ASA Decennial Conference - Anthropology and Science

Beyond science: approaches to local knowledge in development

Contact Convenor: Alan Bicker

Department of Anthropology, University of Kent
Canterbury, CT2 7NS

Tel: 01227 764 000 (3686 ext)

Co-Convenor: Paul Sillitoe 

Panel abstract

Several writers have shown systematically why local knowledge (often called indigenous knowledge) has a large developmental potential, but that its utilisation in development is ambiguous. It consists of formal, science-like knowledge, as well as skills and capabilities, much of which have some empirical grounding. It is culturally situated and best understood as a ‘social product’: local knowledge is often tacit and only partially verbalised, even though it may be complex and comprehensive. Its practical application in development has thus far been seen as one of tackling technological problems. But drawing on local knowledge is a political issue in any development context. It is theoretically fuzzy.

This panel will consider how development experts, as well as by their critics, have instrumentalised and idealised this local science. It is assumed that local knowledge is the basis for building local capacity and competence, and should be applied simply as a counter-model to western science. Local knowledge should define the extent to which external scientific and other knowledge (and information) need to be introduced and integrated as a constructive contribution to local adaptation to changing natural and socio-economic environments. As a consequence, these approaches imply that external institutions, including westernised national institutions, should participate in the activities of local people.

Research has been directed at defining the extent to which external scientific and technological knowledge needs to be introduced and integrated into local knowledge systems. Yet local knowledge does not necessarily present itself as a comprehensive knowledge system, and experience has shown that activities based on it are not necessarily either socially just or sustainable. It is not necessarily equally shared by all members of a ‘community’, and yet it has been assumed that its application depends on the knowledge pool being commonly available. As a result even when local knowledge is taken into account not all stand to benefit. Moreover, while modern agricultural approaches are regularly condemned for increasingly making traditional practices and knowledge less applicable, in many cases the latter do not work because of fundamental changes in the material conditions of cultivation or in indigenous modes of subsistence. Within the context of development measures then, local knowledge has weaknesses as well as strengths, both of which result from its local and situated character. In sum, too much has been assumed about the dynamics of local knowledge, and therefore its applicability.

This session will examine the ramifications of the application of local knowledge to the development process, given that development activities based on local knowledge are not necessarily socially just nor environmentally sustainable.

We shall explore these issues by examining new directions and approaches within anthropology to local knowledge, and the methodological implications for anthropology:

  1. By examining the interface between science and local knowledge in development contexts
  2. By assessing the dynamics of local knowledge acquisition and use within communities and the extent to which it is shared.
  3. By reviewing how, and to what extent local knowledge has been integrated with science and related technology in development processes.
  4. By assessing the impact of efforts to promote local science on the achievement of stated developmental objectives of social equity and sustainability.

Anthropology has a wealth of experience on these and other related issues and has a great deal to offer the indigenous knowledge versus science debate. This workshop intends to explore how it can do this more effectively by looking into the socio-political and methodological issues involved in the context of development.

Peasants versus ichthyologists: a comparison of indigenous with scientific fish knowledge in Bangladesh

Mahbub Alam, Bangladesh Resources Centre for Indigenous Knowledge (BARCIK) & Paul Sillitoe, University of Durham

In this paper we shall compare and contrast some aspects of scientists’ knowledge of fish with that of people living on the floodplains of Bangladesh. (The data come largely from the Charan region of Tangail District, in central Bangladesh.) In order to set the scene we firstly review local and scientific classifications of fish. We use a catalogue of locally identified fish to compare the local classification of fish according to jowel and ojowel categories, which relate to different species’ ability to live when caught, with scientific family, genus and species categories, which relate to zoology’s Linnean-Darwinian scheme.

We go on to contrast the use local people make of their classification scheme with scientists’ use of their one. We investigate similarities and differences between them. We see what local people think are important features in characterising different fish, notably why they value some more highly than others (e.g. good to eat, tasty, cheap to buy, easy to catch, easy to keep in ponds, cook well etc.), and compare these ideas with those of fish scientists, notably the fish species they research and why they work on these fish and not others (i.e., they grow large, grow quickly, live in certain places, are easy to raise, breed easily, fingerlings readily obtainable, donor projects push them etc.).

We analyse these data according to local peoples’ socio-economic positions (e.g. rich farmers, fishers, sharecroppers, labourers etc), gender, geographical locale of their villages, their religion (Muslim, Hindu etc.), and age, and likewise for fish scientists, according to position (e.g. university lecturer, researcher, aid worker, donor official etc), gender, Bangladeshi or foreigner, home town in Bangladesh (or elsewhere), and age. We are interested not only in investigating differences between local peoples’ ideas about fish and scientists’ ideas, but also how local peoples’ ideas differ from one another and how scientists’ ideas differ from one another (e.g. by sex, occupation etc.).

What we have in mind is a comparison with studies conducted on rice farming, where it has been shown that plant breeders have developed new high yielding varieties that are unpopular with many people because of their poor organoleptic qualities and the expense of cultivating them, poor farmers unable to afford to grow them because of the cost of inputs etc. Our objective is to assess the extent to which scientists’ work in fisheries and aquaculture development interventions (to breed larger fish, better ways to feed pond fish, promote rapid fish growth, or how to stop fish diseases etc) match local peoples’ needs and ideas.

Development and local knowledge‚ in the Çumra Plain, Konya

David Shankland, Bristol University

Building upon my argument originally put forward in the 2000 ASA conference, I argue that our dichotomy when considering development should not be between 'local' and 'scientific' at all, but rather between localised and generalised systems of knowledge. Of these two, and contrary to the way the terms are usually construed, I would suggest that good science is the more localised (or that which contains the more 'local') because it enables the detailed evaluation of highly specific alternatives that vary according to circumstances. When 'scientific development' is applied as a blanket philosophy regardless of the specific settings in which it is to be replied, I would argue that it has less to do with rational enquiry than abstract generalisations that loose much of their logical validity because of their underestimating the complexity of the processes involved in assuring sustainable development. This interpretation, which is exemplified throughout my talk by drawing on ethnographic material from the Çumra Plain in Anatolia, implies that our need is not so much to eschew 'science' as to be prepared to be far more flexible in the application of knowledge. Likewise, in as much as indigenous knowledge may feed into a process of scientific development that is sensitive literally down to its cutting edge, it is a positive thing. If, however, it only leads to the perpetuation of religious or esoteric philosophies that are unquestionable, then it is as potentially harmful as unthinking 'development'. In this approach, the key positive issues become feedback and flexibility, the negative that which is imposed without the possibility of reformulation, whether it be labelled 'scientific' or 'local'.

Pastoralism, local knowledge and development in Northern Queensland

Benjamin R. Smith, Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Australian National University and Australian Environmental Studies, Griffith University

The proposed paper seeks to explore Aboriginal Australian approaches to self-determination and community development through the establishment of pastoral enterprises in northern Queensland. Following from the initial workshop proposal, I intend to examine a situation in which introduced agricultural approaches have become incorporated into a body of traditional practices and knowledge, only to be incapacitated through regional economic and political shifts. The resulting situation, which has contributed to widespread economic, social and cultural malaise over the past three decades has, to some extent, been addressed by movements towards self-determination, self-management and decentralised community development, with a particular focus on the development of Aboriginal cattle enterprises and living spaces on traditional country. However, the ability of this movement to achieve sustainable development outcomes has proved to be questionable.

Focusing on the interface between local communities, regional organisations and the social and natural scientists in their employ, the paper will examine the ways in which local knowledge continues to mesh with originally exogenous ideas and practices and, conversely, the ways that development in the region represents local knowledge as a basis for its own activities. The paper will also review the political economy of regional development and, in particular, the relationship between an originally acephalous society, and the transformations arising from ongoing encapsulation within the Australian nation-state.

Takiekari: the use of local and scientific knowledge in a college curriculum

Rocío De-Aguinaga, Francisco Morfín & Alexandra Aguilar-Ros, ITESO/ University of Manchester

The Wixaritari are an Indian group located in the Sierra Madre Occidental in Western México. Among the Indian groups in México they are considered to have one of the strongest, historical identities in the country. In their relations with their state government the Wixaritari have had complex negotiations where they have a strong say in how they want government’s services in their communities.

Two Wixaritari communities have asked Iteso, a public University in Guadalajara, to help them to design a curriculum for a college (preparatoria) school. The design, which is still in process specifically had to enable the students to achieve autonomy by generating skills to understand and articulate both western and indigenous culture.

In the process of dialogue for the construction of the curriculum’s contents between the Iteso team and the Wixaritari  teachers, takiekari was found to be an axe that enabled the curriculum to grasp an intercultural articulation between what is consider the correct, scientific education and the Wixaritari  values and knowledge. Takiekari, is a central concept in the Wixarika Indian perception of the world which means “that which made us or constitutes us, our universe”. Five principles conforms takiekari: the territory or space Wixaritari  inhabit and which contains yurameka, or life’s essences (esencias), everything which is in constant movement and growth such as wind, heaven and earth; the past, present and future time; the costumbre or traditions; people and language. Takiekari is both circumstantial and holistic and it depends from where the Wixarika is situated in, be it work, school, home, or whatever context the person is.

The curriculum’s elaboration has had six main strategies agreed by the Iteso team and the Wixarika community: 1) the school was to be designed both by the Iteso team and Wixaritari  teachers 2) the design should consider a multicultural perspective, 3) it ought to articulate local and scientific (western) knowledge, 4) it will enable an education where solidarity, tradition and community will be the most important values, 5) learning activities will be contextualized and situated, and learning should be evidenced with public products; and the most important, 6) the work of the Wixaritari  teachers and the Iteso team must bring about an autonomous school held by the communities’ power.

A central assumption for this design was that the interpretative capacity for a person is derived from his/her sedimented knowledge of their own and another culture. This paper examines the designing process of the curriculum looking to identify the cues for articulate local and scientific knowledge in a learning process. These cues are methodological and have an impact on socio-political context.

Locality, local knowledge and conservation of the Saimaa ringed seal

Kate Hampshire, Gillian Wallace, Sandra Bell and Mika Tonder

The Saimaa ringed seal lives in the Saimaa lake system in Finland.  Knowledge derived from scientific methodologies has informed stringent conservation policies protecting the seals.  However, local perceptions of the seals behaviour often conflicts with scientific portrayals.  Unlike scientific knowledge, local knowledge does not pretend to be value-neutral or divorced from feelings, attitudes and emotions.  Instead, local knowledge is embedded in people’s practice, experience and identification with their landscape.  Local knowledge in this case study is constructed from a number of sources.  Human inhabitants of the Saimaa lake system derive their knowledge from firsthand experience, accounts of the seal by other locals and information obtained from fishing associations, local newspapers, magazines, scientific publications and folklore/popular music.  The conflict between local and scientific knowledge has strong implications for implementing a conservation policy that is sustainable for both seals and humans.

Rediscovering the shamans‚ song: competing epistemologies among the Lepchas in India

Vibha Arora, ISCA, Oxford

The cultural situatedness of indigenous knowledge (henceforth IK) is undeniable and problems of retrieval are acknowledged. It is often difficult to separate IK from religious, moral or symbolic knowledge. Among the Lepchas knowledge is sacred, secret and the prerogative of a select group. The shamans were the keepers and custodians of Lepcha culture and knowledge. The contemporary disappearance of the shaman has become the metaphorical expression of their loss of identity. The apprehensions are expressed by the title of an evocative work: Lepcha, my vanishing tribe by A.R. Foning.

Following the ethnographic example of the Lepchas, I have tried to situate the encounter between competing epistemologies of the shamanic, Buddhist and modern scientific knowledge. It is argued that IK is emerging as a political metaphor for the assertion of identities. However the Lepcha community is divided internally due to their differing religious affiliations. The attempt by the Lepcha community to rediscover their roots and the emergence of the shaman as the symbol of their revivalist movement has wider implications. Based on my ethnography I would like to suggest that there are dangers in uncritical valorisation of IK and a simplistic criticism of modern knowledge systems.

Technology vs techniques of steel production = global vs. local?

Massimiliano Mollona, London School of Economics

The paper explores the relationships between macroeconomics and working practices and social relations on the shop- floor of a small tool factory located in an ex- working class district of Sheffield. Since the seminal work of H. Braverman (1974), modern factory production is assumed to create a separation between the workers’ actions - incorporated into the predetermined movements of the machines- and their knowledge – externalised into universal market numerals and standards of production. At a broader level, the assumption that modern economic systems rely on standardised forms of production has informed macroeconomic policies both in times of industrialisation and in more recent times of industrial decline.

Drawing on my one-year-and- a-half experience of work in the factory, I show that on the shop- floor the ‘technology of production’ - that rely on standardised knowledge- coexists with ‘techniques’ of production (M. Mauss, 1979) that rely on implicit, non- linguistic and bodily knowledge socially constructed and transmitted in the neighbourhood. In the light of the work of B. Pfaffenberger (1987), I show how the technological system is negotiated among the workers and shaped by the broader dynamics of de- industrialisation.

Indigenous knowledge in agriculture: potential and opportunities

M. Ehsan Akhtar, National Agricultural Research Centre, Islamabad, Pakistan, M. Tahir Saleem & Alan Bicker, University of Kent

While there are efforts in the developing countries to move and improve agriculture with science-based knowledge, the yield of crops and their quality hardly qualify to be a product of science. After some improvement yields are stuck half way to their potential and the quality of produce hardly matters. This is a serious issue for the future of agriculture, and thereby the development of progress in developing countries. This paper will argue that the solution lies in the integration of indigenous knowledge and skills with science-based practices, both for increasing productivity and sustaining it for future generations.

The continued reliance on chemical fertilizers and non-utilization of (free) organic resources on the farm is a good example of IK-disintegration. Efforts to rectify this situation by practising an integrated nutrient system have failed because we have failed to incorporate indigenous practices such as using farmyard manure and compost and the inclusion of legumes in crop rotations – practices which have gone out of fashion with the advent of modern agriculture. This has not only led to an unbalanced uptake of nutrient resource but has also greatly advanced soil degradation and nutrient deficiencies.

Another example of IK-Integration would be the reclamation of salinated land through the use of indigenous plants, grasses, shrubs and trees (bio-saline agriculture in today’s terminology). Many plant species are available which could be usefully adopted to help mitigate such situations.

Control of plant diseases and pests is another area warranting attention. The injudicious use of chemical pesticides has proven hazardous both to humans and the environment. Lots of indigenous plants such as neem (Azadirachta indica) are available and could be exploited through systematic study for their insecticidal properties. Despite massive post-harvest losses, history is replete with instances how indigenous societies used to preserve their stored grains!

The paper will discuss these challenges and will highlight some of the possible strategies for integrating indigenous knowledge and skills with modern scientific practices for sustainable development of agriculture.

What is ‘traditional’ about traditional knowledge: local knowledge and development among the Piaroa

Serena Heckler, University of Kent at Canterbury

In recent decades, much debate has focussed on the nature of local knowledge, how it is (or is not) structured and how it compares to scientific knowledge. In this paper, I argue that the crucial issue for the transmission and maintenance of local knowledge is not its nature, but rather the cultural context in which it is created and transmitted. In this sense, instruments of social change, such as development projects and schools, may institute programmes to conserve individual data, such as names and uses of plants, but whether this is an equivalent to maintaining local knowledge or has a long term chance of success must be critically examined. This paper explores the impacts of an agricultural development project upon the lives and local knowledge of Piaroa living in the Venezuelan Amazon. In so doing, the embeddedness of local knowledge within a traditional economy is demonstrated and the feasibility of using a market economy to ‘preserve’ that knowledge is questioned.

Seminole and hurricane: a hidden transcript of knowledge

Shahed Hassan, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh and University of South Florida, USA

For generations, the indigenous peoples in the world have successfully used their environmental and ecological knowledge in everyday affairs. The present paper tries to highlight such a knowledge system that exists among one of the indigenous groups of the United States, the Seminoles. More specifically, the paper attempts to document the weather reading skill of the Seminoles when it comes to perceiving and predicting of the coming of hurricanes, a devastating natural phenomenon that frequently affect the Atlantic coast of the state. In doing so data were collected from the key Seminole informants of Big Cypress of Florida and the generated information has been analyzed from an anthropological perspective.

Field stations as scientific instruments in development

Dr. Michael Bravo, Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge University

My argument is that a field station can be understood as a kind of scientific instrument insofar as it is a vehicle for putting into practice the goals of a science policy.  The changing role of the Igloolik Research Centre from its inception to the present offers an interesting opportunity to reflect upon what one can learn from its successes.

My aim here is to compare the station’s initial purposes, as outlined at the planning stage in the early 1970s, with its later emergence as a leading example of community-led research into its own traditional knowledge. The Eastern Arctic Research Laboratory, as it was originally named, envisaged local involvement in the liberal terms of utility or benefits of science flowing to the community. The laboratory facilitated the production of field studies in several disciplines including physiology, zoology, ecology, and anthropology, and to a lesser extent, community education.  It also provided a base, presence, and a sense of continuity for the seasonal visits of field scientists, and played important mediating and regulating roles between the visitors and the community. Gradually, the laboratory managers developed ways to collaborate in the use of the laboratory with the community.

In recent years, the traditional demand from to university-based researchers has declined owing to spiralling costs of fieldwork. Local and regional scientific priorities, more closely connected to indigenous self-determination, have moved to the forefront. Given that the laboratory has now an unrivalled reputation as a site of traditional knowledge research, it has been interesting to reflect on the regional government’s attempts to incorporate traditional knowledge practices into policy, in ways that adequately makes sense of the experience of the research centre.

Liberating development from itself: the politics of local knowledge as negotiation of the global

John Clammer and Marian Moya, Sophia University, Tokyo

Current discussions within anthropology of the nature of culture, including its role in the revived discourse of “culture and development” are tending to focus on the essentializing qualities of the traditional concept and on the practical variations in behaviour, which make any blanket use of the term theoretically and practically of little use. As discourses of local knowledge are to a great extent displacing the older language of culture in development anthropology, crucial questions are emerging both as to the characterization of those knowledges, in particular the dangers of confusing ontology and epistemology in local knowledge systems and the politics of those systems. This paper, utilizing data from Japan and the Southeast Asia, argues for the fundamentally political nature of knowledge, including local varieties. By examining the conditions of the production of local knowledge systems it will propose a model of the strategic, synthesizing and negotiating between levels (global-local and many intermediate levels) of local knowledges that not only challenges the notion of local knowledge prevalent within development studies, but also suggests the ways in which local knowledge systems in fact represent the seeds of alternative anthropologies and hence of potentially radically alternative conceptions of development itself.

The scientific and local performance of ‘local knowledge’: shellfish farming in the Natural Park of Ria Formosa, Portugal

Gonçalo Praça, CEAS (Social Anthropology Studies Centre), ISCTE, Lisbon

This paper builds up on recent notions of “situated” and “hybrid” knowledges, or Michel Callon’s “open air science”, to examine the complex intermingling of knowledge repertoires in the Natural Park of Ria Formosa, Southern Portugal. I’ll refer to a “traditional” activity and body of knowledge – shellfish farming – and to the often contending processes through which it is performed as such by the environment-friendly administration of the area and by shellfish farmers alike. Ria Formosa shellfish farmers systematically and politically oppose the scientific governance of their activity; and they do it by claiming for themselves an authority grounded on “experience” – the local concept for “indigenous knowledge”. At the same time, however, shellfish farmers create their own techno-scientific networks: they maintain links with commercial laboratories in the country or abroad; they organise study trips to shellfish farms in Europe; they perform true experimentations in their work places; they participate in technical meetings with scientific and government authorities; they engage relatives in academic careers related to the activity. I’ll examine these processes by looking at two conflicting strategies carried out by two shellfish farmers professional associations. One is the (failed?) attempt to turn an endemic species of clam into an government protected regional brand. The other one corresponds to the (more successful?) attempt to introduce foreign species of oyster.

‘Selling our own traditions...’: a polemology of local knowledge in Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini, Italia

Sandro Piermattei, Dipartimento Uomo & Territorio, Università degli Studi di Perugia

What kind of knowledge can be assumed to foster nature conservation and sustainable development? The local, traditional knowledge, which is presumed to have managed natural resources for centuries in sustainable ways? Or the translocal, scientific, administrative knowledge of park managers and local administrators, both involved in protectionist and development politics? These questions have arisen from a study on local agrobiodiversity, in the territory of the Monti Sibillini, conducted in collaboration with a team of geneticists, with the aim of recovering genetic resources of disappearing crop landraces and the knowledge linked to them.

In the context of a mountain area that has undergone massive social, economic and ecological transformation, the institutionalisation of a national park, to protect nature and stimulate new forms of sustainable development, has generated a widespread feeling of tension between different concepts of “territory” and “natural environment” as well as different attitudes towards “tradition”, “local knowledge” and local agrobiodiversity. Old farmers growing small gardens use their knowledge and resources as means of family subsistence; business farms and local administrators show an economically strategic use of tradition based on market opportunities offered by European and national laws on organic agriculture and typical products; park managers, mostly involved in promoting ecotourism in the territory, seem to be in many ways suspicious towards a “local culture of the environment”, which they often accuse to be scarcely respectful of wildlife. Thus the ecopolitical status and the nature itself of local knowledge change within the political and cultural results of its rhetoric and strategic use. Spanning, among different social actors, from means of subsistence to development resource and, even, environmental threat, local knowledge reveals the outline of a polemology of the local environmental and cultural heritage.

Anthropology as a local knowledge: Native Americans, American anthropologists, European indianists and the development of an epistemic diaspora

German V. Dziebel, Stanford University

As its empirical basis, my paper focuses on the phenomenon of organized grass-root re-enactment of traditional North American Indian cultures and religions in East and West Europe as I observed it during 18-months of field research in the former Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Poland and the countries of Benelux. Indianism as an anti-modernist counterculture movement has developed in Europe over the course of the 20th century as a mass technology of accumulating information on “traditional” Indian cultures, experimenting with “traditional” Indian practical, artistic and spiritual skills and constructing self-identity as an “Indian” and group-identity as an “Indian” tribe. I emphasize the influence of both anthropological representations of Native American cultures in the 19th-20th centuries, being a strategy of construction of American national identity, and Native American indigenous knowledge systems of interaction with Western culture on the European belief in the reproducibility of native cultures outside of their tribal contexts. I describe the triangulation of Native American cultural survival, the development of American anthropology as a form of local knowledge and Indianists’ attempt at repatriating European images and stereotypes of Indians through the transplantation of globally available local knowledge to new local settings. I demonstrate how kinship, race, ethnicity and identity become part of an epistemic process of shifting boundaries between the subject and the object, truth (authenticity) and falsehood (stereotype), hypothesis (“I am Indian” as voiced by European Indianists) and fact (“I am Indian” as voiced by Native Americans), cause and effect. I introduce the notion of epistemic diaspora to account for the phenomenon of manipulation of empirical “facts” related to individual personhood by means of theorizing the “anthropology” of one’s belonging to the global world in terms of exotic local knowledge.

“Our grandparents’ wine never went sour”: negotiating knowledge, defending identity

Gabriella Aspraki, Panteion University, Athens

The present paper focuses on the relationship between knowledge, development and identity. The material comes from long term fieldwork in Karagatsi, a depopulated mountain village with a strong viticulturalist tradition in Central Greece.

Karagatsiots have been renowned, at least from the turn of 20th century, for their expertise in viticulture and wine making, an activity which underwent major crisis  -as did the whole of village life- in post World War II era. Recently, however, viticulture is increasingly seen, both by villagers and development experts, as one of the means open to Karagatsi for viable development. Agricultural and development experts have entered the village as advisors and/or financers, and villagers, viticulturalists being foremost, have come to increasingly depend on them for their maintenance. Karagatsiots both endorse expert involvement and resent it as disempowering and threatening of their identity. In response to the situation they adopt three strategies: 1. experts are often undermined through criticism (even ridicule), 2. individuals seek to reduce their dependence on experts by investing on personal networks, 3. Karagatsiots appropriate expert knowledge and incorporate it into their practice.

Beyond agricultural science: exploring the boundaries of natural knowledge(s) and the material world in human practice.

Alberto Arce, University of Wageningen, The Netherlands & Eleanor Fisher, University of Wales Swansea

‘Beyond Science’ is not an easy venture.  One has to struggle to free oneself from the prestigious history and powerful methodology integral to agricultural science and its construction of scientific-technical systems.  To do this involves supporting the idea that there are no specifiable scientific-technical systems able to explain or control human action. Human action, unstable as it is in all its creativity and difficulties is not just another functional part of an agricultural scientific-technological frame. Human action does not always follow general cultural rules or a rationale based on scientific-technological principles.

Human action in agriculture is more than a demonstration that the power of knowledge is for humans to systematically pursues skilful technical principles.  This is in contrast to valuing the strength of nature or the cultural potential of others, for example, how people rather than scientists interpret reality, often in supernatural, hyper-natural, and unnatural ways. We need to recognise that this type of critical view has the capacity to undermine those assumptions upon which agricultural science was originally established.

Another problem is the questioning of the long-term incremental notion of progress through science and technology and also the benefits of this form of accumulation of knowledge. Especially when the scientific mission of mastering energy and the use of resources to increase production (food) no longer commands complete social acceptance. In other words, the inability to explain human action as part of agricultural technical systems and a questioning of the social acceptance of the mission of agricultural science, has brought into the discussion the nature of the social agreement that today enables agricultural scientists to do their jobs according to society’s values. This is especially so when these values have become uncertain in contemporary society.

To address this issue raises the need to question the continuing legitimacy of agricultural science within the public domain.  So to go Beyond Agricultural Science we need to critically examine the endowment of agricultural science to provide society with knowledge principles to control nature into productive practices to support society. Agriculture has been slow in recognising that today we need to work in science with natural objects and resources which exist at the boundaries of distinct ‘knowledge-worlds’, to the extend that a plant, animal or tree today may be understood differently and used to advance different aims by the communities involved. However, rather than focus on what divides these groups, i.e. scientific knowledge versus local knowledge or indigenous knowledge, we should emphasize what are and should be the relationships between these different world-views.

To understand the cultural endowment of agricultural science needs to be complemented by an understanding of how the changing relationships between science and society has broken traditional intellectual alliances and processes of organising resources in academia and development. This process has contributed to challenging the traditional position of agricultural science. This has questioning the social relevance of agricultural scientists at work and raising political issues. These political issues are forcing us to identify, which are the elements, and objects that different agricultural knowledge(s) need to share, as the embedded elements of the agricultural world in a diversity of human practices.

Do we need to go beyond agricultural science to satisfy the new agricultural demands of society? How can we seize this opportunity and for what ends? Is there a knowledge-based framework to re-situate agriculture as a post-modern science? To what extent do we need to move out from the notion of rationality, so important for the construction of technical systems? Do we need to better understand people’s agricultural production and consumption practices and their world-view before we re-construct natural knowledge?

In conclusion, agriculture should be imagined as a field of study of diverse people orientations, how they take risks, diminish vulnerability, and individually or collectively learn from existing livelihoods and their cultural relationships with natural things in the broadest sense of the term. This knowledge may help a sceptical society and us to identify which are the services agricultural knowledge needs to provide to a more reflexive and complex contemporary and changing world in which science itself has become phenomena in the making.

Harmful, idealised or strategic?  Representations of indigenous childbirth knowledge in industrial India

Judith Sim, University of Edinburgh

Drawing on an ethnography of childbirth practices in an industrial Indian city, this paper explores conflicting ways in which the ‘indigenous’ knowledge of dais (non-biomedically trained midwives) is represented in different forms of discourse – development initiatives promoting safe motherhood, romantically-inflected critiques of these, and by dais themselves, in the context of their everyday work in an area profoundly influenced by ‘modern’ biomedical childbirth provision.

Programmes to train dais in biomedical practice largely represent dais’ ‘indigenous’ knowledge through descriptions of contextually-isolated practical activities considered harmful in biomedical terms. This has been contested by those who see dais’ specialism inhering in ritual ‘shamanic’ practice – for which there is limited empirical evidence, and which contributes to an idealised picture of ‘third world’ birthing practices as a foil to Western technologised birth.

Dais in Jamshedpur self-conscious promotion of their knowledge as both ‘indigenous’ and superior to biomedicine is intimately shaped by strategies for expanding their practice amidst a dense network of biomedical institutions.  They emphasise the aspects of their work which contrast most strongly with locally-feared hospital practices for delivery.    This must, however, be understood within the context of their active practical engagement with biomedical institutions.  Their knowledge of the ways in which institutions work rather than adoption of biomedical techniques enhances their role as ‘brokers’ between different systems.

Agreeing to disagree: scientific classification and naming animals in the Papua New Guinea Highlands

Paul Sillitoe, University of Kent and Mahbub Alam, Bangladesh Resources Centre for Indigenous Knowledge (BARCIK)

The Wola of the New Guinea Highlands appear to conceive of animal taxonomy in a way that is simultaneously familiar to a scientist yet different.  This impression, of similarity mixed with strangeness, is frequently met with in accounts of how others classify natural phenomena and is often attributed to interaction between natural ecology and cultural context that act, respectively, to constrain the content and to condition the structure of any taxonomy.  The evidence presented here confirms this view, although the considerable, and initially disconcerting disagreements between persons over taxonomic issues prompts the paper to ask to what extent these Highlanders are doing something analogous to hierarchical classification in Western thinking when they order animals, or any other natural phenomena, into classes.  The stateless political environment conditions them constantly to challenge hierarchy, obfuscate boundaries and think in terms of fuzzy sets, confounding the assumption of agreed classes.  It seems to threaten intellectual anarchy.  Yet the taxonomic regime intriguingly contrives to offset this, facilitating discourse in the absence of authorities to adjudicate in disputes.  It is suggested that no formal classificatory scheme devised so far can adequately represent the ever-negotiated oral tradition that orders animals, whatever framework we adopt will somewhat distort it.

Science, local knowledge and small-scale fisheries in the context of development: cases from Island Riau, Sumatra

Dr Manon Osseweijer, Royal Institute of Linguistics and Anthropology, Leiden

Local fisher knowledge has its weaknesses as well as strengths. The strengths are mostly to be found in the vast body of knowledge of fishing grounds, techniques used, various species, seasons, currents, tides, and so on.  Local knowledge’s weaknesses partly result from its local and situated character, but partly, too, from the characteristics of the resources concerned, i.e. more or less mobile and migratory fish and other marine resources. This makes it very difficult to know how certain fish stocks are doing and to what extent fisheries are undertaken in a sustainable manner. However, fishery science, which in many cases is complementary to local knowledge, is not exhaustive either, nor is it always easy to access and use in development programs.

In this paper I will describe the current situation of fishery knowledge, both scientific and local, in some parts of Island Riau, which is an area situated between Sumatra and Singapore and is characterized by many environmental and socio-political problems. In doing so, I will focus on various views on knowledge and development as taken by fishermen, fishery officers and other people involved in development projects.

Sustaining corruption: the twisted science of the Bujagali Falls hydropower project

Stan Frankland, University of St Andrews

During the last fifteen years, the ideology of the alternative development paradigm has become an ethical mainstay of the development business. Concepts such as “local” and “indigenous knowledge” have been integrated into codes of practice by the full range of the industry’s practitioners. Even the building of large dams, perhaps the most reviled form of mass development, is now structured by a plethora of guidelines that repeat the moral principles of the alternative. Taking the Bujagali Hydropower project in Uganda as an ethnographic example, this paper explores whether the faith in modernity that is implicit in dam building can be reconciled with the intention of sustainability and the recognition of “indigenous knowledge”. The majority of Ugandans follow the President and his rational belief in industrial progress. However, there has also been a dedicated opposition to the project. I will look at how the American transnational corporation AES tried to combat the opposition to its proposal and the ways in which they tried to carry out the requirements of the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation during the pre-construction phase of the project. Focusing on issues relating to culture, a fundamental contradiction emerges between the ideals of alternative development and the desire for economic progress in Uganda. Nowhere is this conflict more apparent than in the compensation process that forms a key part of the development project. The “formal” economics of AES crash headlong into the “informal” (magendo) economy of Uganda. Within this scenario, knowledge and culture are transformed into material objects that are traded for profit and consumed within the murky practice of development. In this paper, I examine those allegations of corruption that have seeped through all levels of the project. Rather than sustain “indigenous knowledge”, the Bujagali Hydropower project promotes a range of indigenous corruptions, from those of the multinational to those of the “local”. Development itself becomes something to be consumed, both literally and symbolically. In this way, the intentions behind alternative development have themselves become “objects” that are symbolically consumed within the process of development. “Indigenous knowledge” is transformed from ideological principle into little more than a bargaining chip in the competition for the moral high ground.

Knowledge integration in development: justification as a negotiated process

Trevor W. Purcell, University of South Florida &
Elizabeth Onjoro, Presidential Advisory Council on AIDS/HIV, Washington

Examination of the ramifications of the integration of local knowledge and external scientific knowledge in the development process often assumes social justice and environmental sustainability as the tests of appropriate outcomes, or as justification.  However, positing social justice and environmental sustainability outcomes as justification for integration raises two related questions: (1) Do these two elements of justification apply in all development contexts, that is, might there be development contexts in which other justifiers take precedence? and (2) Should social justice and sustainability be defined by a set of universal criteria, or might they be defined in local, relative terms - if they are to be consistent with broader socio-political assumptions underlying the use of local knowledge in development? Drawing on case studies of HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention programs in Uganda, Senegal, South Africa, and Botswana, this presentation will attempt to address these questions.  We will argue that, depending on the context and aim of development, goals such as autonomy and efficacy may subsume notions of social justice and environmental sustainability. We further argue that the integration of knowledge implies local participation, and that participation in turn implies that the determination of goals and their justification be a negotiated process.

Family, development and intercultural education: acquisition of local knowledge in the Andes

Mahia Maurial, Tantanakuy Project/Finnconsult, Universidad Mayor de san Simón, Bolivia

Important local knowledge acquisition among agrarian societies of the Andes occurs within the context of the nuclear family –in which processes of learning, work and play are intertwined (Maurial 1999). As in other agrarian societies (see George 1999), children’s local knowledge acquisition converge with scientiphic-Western knowledge acquisition; i.e. knowledge brought in by development agencies and by schools.

I propose that nuclear family chacras -Quechuas agrarian plots- are the main settings for the study of local knowledge acquisition. Collaborative research (Schensel et al. 1992) about local knowledge acquisition in development’s projects should have chacras as settings. Collaborative research should be linked to formal education and count with the participation of school teachers, pupils, and leaders, as well as planners in development. In this way, educators and planners could contribute not only to children’s awareness about sustainable agriculture, but also to the practice of intercultural education –an education in which teachers select suitable practices originated in local-or-western types of knowledges.

The impact of nuclear family agrarian practices in land and resources should be assessed by the research group. The group should answer to the question: which local and western agrarian practices are environmentally sustainable and which are not?

Science and local knowledge in development contexts in Sri Lanka and Europe

Mariella Marzano, University of Durham & David N. Carss, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Banchory

This paper examines the role that local knowledge can play in development-related research and in improving collaboration between all stakeholders. Development increasingly demands assembling ‘teams’ of researchers from different disciplinary backgrounds. Interdisciplinary partnerships and the combination of qualitative and quantitative methodologies have the potential to help bridge the communication gap between local people and researchers. They can also contribute to the break down of disciplinary and cross-cultural boundaries. We shall also consider the relevance of socio-political issues in relation to knowledge when assessing the advantages (and problems) of collaboration between local, natural and social science in natural resources research and development.

We discuss two examples that attempt to ‘integrate’ local knowledge into the research and development process, both feature natural resources-based projects. These projects, in Sri Lanka (farming) and Europe (fishing), seek to increase local participation in order to promote sustainable interventions. The first focuses on increasing land-use efficiency and income-generation through intercropping of banana and rubber. Here we consider the methodological and epistemological implications of trying to locate ‘indigenous technical knowledge’ to further scientific understanding and the resulting impact on collaborative efforts. The second specifically addresses the growing conflict between fisheries, cormorants and conservationists over scarce fish resources. Here, we examine efforts by scientists not only to promote ‘open’ involvement in the research process, but also to challenge and inform local perceptions through knowledge sharing and dialogue.