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Talanoa as Empathic Research 

Trisia Farrelly, Unaisi Nabobo-Baba

2012 Fiji, Pasifika

Talanoa has recently been taken up by development practitioners and others as an appropriate research method in Pacific contexts. However, there is a danger that talanoa is simply replacing „informal open-ended interviews‟ whilst glossing over its emotional and cultural complexity. Empathy is an intersubjective and embodied experience which is vital to ethnographic research in development contexts. In this presentation, I will explore talanoa as a culturally appropriate ethnographic Indigenous method in the Pacific. Talanoa has been defined as talking about nothing in particular, chat, or gossip and it is within the cultural milieu of talanoa that knowledge and emotions are shared. Those who write about talanoa as a Pacific research methodology describe talanoa as a holistic and embodied amalgamation of the emotions, knowledge, interests, and experiences between researcher and participant/s. For indigenous Fijians, values such as empathy, respect, love and humility are essential to the vanua as indigenous worldview. Talanoa is an embodied expression of the vanua concept. Highlighting the connection between talanoa and empathy is vital in ensuring development practitioners and other Pacific researchers are implicitly aware of the political dimensions, cultural appropriacy, and socio-ecological impact of their research methods. This connection is also critical in illuminating how the appropriate application of talanoa as method may decolonise research in the Pacific and contribute to empowering development policy and practice. 

talanoa, empathy, decolonising methods, Pacific