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From Ethno-Science to Science, or 'What the Indigenous Knowledge Debate Tells Us about How Scientists Define Their Project'

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This paper begins by examining the response of the organised scientific community to the claims of the indigenous knowledge lobby, and with some observations on the dichotomy between science and traditional technical knowledge. It reiterates the view that the potency of the distinction arises from a fusion of the general human cognitive impulse to simplify the processes by which we understand the world, reinforced by the socially-driven need of science to maintain an effective boundary around the practices which scientists engage in. The paper goes on to argue that the existence of these two epistemological metacategories obscures the presence of different ways of securing predictive knowledge of the material world, each of which is characterised by a distinctive configuration of cognitive and technical features, and which in several ways cut across the usual dualism between science and traditional knowledge. The argument is illustrated using examples from the history of biology and the ethnography of ethnobiological knowledge. It engages critically with insights drawn from cognitive psychology, the philosophy and sociology of science, and cognitive anthropology, as well as with scientists' own descriptions of what distinguishes the mental operations in which they engage.


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