Agrawal - Dismantling the divide
between Indigenous and Scientific Knowledge
In "Dismantling the Divide between Indigenous and
Scientific Knowledge", Arun Agrawal argues the distinction
between indigenous and scientific knowledge is problematic.
Currently, indigenous knowledge is viewed as a valuable resource,
one allowing its holders to exist in 'harmony' with nature.
This view of indigenous knowledge has made it particularly
relevant in discussions regarding sustainability and development.
However, indigenous knowledge was not always conceptualized
in this way. In the 1950's and 1960's, developmental theorists
viewed indigenous knowledge as inferior and hindering development.
Agrawal argues shifting viewpoints of indigenous knowledge
is due to the failure of modern science and grand theory to
improve the life chances of native peoples.
How does western knowledge differ from indigenous knowledge?
Agrawal lists 3 common themes that are used to describe differences
between the two types of knowledge:
However, by distinguishing indigenous knowledge from scientific
knowledge, theorists are caught in a dilemma. Focus on indigenous
knowledge has gained native peoples an audible voice in development.
Yet, this distinction creates a dichotomy between indigenous
and scientific knowledge. This dichotomy is especially problematic
because of the exchange and communication between the two
types of knowledge. Arun argues that the distinction between
indigenous and scientific is completely artificial.
"Substantive differences between indigenous and western
knowledge presumably lie in their subject matter and their
characteristics." Indigenous knowledge is depicted as
concrete, being closely tied to technical solutions indigenous
people face in their daily lives. Western knowledge is depicted
as abstract and analytical, divorced from the lives of people.
However, empirical research has shown that indigenous knowledge
is also abstract. Similarly, western knowledge also has a
utilitarian aspect that is apparent in every aspect of life.
In terms of methods, indigenous knowledge is assumed to be
bound structural constraints where western knowledge can move
beyond these constraints. This assumption implies western
science is somehow 'open' where indigenous knowledge is 'closed.'
Feyerabend(1975) argues that western science has been resistant
to inquairy outside of institutionalized science. To say indigenous
knowledge is closed is also inaccurate. New knowledge introduce
to indigenous culture creates a range of attitutudes ranging
from admiration to embarrassment. Despite popular views of
the scientific method, philosophers of science have been unable
to discern any differences between science and 'non-science.'
In terms of context, indigenous knowledge is conceptualized
as being embedded within a particular community and bound
by space and time. The context for western knowledge is universal.
Context too is problematic. The application of western approaches
to development have failed due to their ignorance of social,
cultural, and political contexts in which they were implemented.
The application of indigenous knowledge of one group to another
group implies that traditional knowledge can move beyond the
constraints of time and space.
Agrawal concludes that the distinction between indigenous
and scientific knowledge separates 'us' from 'them.' When
we recognize how these two types of knowledge are similar,
we can begin a "productive dialogue that safe guards
the interests who are disadvantages."
Agrawal, Arun. "Dismantling the divide between Indigenous
and Scientific Knowledge." Development and Change.
Feyerabend, P. Against Method. London:Verso,(1975)
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