Methods beyond methods: a model for Africana graduate methods training.

Author:Best, Latrica E.


As with any field of study, Black Studies has grappled with its overall mission. However, unlike perceived mainstream disciplines, Black Studies arose out of the 1960's fight for social justice, thus providing the field with a unique foundation built on activism as well as interdisciplinary perspectives. The extent to which the discipline is integrated with other areas remains highly contested. On one hand, some Africana scholars embrace and support the discipline's interdisciplinary nature and view Black Studies as an extension of other fields. With this philosophy, specific topics within Africana Studies are studied within the realm of other disciplines' research methodology (Rojas, 2011), and in some cases, theoretical frameworks. Historical (Dagbovie, 2005, 2007; Daniel, 1980) and sociological (Carroll, 2014; Daniel, 1980, 1981; Rojas and Byrd, 2012) theory and methods are evident in work done by Black Studies scholars. On the other hand, a contrasting opinion on the mission of Black Studies contends that the discipline is completely distinct from other areas of study, with divergent theoretical and methodological assumptions (Alex-Assensoh, 2003; Asante, 2003, 2006, 2010). By not recognizing and employing African-centered theory and methodology, according to this point-of-view, researchers are simply taking Eurocentric beliefs and practices to study disparate diasporic issues (Alkalimat, 1986; Asante, 2003).

Viewpoints aside, the very structure of many Black Studies departments are often interdisciplinary in nature. This aspect can be seen in the large share of faculty who are affiliated with other departments, and the field's faculty are trained in. In some cases, affiliated faculty outnumber core faculty (Kershaw, 2010), which can impact various aspect of departmental life such as fully embracing the interdisciplinary nature of the field. Whether departments embrace an interdisciplinary climate or establish itself as a distinct intellectual entity depends largely on the curriculum offered to its students. In particular, the methodological training received at the graduate level plays an important role in not only the department's intellectual identity but also the future identity of Black Studies. Through this methodological training, graduate students are not only taught how to conduct research, but more importantly, how to understand the assumptions and interpretations that frames their research projects and discussions of diasporic communities.

Research methods are vital to the growth and sustainability of Black Studies, as they provide a manner in which to create and test theory as well as allow for comparisons and complexities of people within and outside of the Diaspora. Research methodology, as discussed in Africana-focused publications as well as in course offerings (from what we garnered through departments' websites) are often skewed toward qualitative-based techniques. While this line of research remains a crucial component of research on the Diaspora, embracing quantitative techniques, particularly within our Black Studies graduate curricula, provides students with more tools for examining their research.

Improving students' knowledge of quantitative-based research can assist with identifying flawed arguments about African-descended communities. Accurate and thoughtful data and research techniques are sorely needed, as much of the public and privately funded grants and policydriven agendas rely overwhelmingly on quantitative data that, at times, improperly depict the lived experiences in diasporic communities.

The recent increase of doctoral-granting programs in Black Studies signals a commitment of both departments and universities in cultivating knowledge "in house." As with many doctoral programs, particularly in the social sciences, doctoral students often are required to take some variation of core courses in the theory and research methodology of that particular discipline. Depending on the orientation of both the discipline and the specific department, the methodology requirements consist of qualitative methods, quantitative methods, or some variation of both orientations. Depending on the expertise and size of the department, among other factors, some doctoral programs may outsource required courses to other departments. Given this recent rise of doctoral programs in Black Studies, a discussion as to who is teaching methodology to graduate students is warranted. More specifically, this article explores the importance of requiring and offering critical quantitative methods courses in graduate programs in Black Studies, and discusses the methods requirement of doctoral students in Pan-African Studies at the University of Louisville.

Assessing Quantitative Methods in Black Studies

To get a rough sense of whether Black Studies programs are offering quantitative research methodology courses within departments, we explored the doctoral-granting departments and their course offerings online. For the purpose of this article, we refer to doctoral programs in Black Studies that, for the most part (1), are doctoral programs granted within stand-alone Black Studies departments. Doctoral granting programs in Black Studies departments now total 13, spanning across nearly each region of the United States: Howard University, Harvard University, Indiana University-Bloomington, Michigan State University, Northwestern University, Ohio State University, Temple University, University of California-Berkeley, University of Louisville, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, University of Texas-Austin, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Yale University. We examined the departments' websites and, when actual course numbers were provided, the university registrars' websites in order to obtain further information on whether quantitative methods were taught within the departments. We recognize this is a crude measure for examining a department's doctoral requirements; however, this quick survey of course offerings are adequate in framing our discussion on quantitative methodology within Black Studies.

The doctoral programs did not mention explicitly a quantitative methods course as a requirement except for two, the University of Wisconsin's Africology doctoral program and the University of Louisville's Pan-African Studies program. Combining both qualitative and quantitative methodological approaches in Africology 701, entitled Theories and Methods in Empirical Research in Africology, Wisconsin-Milwaukee provides a course that is described as covering the "applicability of particular...

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