ASA Decennial Conference - Anthropology and Science
The Future of Traditional Epistemologies (The African Milieu)
Contact Convenor: Albert Roca
Department of Social Anthropology, University of Lleida
Pl. Víctor Siurana, 1
Tel. 34 973 202080
The resilience of the traditional systems of knowledge appears as an undeniable and intriguing reality at the dawn of 21st Century. Even if there can be disagreements about the expression and the understanding of this affirmation -specially around the word “traditional”-, its underlying idea will probably achieve a high level of consensus among anthropologists. Of course, the context of this persistence, against the odds, against more than a century of global modernisation, is constituted by the limitations, if not the failure, of developmentalism, even of its fresh sustainable approach. But this is not enough to explain the durability of what we can call traditional epistemologies, these ways of approaching the human environment and defining, thus, “reality,” constructing continuously themselves mainly, but not only, on “local” “indigenous” material of a certain historical depth. If they survive, they will probably have some kind of functionality for the populations that share them more or less completely; and this functionality maybe will go beyond the identitary and political requirements usually considered by analysts to compete directly with the type of utilities that science and enlightenment hurry to offer but cannot often provide, utilities referred to each aspect of everyday life. Neither philosophers nor science theorists nor technocrats have the tools to explore by themselves the multiplicity of inner logics, the diversity of social and metatheoretical ways of validating knowledge, and, specially, the delicate question of the efficacy of this systems, of their application. Anthropology, with its microsocial and qualitative methodological techniques and its particular theoretical reflection, can contribute decisively to this area of research, and Black Africa, with its apparent resistance to follow the development path and the equally apparent blossoming and pervasivity of traditionalism, or what others term “African modernities”, can be the best “test field”. This study is not only essential to the analysis of the truth, manners and directions of so-called globalisation, but it also will supply some key clues to rethink the concept of science (Western science) and its monopolist role in Western societies either as solutions provider and as norm generator, and so, the adequacy and the possibilities of its extension to the non-western communities.