, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp 144–163 | Cite as

‘Indigenous Knowledge’ and ‘Science’: Reframing the Debate on Knowledge Diversity

  • Lesley J. F. Green


Responding to Kai Horsthemke’s call for the valorisation of universal knowledge within the debate on indigenous knowledge, the paper argues for an understanding of knowledge that is based neither universalism nor relativism. Arguing against the dualisms of ‘indigenous knowledge’ and ‘science’, the paper proposes that the debate be focused rather on knowledge diversity. Drawing on the work of Nelson Goodman and Catherine Elgin, the paper argues that diverse epistemologies ought to be evaluated not on their capacity to express a strict realism but on their ability to advance understanding. Such an approach allows for the evaluation of the advancement of understanding without necessarily requiring the expression of the literal truths that divide ‘belief’ from ‘knowledge’.


Indigenous knowledge Science Knowledge diversity Epistemology Secularism Power 


Respondiendo a la valorización del conocimiento universal exhortada por Kai Horsthemke en el marco del debate sobre conocimiento indígena, este artículo discute un entendimiento de conocimiento que no está basado en el relativismo ni en el universalismo. Argumentando en contra de las dualidades entre “conocimiento indígena” y “ciencia”, el trabajo propone que el debate más bien se centre en la diversidad del conocimiento. Tomando del trabajo de Nelson Goodman y Catherine Elgin, este artículo sostiene que la diversidad de epistemologías debe ser evaluada no en términos de su capacidad para expresar un realismo estricto, sino en su capacidad para promover la comprensión. Este enfoque permite evaluar el avance del entendimiento sin requerir necesariamente la expresión de verdades literales que separan “creencia” de “conocimiento”.


En réponse à l’appel de Kai Horsthemke pour la valorisation de la connaissance universelle, en lien avec le débat sur la connaissance autochtone, cet article argumente en faveur d’une compréhension de la connaissance basée sur l’universalité et le relativisme. En argumentant contre le dualisme de la connaissance autochtone et de la science, cet article propose que le débat soit plutôt centré sur la diversité de la connaissance. En s’inspirant du travail de Nelson Goodman et Catherine Elgin, cet article propose que diverses épistémologies méritent d’être évaluées selon leur habilité à améliorer la compréhension, plutôt que selon leur capacité à exprimer la stricte réalité. Ce type d’approche permet d’évaluer la progression de la compréhension sans nécessairement exiger l’expression de la vérité exacte qui divise la « croyance » de la « connaissance ».



I am grateful to the Henry Louis Gates Jr. and the WEB du Bois Institute at Harvard University for a Mandela Fellowship that allowed the opportunity to develop this area of research in 2005–2006. Thanks are also due to the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage where a Rockefeller Fellowship enabled this project to begin. Particular thanks are due to Catherine Elgin, Gary Urton, Jane Anderson, Sita Reddy, and David Turnbull.

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Copyright information

© World Archaeological Congress 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Social AnthropologyUniversity of Cape TownRondeboschSouth Africa

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