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How does my positionality matter for a potential future in the field of co-management?

Written by: Ruth Riley, Marine Affairs Program, Graduate Student

Introduction to positionality and co-management

Ruth testing the temperature and salinity on a boat off the Bay of Fundy during a trip (Source: Georgia Cooney)

Positionality is about reflecting on your identity and how your experiences, potential biases and interactions influence your life. Positionality is especially important when pursuing research, as it requires deep personal reflection to how your life intersects with your work. On a personal note, starting my master’s degree has allowed me to reflect on my positionality and how it affects my decision making. As I pursue my own research, positionality has become important to how I will do my research.


But how can positionality be relevant to the field of co-management? Co-management has many definitions, however the key aspect to understanding co-management is that it’s a process between different people/institutions to achieve a common goal. Therefore, knowing one’s positionality is beneficial when discussing wildlife co-management with a range of other people that have their own unique positionalities. If I were to look at my own positionality, how would that influence work that I would may do in the co-management field? 


Family and racial background

This blog is written in part as a requirement of a course I am currently taking at Dalhousie University (MARA 5012 – Community Based Co-Management) which is located in Mi’kma’ki, the unceded and ancestral land of the Mi’kmaq people. I would encourage everyone to learn more about the land that they reside/work in, and to look at resources such as the Assembly of First Nations to learn about these important land rights. The greater purpose of this blog is to reflect on my own positionality and how my life influences the work I plan to do – which may include co-management. The most prominent aspect of my positionality and identity is that I am a Black woman. I come from a small Black community in Nova Scotia, and historically, Black people in Nova Scotia have been marginalized and racialized since the times of slavery. Unfortunately, because of this history, many of my family and community members were not given the same opportunities that I was fortunate enough to have. If you are interested in learning more about Black history in Nova Scotia, the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia has resources and information on their website.


Even then, it has been difficult being a minority and a woman in the field of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math); many obstacles, primarily those of racist nature, have been in my way since I was a child. I also come from a single parent household, and I am an only child; in society the normal familial structure is mother, father, and more than one child. This norm has affected how I perceive aspects of my own life and the world around me. Despite what may seem to be a complex identity, my familial and racial identity have helped shaped me into the person I am today. I’ve been able to be grateful for my culture and appreciate, as well as celebrate, the differences of everyone around me.


Education and co-management

Image generated by DALL-E-3 based on a summary prompt of this blog.

Moving away from my familial and racial identities and looking at my educational identity, this is where I find another part of my positionality that influences who I am. Entering a graduate studies program that is about equipping future marine managers to tackle key issues in interdisciplinary ways is, to be completely transparent, not the path I had thought I would have taken. I come from a natural science background; I was taught during my first degree that proving and providing evidence that your research question is true is the only way to properly get an answer.


However, I’ve learned that most issues are complex and don’t have one clear pathway to a solution. It is true that science can help us provide answers, but that’s just through a scientific lens. There are other perspectives that need to be considered to have a good co-management strategy. In recent times, Indigenous Peoples have been able to have a greater say on co-management boards concerning their homelands and wildlife resources; however, implementing their knowledge has not been happening as efficiently as it should be. Many still believe that scientific ways of knowing are the only “real” way to manage wildlife. I believe that the Indigenous community have deep and vast knowledge of species that are not only important to the area that they have been residing in for centuries, but also species that are culturally important to their livelihoods and identity. Listening to their deep understanding of management is one aspect of the conversation – actioning knowledge of Indigenous Peoples (which is just as valuable as scientific knowledge) in a method that ensures their concerns are heard in a meaningful and respectful way is critical. This is something that I have learned quickly, despite the short span of time that I have been in graduate school.


Concluding thoughts

I’ve come to understand the importance of working together effectively with people that have different perspectives, regardless of what the project or field is. If I were to work in co-management, I’d be able to link my own positionality with co-management; my own experiences and thoughts can bring a unique perspective to how we manage wildlife, which is what co-management is all about. Learning how to be active listeners and appreciating the knowledge that everyone has is what makes co-management work. It’s important for all of us to be open-minded and accepting of our differences, because together we can make a change.

Additional reading:

Robinson, O., & Wilson, A. (2022). A Note on Reflexivity and Positionality.

Holmes, A. G. D. (2020). Researcher Positionality—A Consideration of Its Influence and Place in Qualitative Research—A New Researcher Guide. Shanlax International Journal of Education, 8(4), Article 4.

Jacobson, D., & Mustafa, N. (2019). Social Identity Map: A Reflexivity Tool for Practicing Explicit Positionality in Critical Qualitative Research. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 18, 1609406919870075.

Relevant podcast:

Snook, J. (2023, November 20). Episode 7: Cultural competence and ocean equity with Dr. Cinda Scott (7) [YouTube].

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