EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world
Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006
Bringing local knowledge into development: progress, problems and prospects
Location Dept. Arch Anth M1
Date and Start Time 20 Sep, 2006 at 11:30
A discussion of the problems and prospects for more effectively connecting the local to the global in development contexts, through a review of the so-called indigenous knowledge research initiative.
Indigenous knowledge (IK) research has been seeking for some years to improve connections between the local and global in development contexts or, in the words of the EASA 2006 conference, to promote the link between global interchange and local creativity. But the IK initiative has not yielded the dividends that some of us hoped for and it is time, after two or more decades of effort, to review progress. EASA 2006 offers an appropriate moment to do so, for IK was the topic of a previous EASA workshop, eight years ago in Frankfurt. There are several strands to the IK initiative. Researchers from a range of disciplines are contributing (not only from social sciences but from natural sciences such as agriculture, forestry, medicine and architecture), promoting an exciting context for interdisciplinary work. Increasingly, indigenous organisations and activists (including self-styled indigenous academics) are presenting a coherent opposition to capitalist hegemony. Some advances are being made on the methodological front, albeit largely on the coat tails of the participatory movement. Despite these emerging opportunities, development actors have been slow to adopt approaches anchored in IK. An attempt to identify common problems may help explain why. The unspoken premises of development that shape the agendas of development agencies, bilateral and multilateral, are an issue. To lift populations out of poverty, they continue to impose a framework that subordinates local knowledge, practices and society to global science, technology and the market. If we wish to contribute something practical to efforts to relieve poverty, how might we take the opportunity of working from within, to devise strategies that demonstrate other viable views of development? It is only in this way that the true potential and insights of IK might come into their own.
Discussant: Douglas Nakashima, UNESCO Paris & Paul Sillitoe, University of Durham
Introduction: local knowledge in and for development
Marie Roué and Christoph Antweiler will give an overview if the topic of local knowledge (terms, theories) and its relevance for development. we will critically ask for potentials and limits and the reasons why local knowledge is so popular in development circles.
Creative action and local knowledge in development anthropology
Co-author: Eleanor Fisher, University of Swansea
There is little doubt that anthropology has challenged traditional wisdom that development amounts to the imposition of Western world views and ideas of change. Some anthropologists have stressed the incompatibility of different forms of knowledge in achieving progress; others have concentrated on demystifying science and western expert systems, or on bridging the gap between experts and local people through forms of participation and support for endogenous development. Clearly it is necessary to take stock of these positions and to situate them in both a theoretical and practical context in order to challenge current ideas that we have achieved an era of 'post-development'. In this respect, with regard to knowledge issues, the relationship between anthropology and development needs to be reflected on, especially in the context of emerging global tendencies that apparently de-locate or de-territorialise actors' actions and the knowledge upon which they are based. To what extent this is the case needs to be thoroughly debated and empirically examined: perhaps what is emerging is a different way of displaying the global at the local level, which leads to questions concerning whether existing interpretations about indigenous or local knowledge in development can encompass people's creative action in dealing with these new realities of global change at the local level. By implication this also generates a need to critically reflect on what constitutes 'practical development' in the contemporary era and what contribution knowledge debates can make to a conceptual reformulation of an anthropology of development, which addresses issues of power and encompasses an understanding of people's creative action for shaping development. The paper will try to examine these issues using illustrations of artisanal mining in East Africa and forestry in Central America.
(to be co-authored with Eleanor Fisher)
The politically dangerous process of development of the Tikmũ'ũm-Maxakali school: education and shamanism like an 'otherness-trip' with an indigenous Brazilian group
Since 1988 Brazil is endowed with a new Constitution that, for the first time, acknowledges the "right of difference", claimed for a long time by its indigenous people: that is, indigenous people have the right to set up the possession and the usufruct of their own traditional lands, the expression of their traditions, languages and cultural manifestations and of their specific processes of knowledge transmission.
So, twenty years ago, indigenous people gained the right and the opportunity to have and to do their specific and different schools in their indigenous areas; in the institution documents and in the public discourses that school is defined like "indigenous, differentiated, intercultural, bilingual or multilingual and community school".
School isn't something new for brazilian indigenous people who knew and suffer it with its disparate forms from the Jesuits arrival on the brazilian coasts; indigenous people - actually it's not possible to talk about them like closed and self-referenced cultural systems - have already invented relational strategies to interpret, within their symbolic systems, the experienced "otherness" such as other indigenous groups, animals, spirits and then white-men with their cultural objects. The school is one of these.
Tikmũ'ũm-maxakali group is one of the brazilian indigenous group that lives in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais and that entered ten years ago in the governmental project about indigenous schools. The post-colonial context, where they are deeply immersed, is the political, social and cultural setting that well illustrates the lots of characters and foreign "gift" that Tikmũ'ũm-Maxakali people historically met and that they are actually still meeting, suffering but also "domesticating".
The paper will discuss the recent brazilian anthropology concept of "domestication" and "pacification"; I refer to the wide perspective that allows to integrate and consistently crossing different levels, the historical dimension - colonial process - the political one - the strategies of social reproduction - and the symbolic one - the identity indigenous theories. I will put into dialogue too the idea of an "imaginated" maxakali school that is producing either by educational and indigenist institutions or by Tikmũ'ũm-Maxakali themself.
The aim of this paper is to show how different epistemologies and cosmologies can or not discuss each other and to illustrate how the process of construction and development of an indigenous school is a very political dangerous process for the tikmũ'ũm-maxakali people that face it with own shamanism categories. Like a shaman trip the "educational" and "formative" trip is a possibility to meet "otherness". The question is: what kind of journey return?
Struggling for better days: the work of a Brazilian NGO with the indigenous peoples of northwestern Brazil
Before starting development projects for indigenous peoples around the world, organisations and governments should hear and respect the needs and wishes and also the capabilities of each different group and location. Too often those programs did not succeed well and did not bring the necessary help to many communities around the world due to
the mismanagement of the programs and failure of Western specialists, who thought they were offering the necessary aid to these localities. Before starting a project it is crucial to verify how the communities would enact efforts for solving their problems within their own social reality. In Brazil, for instance, some projects have successfully
given voice to indigenous peoples, so that they can, with the help of NGOs and university programs, learn how to improve their own lives.
One example is the NGO Comissão Pró-Índio do Acre (CPI-AC -
Pro-Indigenous Peoples Commission of the State of Acre). This organisation has developed for over 20 years a number of specific programs by working in unison with some 16 indigenous ethnic groups of the State of Acre and neighbouring areas. CPI-AC also receives the cooperation of university programs and foreign NGOs. The main areas of
the organisation deal with projects orientated towards health, literacy, and forestry. All the projects are developed together with the participation of indigenous teachers and health and forestry agents who have received instruction in organisational skills. Over the years the work of CPI-AC has helped many teachers and agents to
gain self-confidence and promote pride in them for being indigenous persons in a society where they still suffer strong discrimination. My paper will present this promising Brazilian project and its efforts to offer to those indigenous peoples the right to be themselves and gain the
ability to struggle for their own rights. I will also present a case study regarding the work of CPI-AC with a specific Brazilian NGO that as a test had installed high speed satellite Internet in the Training Centre of CPI-AC for the indigenous teachers and health and forestry agents, but unfortunately did not include in their work the assistance that would have been essential for a good completion of that project.
Indigenous knowledge, savings and the market: the case of microfinance and banking in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Knowledge about how to manage economic resources, including monetary resources, is an important part of indigenous or local knowledge - and a lack of knowledge about how people conceive of and practice such management is a major reason why development projects fail. While many projects try to facilitate market processes through the introduction of technology, training, or organizational change, a lack of resonance or coherence with indigenous economic reasoning leads to meager results.
Microfinance is a different approach, supplying capital directly for small-scale local market-based activities that are designed and controlled by the borrowers themselves, expanding economic activity within communities. As microfinance moves from being a 'movement' or poverty reduction 'strategy' towards becoming an integral part of the global financial market, there is an increased focus on the mobilization of savings - often referred to as 'the forgotten half of microfinance.' Savings can provide much more capital for on-lending than is available from donors, and are also important to development practitioners as they move money of the informal economy and into formal systems.
Collecting savings requires a different type of mobilization from microfinance organizations (MFIs) than offering credit, however. While MFIs scrutinize borrowers for trustworthiness, they must in turn prove their usefulness and worth to local communities in order to attract their savings, and may also be in competition with banks. Therefore, their success depends on the degree to which they are able to recognize and respond to local needs and offer the kinds of savings (and loan) products that mesh with the ways in which resources are managed. Indigenous knowledge thus becomes a vital ingredient in the success of these financial institutions.
This paper departs from research in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and discusses how knowledge about local savings practices became important to donors as they sought to reshape the country's financial sector, and to actors competing within the financial marketplace.
Competing representations of managing the commons: case study from Romania
The paper addresses the issue of local knowledge in the arena of community participation for rural development tasks. How is local knowledge performed for making decisions concerning communal property and community development? What is the role of past experience and of present power relations in the shaping of this knowledge? In my approach, I assume that local knowledge is not fixed in time or uniform for a social unit (the community). I find it more appropriate to speak about knowledge coming from different actors inside the social unit, about the making of this knowledge in practise, about competing contents of what we call local knowledge.
The development arena that enables me to study performance of knowledge is a legal institution that locally rules the common property of mountain villages (mainly forests) in several regions of Romania.
The institution of obstea (as it is locally named) has a history that can be traced back to the Middle Ages. In 1950 the Communist State seized all forms of private property, having as a consequence the dissolution of the obstea institution. After the fall of communism, this legal form is re-established late in the post socialist context (year 2000).
In brief, this institution has as operational task the management of the common property (mainly forests and pastures), aiming to raise funds for the local development (through investments in infrastructure, factories or tourism activities) In fact, obstea is the most powerful instance of rural development in mountain areas in Romania. Decisions are made at local level, on the operational scheme of executive committee - village assembly.
Rather than seeing commons management and development only in terms of institutional arenas of action, the project offers an insight over the way in which the community, as shaped by its actors (ordinary villagers, local informal and formal leaders, interest groups, etc.) deals with the commons, in terms of practices and representations that form a battlefield of local knowledges.
What is the future for local knowledge?
Co-Author: Mariella Marzano
One view is that local knowledge has no future, either for insider custodians or outsider researchers. The forces of globalisation will drive it to extinction, which is the development-as-modernisation view. We disagree and think the evidence supports us. Since anthropology's Victorian founders, observers have warned about the disappearance of cultures and need for salvage ethnography. Yet hunter-gatherers continue to hunt and gather, shifting cultivators to shift and cultivate, people to believe in local deities, clan obligations to structure social life etc. Local ways, albeit subject to change, continue against the apparent odds. They are stubbornly resistant to the blandishments and threats of global capitalism and modernism. It is increasingly realised that local knowledge of natural resources is an integral aspect of any environment; for example in biodiversity management and conservation, where its loss is as damaging as the loss of species.
Yet, after nearly two decades, the local knowledge approach has not had the impact in development that some of us expected. It is arguable that it has had its brief development fashion moment on the back of the participatory movement, passing out of favour as the shortcomings of the latter become evident, due in part to outsider manipulations. Local knowledge has not shown its potential because stranger controlled agendas have distorted and masked it. This takes into political issues, notably how to address the power imbalance. A major challenge for the future is to get alternative views of what development might be on the agenda. One 'ally' in this should be the various indigenous movements currently seeking a voice for their views, and also certain locally rooted NGOs. It is highly contentious, challenging the hegemony of currently politically dominant nations and could be viewed as subversive. A related point is the need to overcome the prejudicial science versus local knowledge distinction. A possible way is to advance the spheres of knowledge model. This model also affords a way to handle community variability (even conflict of views - where previously swept under the normative carpet), particularly with advances in computer modelling and e-science.
We are only likely to be heard if we engage with development, as sideline criticism is unlikely to prove effective. So, in the future, local knowledge should continue 'business as usual', on the margins of big development, trying to get local views and practices on the agenda. Some valuable work has been done along these lines (e.g. on local farming practices in programmes seeking to improve food security). The advancement and refinement of more effective methodologies should feature here (e.g. making participatory approaches work). There are several issues, among them: advancing interdisciplinary work (facilitating meaningful communication, promoting a collaborative atmosphere etc.), making socio-cultural perspectives accessible, delivering research results quickly, making 'process' as opposed to 'blueprint' approach to development work etc. But this work is limited because hampered by capitalist views of development, which returns us to creating space for local ideas of development in the future. We shall explore these issues drawing on our research experiences in South Asia and Europe, and consultancy work for agencies.