Accepted Paper:

Some reflections on indigenous knowledge (IK) in development contexts.  


Paul Sillitoe (Durham University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the perplexing, apparently arrested state of IK research in development contexts, focussing on political barriers to its effective incorporation, which extend from the international level to the local, including worries about political correctness.

Paper long abstract:

In this paper I propose to explore the apparently arrested state of IK research, which perplexes me because I thought that the emergence of interest in IK in development contexts in the late 20th century presented an unparalleled opportunity for socio-cultural anthropology, which I predicted the discipline would seize on, particularly with ever increasing political pressures on it to demonstrate the relevance of its activities. The arrest relates to a larger set of circumstances. While The Future We Want -- the document resulting from the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) -- recognises the importance of indigenous peoples' participation in achieving sustainable development - a step in the right direction - it lacks substance when it comes to telling us how this might be achieved, which in part reflects the political sticking points to the implementation of such declarations. Such political barriers exist from the international level to the local, as the IK initiative shows, depending in considerable part on the participatory movement in development, which has encountered substantial political challenges when seeking to actualise participation. These problems are compounded by concerns for political correctness (PC), which has emerged in tandem with postmodernism and its concerns for subjectivity. They prompt some to express disquiet about both the words 'indigenous' and 'knowledge' - 'who is indigenous' and 'what is knowledge'? These intimate some of the PC barriers to IK research; others include worries about interfering in others' lives, facilitating exploitation of their knowledge and even furthering the commodification of their cultural ways.

Panel BH04
Indigenous knowledge and sustainable development (IUAES Commission on Indigenous Knowledge and Sustainable Development)