study reflexively reconsiders students’ individual and group work, and their
valuing of openly ideological research that works toward the ends of economic justice, cross-
cultural understanding and social change.
Public Perceptions of Fair Trade
Amanda Alexander’s research regarding Mid-Ohioan’s perceptions of Fair Trade was
undertaken while she was a master’s student in Arts Policy and Arts Administration at the Ohio
State University. Her survey and narrative research methods reflected a commitment to
alleviating poverty and promoting economic and social justice by querying those consumers who
could make that possibility a reality. Contending that through understanding potential patron’s
perceptions and values, Fair Trade advocates could more effectively lead consumers into action,
Amanda began by exploring literature surrounding Fair Trade’s inception, growth, principles,
and context. Initially considering Rogers (1962, 1983) and Brown’s (1981) theories on diffusion
of innovations, she sought to understand how consumer attitudes and trends might be
constructed. Completing and successfully securing approval from the University’s Institutional
Review Board for her conduct of human subjects research, she then developed survey questions
regarding public perceptions of Fair Trade, and consumption motivations—specifically
examining consumption of hand-made arts and craft products.
Initially setting out to secure completed surveys from 500 consumers in a wide array of
settings, Alexander mapped an array of contexts in which consumption of arts and craft products
regularly takes place in mid-Ohio. These sites included community festivals and craft fairs,
shopping malls, big-box discount stores, arts districts, and retail outlets exclusively marketing
fair-trade products. In addition to participants’ completion of surveys (see appendix A), she
conducted open-ended interviews designed to explore consumers’ values concerning cultural
trade practices and consumption of goods created in contexts were ecologically and
economically sustainable practices were followed. While these data gathering experiences
confirmed that the spaces in which research was conducted would reflect socioeconomic and
demographic trends (where those subjects with fewer economic resources would be more likely
to frequent discount outlets and forefront concern with affordability over ecological or ethical
concerns) a majority of participants across settings affirmed an interest in consuming cultural
products that were created in humane contexts and mindful of their ecological impact.
In her summary of findings on mid-American consumer purchasing preferences and public
perception of fair trade, she described how the research could be of use to consumers, producers,
Fair Trade organizations, and those exploring ways of working within/against capitalist
consumption cycles to promote global social and economic justice. In the process she developed
a range of definitions for Fair Trade and its aims, and demonstrated how the study itself helped
raise public awareness of the underlying values and practices of Fair Trade. Key among her
findings was an acknowledgment that price and convenience (easy access to the fair trade
product) were first among variables influencing consumer practices.
Alexander’s findings reaffirmed her interest in developing ways of marketing reasonably
priced fair trade cultural products on-line – thus eliminating the need for consumers to physically
travel to a destination where those goods were being sold. She subsequently set-about designing
a doctoral study employing a participatory action research methodology—specifically working
with Peruvian artisans in Cajamarca who she first met while a Peace Corp volunteer in that
community. This second study has sought a deeper understanding of what might be involved in
developing an on-line business—from design of an artisan collective’s product line,
considerations of packing and shipping, and import/export duties and legislation, international
banking and trade agreements between the US and Peru, to perhaps most importantly, the
development of an on-line marketing and sales vehicles (e.g. a website designed for fair trade).
Consistent with the collaborative co-researching design of the study Alexander secured the
voluntary labors of a communication design student at OSU who was interested in developing an
undergraduate thesis based on the project.
This study is now mid-way in the data-gathering process – with Alexander working with
artisans in Peru to define their production capacities, business goals, creative vision, and
professional autobiographies, and negotiate what information about the art work and artists
working processes could be shared on the website. Communication between participating artists,
and a graphic design student has been Alexander’s ongoing responsibility. She is currently
working with artists to define what the site can disclose, documenting their work and creative
processes, and identifying their production capacities, so that when the graphic design student
arrives in December, collaborators can co-design and respond to the website prototype. The
limited resources of this doctoral student precluded full development and tracking of the on-line
business fairly trading participating artisans’ wares, the study has thus been limited to Amanda’s
retracing her development of a collaborative international action research enterprise, and
critically reflecting on the process of building a co-developed business in the visual arts.
While altruistic in its aims, this research has both great potentials for developing deeper
cross-cultural understanding of artists design sensibilities, production contexts, resources and
challenges, and faces risks of exploitation that researchers and artists alike must negotiate. As an
academic advisor guiding art education researchers in the conduct of ethically responsible
practice, the best I can do is to ask that students repeatedly bounce ideas off their collaborating
participants, and encourage their questions and guidance.
Participatory Action Research in a Fair Trade Organization:
Doing Cultural and Arts Education
Connie DeJong defended her dissertation in 2008, a study that (auto)ethnographically
explored a fair trade merchant/advocate’s experiences in working with small arts organizations
to support diverse peoples’ efforts to understand and respect one another, and work toward
reparations for social and economic injustice. Describing creative alternatives for improving
society through action research in the United States and abroad, this student of Arts Policy and
Administration linked her local labors toward cross-cultural understanding to her international
Fair Trade market development interests, community organizing labors, and organizational
development efforts. Additionally seeking to improve the practice of Fair Trade education
through the design, execution and assessment of a participatory action research study of the
local staff development process, she followed Freire (1999), Giroux (2006), hooks (1995) and
Denzin (2003) in developing "civic, publicly responsible [auto] ethnography that addresses the
central issues of self, race, gender, class, society and democracy" (Denzin, 2003, p. 259).
Using participatory action research methodology (Brydon-Miller, 2004; Coghlan & Brannick,
2005), DeJong’s project proposed that a localized study of improvement can lead the way for
further growth of the Fair Trade movement in the United States.
DeJong’s framework of hope viewed her activist pedagogy (Friere, 1999) as engaging
majority populations in helping redress unjust distributions of power and authority. Further,
describing the challenges and successes experienced in developing a Columbus, Ohio
community of local laborers for economic justice, she explored the intersections of openly
ideological research and pedagogical practice. Defending her position in discussing Fair Trade
organizations’ prioritization of economic needs for artisans in developing regions and the
importance of marketing products by connecting peoples’ products to their life-histories, she
illustrated how story telling itself functions as a key component in successful marketing, sales
and social consciousness raising efforts (Sachs, 2005; Nicholls and Opal, 2005; Bourguignon
& Periera da Silva, 2003).
Calling on over ten years of experience in promoting Fair Trade and engagement in
participatory action research, DeJong’s dissertation described how she worked toward
transforming a mid-western metropolitan area clientele’s awareness of the ongoing
development challenges and gains through Fair Trade. Her work with Global Gallery staff and
volunteers explored the possibilities for change through first-hand involvement with this fair
trade organization, and a group of women artisans in Bolivia. Her collaborative educational
programs and partnerships across college, patron, and ethnic minority communities in
Columbus created opportunities for interpersonal dialogue and exchange that might otherwise
never have taken place. Through designing international travel experiences for board and staff
of Global Gallery, and students participating in the Arts Scholars Program at The Ohio State
University she enabled transformative experiences that are rarely envisioned in mainstream
retailing operations or public education. In short, she argues that such programs can provide
important bridging experiences that can inspire social change, regardless of the subject
position of the participant, and deeper understanding of the role the arts might play.
In introducing her study, DeJong visually and orally described and discussed a broad
range of cross-cultural public presentations she had made over the course of her collegiate
studies—from working with Tibetan monks and Native American singers and dancers
performing sacred traditional legacies in a mall, to extending the reach of local artists with
developmental disabilities. With other leading US scholars she contended that "[w]orking in
this participatory, activist performance tradition gives back to the community, 'creating a
legacy of inquiry, a process of change, and material resources to enable transformations in
social practices" (Denzin, 2003, p. 272 and Fine et al., 2003, p.177). More than simple
exposing a passive audience to difference, she explored how Global Gallery could create
micro-level changes on a daily basis—developing initiatives that connected university interns
with the crisis of AIDS in Africa and the labors of local activists, to connecting Sudanese
refugees with an arts and political audience. Recounting the experiences of those multiple
communities with which she worked, she demonstrated an ability to create global change, and
for the purpose of this paper, effectively connects the first and third study explored.
Even before defending her dissertation, DeJong and Global Gallery board member
Jennifer Miller (the graduate student discussed in the subsequent section) attended an
international diversity conference in The Netherlands, visited fair trade retail and warehouse
operations in European nations, and co-authored a paper on fair trade and diversity. With
Amanda Alexander and myself, both additionally helped develop and deliver a three-screen
multi-media presentation on their separate and collective fair trade efforts at the US National
Art Education conference in New Orleans, Louisiana in 2008. At that assembly fair trade
coffees were served, and even convention center employees were challenged to think about the
development of defensible labor and sales practices—those that attend to not only the fiscal
well-being of artisans and consumers, but also the larger ecological contexts in which products
were created and brought to the market.
Dismantling Barriers to Fair Trade Education in the Undergraduate Classroom
Jennifer Miller’s masters thesis explored her research on students’ responses to curriculum
and pedagogy that addresses economic, social and environmental injustice. Her study reviewed a
range of strategies for dismantling those personally and culturally constructed barriers diverting
students attention from the existence of unjust trading practices. As a graduate teaching assistant,
she grounded both the ideological framework for her thesis, and the curriculum design of a
secondary writing course, in the social justice literature—exploring the works of bell hooks
(1994 & 2003), Kevin Kumashiro (2004), Diane Goodman (2001), Cornel West (2004), Adams,
Bell & Griffin (1997), among others. Considering student reflexive writing and responses to
viewed film(s), sampling of Fair Trade chocolates, and handling of Fair Trade craft and arts
products as data, she demonstrated how the use of multi-sensorial experiences in the classroom
could be an effective tactic for making the at-times difficult knowledge (Britzman, 1998) of
students’ participation in the maintenance of the problem known. Miller theorized that by
making the concept of unfair trade more tangible, students might more openly begin to grapple
with their power and choices as consumers—a process of self-examination that was integral to
her teaching and student learning—a pedagogy that translated into direct action for social
Key within Miller’s thesis was the premise that the existence of injustice must be accepted
before a student would choose to participate in Fair Trade efforts. Rather than proselytize to
students, she maintained that Fair Trade educators consider the social, economic, language and
cultural barriers when designing multicultural educational programs and curricula. Jennifer’s
thesis maintained were two primary conceptual barriers rendering trade injustices invisible in
American society; meritocracy/classism, and consumerism. Considering ways of making the
discomforting of acknowledgment of a students’ own privilege, and its disadvantaging harm to
others bearable, she suggested that the often well-meaning pedagogical approaches of critical
theorists (un)intentionally (re)produced students’ sense of hopelessness and at times rendered
them paralyzed and unwilling to take action.
This participatory action research employed multiple data-collection methods and adapted
alternate approaches to teaching about social and economic injustice through examinations of
trade and international policy concerning ecological, social, cultural and economic interests.
Miller’s students completed pre- and post-pedagogical project perceptual surveys. She then
analyzed, students’ written responses to assigned readings and reflections on the curriculum, and
took field notes regarding student reception to the class field trip taken to Global Gallery, and the
overview provided by the staff. Each of these data sources confirmed that a student’s first hand
experiences with works of a fair trade artisans, their consumption of fair-trade chocolates, and
listening to fair trade producers’ narratives constituted a transformative experience.
Not only did this curriculum modification to a 367.01 secondary writing course about
Multicultural Art Education impact student perception and understanding of fair trade and class
privilege, but the pedagogical innovations were subsequently integrated into the course of study
in future years. Since the study was completed, Miller has been contracted to inspire and guide
graduate teaching assistants through the curricular unit, and introduce them to fair trade.
Christine Ballengee-Morris, a co-creator of the Multiethnic Arts course (ArtEduc 367.01), and
both current coordinator of graduate studies and supervisor of graduate students teaching the
course credits Miller for helping reshape the curriculum – providing students direct opportunities
for changing behaviors and revaluing the work of artisans from around the globe.
Supporting and Challenging Fair Trade Proponents’ Projects of Research and Advocacy
In the interest of brevity, I will not repeat my opening remarks situating the three studies
above in the context of post-colonial studies (Minh-ha, 1989, 1991; Bhabha, 1984; Ballengee-
Morris, 2002; Prakash & Esteva, 1998), and qualitative research (Pinar, Reynolds, Slattery &
Taubum, 1996; Tierney & Lincoln, 1997), nor will I dwell on their address of race (West,
1994, 1995; Hill-Collins, 1990; hooks, 1989), class (Bordieu, 2006; Marx & Engel, 2006;
Bennett, 1986, 1999), ethnicity (Alred, 2000; Fine, Weis, Powell & Wong, 1997), gender
(hook, 1990; Cixous, 1976), or sexuality (Alcoff, 2006; Apple, 1975; Butler 1990, 2004) issues
encountered in mentoring (Mullen, 2005; Tierney, 1997) emerging researchers, but will simply
say that this continues to be a messy and complicated business. Having reviewed their
differing research methods and contributions to the field, I maintain there is value in openly
ideological research (Lather, 1986) that works toward the ends of economic justice, cross-
cultural understanding and social change (Popular Memory Group, 1982; Cunningham, 2003).
But this work must be done while troubling our constructions of meaning based on data
gathered across cultural and ethnic context (Britzman, 2000; Peshkin, 1982; Clandinin &
Connelly, 1994; Alcoff. 1991)—ever mindful of the inequitable distributions of power and
authority, and those researcher interests that might potentially shape one’s capacity to hear the
In contextualizing my own embrace of Fair Trade, I should note that my first decade of
work outside academe (1977-87), included countless lessons learned as executive director of
Arkansas’ statewide craft cooperative—a leadership position concurrently held while
conducting independent research and managing two other statewide initiatives (a
Comprehensive Training and Employment Training Act funded Craft Apprenticeship program,
and serving as a co-researcher and consultant for an Ozark Regional Commission study, Craft:
The Human Dimension). Working toward rural economic development, these initiatives
supported the production, promotion and sales of traditional and contemporary craftworks, but
often without critically considering the risks and challenges involved in documenting and
intervening in the transformations of regional cultures until AFTER its collateral damages had
occurred (challenges discussed below).
Since the mid-1970s collaborative research, learning and social change initiatives in
which I have been engaged demonstrated a commitment to diverse cultural expressions,
economic & human rights and social justice—commitments that aimed to deepen cross-
cultural understanding and greater sensitivity to the ongoing ecological, social and economic
challenges facing global citizens in the 21st century. Over the course of the last year, that work
has been guided by indigenous Native American Indian scholars and theorists—those who
remind me of the ongoing privileges from which I continue to benefit and a US citizen. It is
my sincere hope, however, that in passing the baton of social action to students undertaking
research and international interventions in the emerging century, that they will humbly work
toward reconciliation and redistributive justice, recognizing the inequitable US consumption of
resources that advanced National political and economic interests in the 20th century, and that
often came at a high cost to those in whose populations we now work.
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