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What, know natives? Local
knowledge in development

There is a revolution occurring in the pursuit of ethnography, yet strangely, and
disconcertingly, many anthropologists seem blithely unaware of it. What is happening
beyond academe? The change has to do with the shift in emphasis that is occurring in
the development world from a focus on the ‘top down’ imposition of interventions to
a ‘grassroots’ participatory perspective. It is as if countless graffiti messages, iconising
unrepresented views, have finally registered. The implications, and opportunities, for
anthropology are considerable.’
The time has come for anthropology to consolidate its place in development
practice, not merely as frustrated post-intervention critic but as implementing partner
(Rew 1992). There are growing demands for its skills and insights. The development
fraternity has been casting around over several years for alternative approaches with
mounting evidence of resources wasted in ill-conceived, frequently centrally imposed
schemes that have not only failed to improve matters in lesser developed countries but
have on occasion made them worse (Chambers 1983, 1996; Hill 1986; Hobart 1993).
While some anthropologists are abreast of these changes, engaging in development
related work (many of them as they seek to build careers outside resource-starved
academia), the discipline has yet fully to acknowledge and act on them. Anthropology
needs to foster the potential of the new relationship emerging with development,
building on its maligned applied anthropological tradition, according some priority
and giving disciplinary creditability to this work. There is a need for mutual
professional support, guidelines for practice, contributions to new and appropriate
methodologies, institutional capacity building and assistance networks, and so on.
The discipline needs to turn from over-interest with social philosophy, literary
criticism and so on to engage more with development problems, or face further proba-
ble diminution in the current political and economic climate, evidenced in the current
upsurge of hand-wringing literature on the discipline’s future (Ahmed and Shore 1996;
Moore 1996; Wallman 1992). But there is more at stake here than disciplinary self-
interest. Many of the people anthropology studies are poor, marginalised and dis-
advantaged, and where it can, it should do something to assist them. If anthropologists

1 I acknowledge lively discussions with Peter Dixon, Piers Blaikie, Kate Brown, Lisa Tang and
Louise Shaxon on the issues discussed in this paper, and also the participants at both a Department
for International Development, then an Overseas Development Administration workshop, on
socio-economic methodologies in renewable natural resources research (Farrington 1996), and at
Edinburgh University Anthropology Department’s demi-centenary conference ‘Boundaries and
identities’, at which I presented parts of this paper to the ‘Development, ecology and environment’

6,2,203-220.@ 1998 European Association of Social Anthropologists
Social Anthropo/og)r(1998), 208

ultimately to elucidate how our socio-cultural and biological heritage contribute to our uniqueness among animals. structuring how they interface with their environments. ITK (indigenous technical knowledge).in the colonial era have been condemned. Research in local knowledge relates to development issues and problems. then post-colonial anthropologists should beware being labelled as comfortable intellectual liberals who ignored the plight of the poor while building careers on their cultural backs. summarises the recent emergence of this field and current interests within it. particularly that pertaining to natural resource management in particular. According to this definition. Warren and Cashman 1988). Warren and Werner 1980. being culturally relative understanding inculcated into individuals from birth. We are obliged to take up the challenge. as contributing to the disempowerment of colonised populations (Goody 1995). This review picks up on this anthropologically self- evident point. within the broad context of the recent participatory approach to develop- ment (Farrington and Martin 1988). on the other hand. as some anthropologists have argued for decades (Pitt 1976. In 2 All manner of other acronyms are to be found in the literature for LK. the discipline has largely concerned itself with the documentation and understanding of socio-cultural traditions worldwide. of a new field of specialism that in development circles has come to be called among other things local knowledge? This is an emerging area of expertise. difficult ethical dilemmas and all. It is conditioned by socio-cultural tradition. I prefer LK as the simplest acronym of widest currency. Until recently we could argue that the development world shut us out by its concern for top-down transfer of technology. its objective is to introduce a locally informed perspective into developmenq to promote an appreciation of indigenous power structures and know-how.Chad peering over his wall. it is difficult to see where local knowledge differs from anthropology as studied for the greater part of this century (Brookfield 1996). It may encompass any domain in development. and that to assist them we need to understand something about their knowledge and management systems (Atte 1992. 1994). in the process of establishing a place for itself within development practice (Brokensha. But it no longer pertains (Haile 1996). What is the focus of the revolution that concerns anthropology? It is the appearance. Gladwin 1989. In this event. no natives?’. Research in anthropology. There is a growing acknowl- edgement that effective development assistance benefits from some understanding of local knowledge and practices. its objective being to further our understanding of the human condition. which encompasses local knowledge by default. W h a t is local knowledge? Local knowledge in development contexts may relate to any knowledge held col- lectively by a population. somewhat erroneously on occasion. McCorkle 1989). While grandly defined in dictionaries as ‘the study of humankind’. informing interpretation of the world. such as RPK (rural people’s knowledge). TEK (traditional environmental knowledge). It has recently become popular beyond anthropology to point out that indigenous peoples have their own effective ‘science’ and resource-use practices (Morrison et al. not thinking that it needed to know about assumed beneficiaries: a position vividly caricatured in a cheeky student graffito . is more of an intellectual pursuit. Warren 1991). and IAK (indigenous agricultural knowledge). what is the difference between them? It would appear to be one of emphasis. 204 PAUL SlLLlTOE . saying ‘What.

The problems encountered in trying to understand something about others’ socio-cultural traditions are considerable and not to be glossed over in glib method- ologies (Richards 1995). It fails on three grounds: substantive because of similarities in the essentials and content of these different knowledge systems. it is argued that distinguishing between others’ knowl- edge traditions and ours privileges the scientific perspective (Nader 1996). some regards. Rhoades 1987. Gujit and Cornwall 1995). and contextual because science is no less culturally located than other knowledge traditions. it is undeniably questionable to attempt to distinguish scientific from any other knowledge on formal grounds: that it is more objective. First. it is difficult to conceive how we could communicate with one another. few if any anthropologists. Atran 1990).) Third. Anthropology needs to pay it attention or else others will supplant it in development contexts. Furthermore. would wish to imply that there is any difference in the thought processes of humans from different cultures. as evidenced in practices like Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA) and Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) (Chambers 1987. bringing anthropology to bear on its urgent problems. Johnson 1972. It is argued that the conflation of others’ knowledge traditions into a single local meta category distinct from the western scientific one is insupportable because it overlooks differences within each tradition and similarities between various indigenous and scientific perspectives. LOCAL KNOWLEDGE I N DEVELOPMENT 201 . hybridisation is occurring and blurring distinctions between scientific and other knowledge on socio-cultural grounds. There is evidence that many are ready to d o so. local knowledge is the . epistemological because of certain similarities in the methods used to investigate reality. where it largely originated (Pickering 1992). Should this paper abandon its attempt to discuss local knowledge in development.some would argue long overdue . If this were not so. are stealing our disciplinary clothes and wearing them to less effect. for example. agricultural economists and human geographers. and perhaps more disturbing than the foregoing parody of the anthropological perspective. (Local farmers are probably some of the world’s more avid experimenters: Richards 1989. the discipline having wide experience of these issues. This is unfortunate for both anthropology and development.introduction of a more overt anthropological perspective and awareness into development. 1996). The current debate over whether it is justifiable to distinguish between local and western knowledge illustrates the need for an anthropological contribution. although with the contemporary communications revolution and cultural globalisation. Second. and should be there to ensure that the recent interest shown in local knowledge results in its successful incorporation into development practice: misrepresenting the difficulties that attend its excogitation will not further this in the long run but lead to disillusionment on the part of other development specialists. using its intellectual capital in attempts to further their work. Many would agree that there are substantial similarities and overlaps in the substantive contents of various non-western and western knowledge systems (LCvi- Strauss 1966. for it ultimately questions the discipline’s existence (Agrawal 1995: Indigenous Knowledge and Development Monitor 1995. and certainly not in their cognitive capacities. scientific knowl- edge is indisputably anchored culturally in western society. There is a danger that others might sell the discipline short. Anthropologists have been wrestling with these problems ever since they entered the field. even foresters and plant pathologists. or exclusively tests deductive models using experimentation while others d o not.

The words they use will reflect their priorities: are they going to manage. calculating its value according to whether it is harvested sustainably or clear-felled. then the discipline of anthropology has been an act of imagination. extents. and will be codified in different idioms and styles. perhaps a hotel with forest views and outdoor pursuits. as the habitat of endangered wildlife. and reach some consensus about it. they all see the same natural landscape but they may perceive it. yet maintaining a distinctiveness. But conflict is inherent in the process too because we are not just talking about furthering understanding and of advancing more rounded views. these knowledge traditions? I think not. given the differences within. It is a strange hybrid understanding. exploit or protect the forest? Advocates of local knowledge in development argue that we should aim to play off the different perspectives. Perhaps the aim should be equitable negotiation. currently debated. involving both others and our occidental selves. A local entrepreneur might see a tourist location. with the contrast between different tradi- tions until recently correlating closely with geographical distance. develop. When those with different views come together. know and think about it. and contemporary reflexive post-modern worries illusory. the strengths and weaknesses. life and so on.which necessarily involves some distinction between it and scientific knowledge. we find people with different cultural traditions and histories that continue to condition in significant regards their views of the environment.being influenced by others. A shifting cultivator will see potential swidden sites. as the reflexive debate of the past decade has affirmed. Its existence challenges any attempt to dispose of our notions of the scientific and indigenous. 206 PAUL SlLLlTOE . with power relationships influencing the outcome. or the global and local. and similarities between. albeit not in isolation . and both differ from an English scientist’s understanding. A western conservationist might see a beautiful natural environment that demands protection against any human depredations. They are informed by different cultural repertoires that have evolved over generations. entirely differently. they have to negotiate some shared understanding of each others’ perspectives of the hillside or whatever. according to their culturally conditioned understanding and experiences. A forester may see a mature standing crop. in the face of this critique. They concern different issues and priorities. which sits uneasily between the scientific and indigenous perspectives. but of employing the knowledge to effect some action. Sometimes the values that underpin them are not readily reconcilable. tenure rights at different locations and so on. It will be necessary first to demolish the discipline of anthropology and reveal its ethno- graphic heritage as misconstrued. in different parts of the world. assessing their value by a range of criteria such as species composition indicating fertility status. with attendant erosion risks. If we cannot agree on this. and not only because they inhabit strikingly different natural environments. advantages and dis- advantages of different knowledge traditions to improve our overall understanding of issues and problems by generating synergy between them. If we take several people looking at a wooded hillside. which is a central tenet of local knowledge in participatory development. A New Guinean’s knowledge of the natural world differs from an Eskimo’s. which we come to understand to varying. The negotiations become far more complex but the development initiatives are more likely to be appropriate for more people and hence more sustainable. Currently. This dichotomy overlooks anthropological knowl- edge. reflect different experiences and interests. having some points of similarity and overlap. as in the development process.

to the start of anthropology. It is one of this paper’s tenets that they should come closer together. why we are here. The implication of distinguishing between different knowledge traditions. and so on.does not make distinguishing one language from another problematic. There are two strands to the evolution of these ideas. which although they have influenced one another to a limited extent. It is dubious indeed to privilege scientific discourse as its costs. alienation etc. not just to increase their standard of living. The study of indigenous knowledge issues related to natural resources in academia over the last four or five decades falls into two broad categories: ethnoscience and human ecology (Meehan 1980). after all. These two strands are the academic and development approaches. 3 I am grateful to Jeff Bentley for suggesting this useful analogy LOCAL KNOWLEDGE I N D E V E L O P M E N T 207 ..’ The adoption of some foreign words . the proper way to live. A linguistic analogy illustrates the position. It has involved a range of disciplines within the human and environmental sciences. including knowledge. Ethnosczence refers to local knowledge systems that relate broadly to biological phenomena. ethnozoology. it is undeniable that scientific knowledge has underpinned massive technological change. a part - whether the scientific one of western society o r the mother earth tradition of Plains Indians. Any privileging that occurs is not inevitable. defining who we think we are. non-sustainability etc. sickness and death. whenever one cares to date it. nature. if the borrowing process exceeds a certain indeterminate rate we shall have to revise our discrimina- tions.. particularly with the relentless expansion of some populations. fertilisers o r whatever . Human beings have been doing this for millennia: it is what interests diffusionist theory. They are not the same. likewise the position currently with indigenous and exogenous knowledge. both environmental with pollution. Approaches t o local knowledge and natural resources The history of local knowledge enquiries stretches back. become increas- ingly evident. values and belief. language commonly being taken as an important discriminating marker in distinguishing one socio-cultural heritage from another. allowing human beings to interfere with. It is the wish of the majority of the populations of lesser developed countries to share in this technological advance. television.of which knowledge systems are. have remained largely independent. it has a considerably shallower pedigree. whether different folk ones or indigenous and scientific. and more specifically to development work. The tussle for prominence . is not that one is necessarily privileged above another. with interminable battles over the ‘big’ intractable issues like ideology. It is obscurantism to argue in effect that we should not distinguish between different cultural traditions . but sometimes to stave off starvation. But as it relates to natural resources.of which the indigenous versus scientific knowledge debate is an aspect . It is the dissemination of this technology for the betterment of humankind that underpins the notion of development (even where it is a cynical front to further political control). and social with redundancy. strictly speaking. Nonetheless. although the current trend towards global culture and history is eroding distinctions between different culturally specific knowledge sys- tems. and extend awesome control over.like satellite. and language constantly changing processually like other aspects of these traditions. comprising a number of sub-fields like ethnobotany. But clearly.looks set to be on-going.

a debate which boils down to. rules and agreements.are no longer able to 208 PAUL SlLLlTOE . Among the interesting debates that characterise it. without due acknowledgement and a fair share of the profit going to the original owners (Brush and Stabinsky 1996). not one that you can master quickly. those who maintain a culturally relativistic stance. The assumption is that people may have knowledge of the natural products of their regions that have commercial potential: for example new cosmetic products.ethnomedicine and so on. some suggesting that local knowledge might serve as a staring point for conservation projects. Again two sides have emerged. Atran 1990. it being communal property . O n e is the study of taxonomic systems. The world’s rainforests are considered to be particularly likely to yield such products and it is thought that investigating local knowledge of these resources might lead to valuable finds. Shyamsundar and Lanier 1994). Others are sceptical and call for a strengthening of rights generally. Needham 1979. but an awareness of both the empirical and symbolic perspectives is often necessary to appreciate others’ perceptions of their environments. These are difficult to police effectively because once local knowledge is published and enters the public domain. Those who advocate market forces sort out these issues argue for legal contracts between local communities and the multinational private sector. which they frequently express in idioms alien to science. those who argue that human classificatory behaviour follows a universal pattern. is a concern for the nature of human classification abilities. Those working in natural resources development incline more towards the utility argument. one arguing that it is the usefulness of phenomena that determines how elaborately people classify. for example in two week’s Rapid Rural Appraisal. with an interest particularly in classification pro- cesses: largely an intellectual pursuit. formalising property rights. and regulating both the discovery of new commercially exploitable raw materials and the conservation of biodiversity. the other that it is a symbolic endeavour that relates to culturally rooted attempts to make sense of the world (Brown 1995. Ellen 1993. and so on (Chadwick and Marsh 1994). Goody 1977). new drugs to tackle diseases from Aids to influenza. and how these condition our shared humanity (see Berlin 1992. and revolves around the tension inherent in any anthropological investigation between the differences and similarities that characterise human beings from different cultural backgrounds. Hays 1991. and on the other. even its patenting by foreign companies after industrial intervention (e. Riley and Brokensha 1988. including human rights. Sillitoe 1996). They confirm that local knowledge is a difficult field to research and document. Brown 1984.who may have no notion of private ownership in the first place. The other approach to ethnoscience concerns the potential market value of this knowledge. Some fear expropriation of others’ knowledge for commercial gain. on the one hand. it being estimated that maybe three-quarters of the plant-derived drugs in current use were used in traditional medicines. and concern the thorny issues of intellectual property rights (Gupta 1991).g. Lhi-Strauss 1966. Two approaches have emerged within this tradition. control of bioprospecting and biopiracy (Blum 1993). genetic manipulation). It mirrors in some regards the foregoing debate about the desirabil- ity or otherwise of distinguishing local from scientific knowledge. Another debate concerns the human compunction to classify. the original indigenous owners . The problems here are less intellectual and more ethical. There are also connections with the biodiversity lobby. which might build on what local people know and practice (Colchester 1994. intellectual and cultural property rights (Brown 1994). being the search for new commercially exploitable natural resources.

reciprocal work arrangements. nationally and regionally by governments and non- government organisations. They encompass what are by and large descriptive accounts. The problem has been the quality of the data scholars have attempted to use in advancing ecological models of human environmental relations. It is to eco-systems theory. It has proved extremely difficult so far to collect the rigorous scientific data necessary to substantiate theories of human ecology because human behaviour is so diverse as to compromise any attempts at controlled experimentation. the sharing and consumption of produce. land tenure arrangements. nor how this might affect local rights to either control or benefit from it. peoples’ food production arrangements and so on. herding and other practices. that scholars who have become engaged in the analysis of data on production systems have largely turned to structure their analyses. Human Ecology draws on biological science systems thinking to account for human beings’ relations with their environments. This may deprive them of the opportunity to receive monetary or other benefits from its use. O n e is the production systems approach which has a redoubtable history (e. the other approach to human ecology. It infre- quently draws on agricultural or environmental science. These are extremely controversial issues currently under heated debate internationally. accord- ing to the canons of our open scholarly tradition. monitor and control its use. A popular approach has been ecological energetics. sometimes supported by quantitative data. Gustafsson 1996). sometimes accounts of more esoteric practices like fertility magic. which may not even occur to them as a possibility. and so on. scientifically framed. But they infrequently include any substantial. hunter-gatherers and so on. giving thorough accounts of subsistence prac- tices. background information on natural environments. considering them to occupy niches like other animals which they are adapted to exploit. without explaining to local communities its possible use by others. De Schlippe 1956. undertaken by scholars in various disciplines. notably anthropology. and including lists of species exploited (e. focusing on socio-cultural issues. that is tracing the kilocalorific energy relationships between humans and their environments (e.g. Some excellent studies are on record from this tradition. fishing.g. Morren 1986). drawing on ecological models. It comprises accounts of subsistence regimes. crops). standing largely as humanistic records of production regimes. related knowledge and so on (Brosius. Forde 1934). labour supply. ranging from shifting cultivation systems to pastoralist strategies. This is not entirely due to LOCAL KNOWLEDGE I N DEVELOPMENT 209 . Some attention has also been paid to population dynamics within ecological context. such accounts relating largely to sociological matters like family and clan structures. Freeman 1955. Lee 1969. The result is intellectual debates founded on hypotheses that have so far proved beyond verification. interfacing with their various technological assemblages (Orlove 1980).g. This work is largely within the ethnographic documentation tradition. describing horticultural. analysis of environmental data. Those working in the natural resources field in development relate most strongly to this academic approach as nearest to the sort of understandings they achieve of local knowledge issues. the symbolism of consumption and so on. Dove 1985). geography and environmental studies (Conklin 1957. Two approaches are also identifiable within the human ecological tradition. The foregoing academic approaches that incorporate local knowledge issues generally bear little relation to development problems. Rappaport 1968. Anthropologists regularly disseminate ethnoscientific information. Lovelace and Martin 1986). including indigenous peoples’ representatives (Posey and Dutfield 1996.

offering opportunity for the inclusion of research from these ethnographic perspectives. Its largest flaw from an anthropological viewpoint is the ludicrously short time frames in which it was thought research could be conducted to achieve understanding of highly complex socio-cultural systems. systems-focused. comprising a growing family of techniques with associated battery of daunting acronyms (Okali et al. The participatory approaches have affinities with farming systems research. socio- economic. Only recently has an interest started to be shown in these issues. The joint enterprise. designed to address researchable problems under farmers’ management constraints. Another contributory factor was its inability to focus tightly on identified researchable constraints within the system. and acknowledgement that they might have a place. Nelson and Wright 1995). and promote meaningful. encouraging them to amend and design trials. . agronomic etc. identifies interventions of benefit to the poorest sections of society more effectively and better adjusts technology to prevailing environmental conditions through its on-farm work (Chambers et al. 1989. Burkey 1994. into two broad categories: farming systems and participatory development. It includes the conduct of experiments on-farm.that comprise farm-household livelihoods. involving a marked change in the paradigms that inform thinking about development problems. that has emerged over the last one o r two decades also falls. although harder lobbying might sooner have led to the incorporation of local knowledge considerations into development policy and practice. informing their members’ multiple objectives. Scoones and Thompson 1994. to development poses some of the most challenging and stimulating problems in the field today. problem- centred. The systems emphasis is anthropological in tone with its holistic parallels. o r stakeholder participation approach. focusing on farmers’ experimentation. focusing on the study of these issues as they relate to natural resources development.environmental. 1991. There are many variants but broadly speaking farming systems research features multidisciplinary teams documenting and analysing all the complex elements . Haverkort et al. to plan. it being embedded by definition within the wider context.academics. being reminiscent of functionalist dictums about cultural interconnectedness. But considerable problems have merged with farming systems research and its systems perspective within development contexts. act on and evaluate development proposals. Those in favour of participatory research argue that it creates channels for farmers to contribute to the identification of researchable constraints and so promotes a better fit between proposed technological interventions and farming regimes. helping to place technical research within the systems perspective. like the academic approaches. They promote ‘home rule’. instead of implying that researchers had to encompass the entire system. It is also increasingly building on local knowledge. 1994). This contributed to the perceived failure of farming systems research to address development issues pertinently. An awareness of the role that local knowledge research can play in development has grown in part out of the farming systems research tradition. The second strand in the evolution of local knowl- edge approaches. These methodological problems remain: namely how can scientists focus on constraints of a researchable kind without losing the overall systems view? There is a key role for local knowledge here. accommodating their dynamic nature and capacity for change ( F A 0 1989). They aim to enable local people to participate actively in research and decision-making. interdisciplinary co-operation. A major issue is how to facilitate meaningful 210 PAUL SlLLlTOE .

participation. and second. and dependency. and problems with the analysis of data given the design of some experiments. ecological and other consequences of any choices they make. difficulties in selecting participants (the wealthier and more powerful members of communities dominating and directing research to their benefit). and the latter associated with the political left (Farrington 1996. overseas aid no LOCAL KNOWLEDGE I N DEVELOPMENT 211 . diagrams and so on . A number of other problems attend participatory approaches (Chambers 1996). to game play and theatricals. although all manner of methods have been pioneered (ranging from participatory mapping with all sorts of media. to collegiate (insiders making research decisions). Both give more credence to local perspectives but otherwise mirror the same political divide. however . to more conventional paper and pen participatory surveys: Barker 1980. Local knowledge research can. inform- ing the local population about these. The dominant development paradigms until a decade o r so ago were modernisation. including lack of compatibility between farmer-led and scientific approaches. and the possible social. They are both blind to local knowledge issues. the drawer. failing to access local knowledge with the subtlety demanded by anthropological experience. This problem comprises two parts: first. and should.maps. featuring diagrams and calendars drawn on the ground using twigs. the former associated with the political right. they’re all post-modernised’. with current questioning of the status of others’ knowledge and the extent knowable to outsiders. Furthermore. and stones. The methods employed. beans. 1996). the Marxist-informed model associated with the political left. the limited influence that farmers have in the wider policy arena where decisions are made that affect them. game-player or whoever having control of the representation and manipulating it according to their individual interests and inter- pretation of reality. the classic transfer-of-technology model associated with the political right. Anthropology’s opportunity: p a r a d i g m a t i c s h i f t s i n development praxis The emergence of the second development strand in the evolution of local knowledge ideas and practice has depended crucially on a sea-change recently in the paradigms that structure conceptions of development: a change that affords social anthropology the opportunity to appear respectable in development contexts instead of maverick. Blaikie et al. determining what technological alternatives might be culturally and environmentally appropriate. Chambers 1992). to the effect ‘no. as captured in a witty rejoinder scrawled under Chad’s ‘no natives’ query. It is not always clear in farmer participatory development how the link is established and operates between our scientific research capacity with its technological possibilities and the experimenting farmers with their problems and ideas. The approaches vary widely in the scope they afford farmers to participate (Martin and Sherrington 1996).are not neutral but culturally relative and subject to manipulation. The new bottom-up oriented development paradigms that have recently emerged to challenge these top-down perspectives are the market-liberal and neo-populist. from consultation (outsiders retaining control). deciding what it is important to represent is not only a culturally specific but also an individually informed judgement. The correspondence between this paradig- matic shift and the end of the Cold War is improbably coincidental. play a key role in both stages. a pun which also intimates the limitations of more recent grass-roots paradigms. to collaboration (co-operation as equal partners).

it may come to co-exist with the new capitalist arrangements. Again the perspective is top-down and state-centred. While the previous system may undergo considerable modification. the approach is now widely discredited. According to this perspective. traditional and risk-adverse. and explain failure as due to inadequate state bureaucracies. They assume that when capitalism intrudes into other societies it eliminates former socio-economic arrangements. This indigenous bourgeoisie has a vested interest in seeing maintained the exploitative structures based on differential control of economic and political resources. It assumes a marked class structure with the dominant class controlling the means of production and financial institutions. The anthropological study of different ‘modes of production’. whose knowledge remains sidelined and ignored. Economic growth assumed by modernisa- tion and manipulated by outside powers has led to the impoverishment of the majority and improvement for a small elite. It assumes that economic development occurs through the application of advanced technology. this time as the view of the powerless. the industrialisation of production and the urbanisation of populations. The dependency approach emerged as a major challenger to modernisation theory. expert-led technological change. like those of modernisation. their economic growth depending upon more powerful nations. It is state-instigated and managed by central authorities. The modernisation approach to development is largely informed by models derived from western economic history and theory. It expects changes in lesser developed countries to imitate what occurred in the west with the industrial revolution and its aftermath. through top-down planning and the imposition of policies on local populations. and the processes whereby they reproduce themselves. It not only dismisses local knowledge but also views it as part of the problem. and participating in national level institutions and politics. overlook the specific socio-historical circumstances of different cultures. being non-scientific. These markedly divided under- developed nations are in turn linked by dependency relationships to external industrial powers. and how unique internal social factors interact to influence the direction of any change. with appro- priate changes in technology and social arrangements. facilitated by arrangements of internal domination. top-down. seeing development as a unilinear process. has sought to explore interconnections between traditional and capitalist systems. conservative. the commercialisation of subsistence agriculture. although many people remain wedded to it. The latter are unable to exert much influence over capital invest- ment. world markets or international politics and cannot achieve autonomous devel- opment. into economically ‘advanced’ nations. This is not so. local knowledge is again sidelined. with the dominated masses having limited access. It portrays poor farmers as helpless victims. even irrational and primitive. namely improved. It assumes the transformation of traditional societies. uncooperative farmers and so on. economic and political inequalities exist within under- developed countries. After fifty years of attempted modernisation. allowing for the potentially more politically volatile expression of poor peoples’ views. The modernisation approach is essentially evolutionary. and call for more of the same. not more farmer participation. Dependency theory is not correct to argue that metropolitan 212 PAUL SlLLlTOE . Theories of underdevelopment. often implicitly (as in many scientific research projects). These metropolises expropriate a considerable proportion of the satellites’ economic surplus.longer being imposed so blatantly to advance hegemonies in different parts of the world with the collapse of one of the super-powers. epitomising the blueprint approach to development projects.

so that farmers can make rationally informed choices.indeed they become more entrenched with the structural adjustments associated with the promotion of market forces. it is largely as market information relating to available technical options. and can play a part in determining the allocation of regional. distorting competitive forces so that even if their operation could promote adoption of available technological options and generate beneficial change as advocated. epitomising the ‘process approach’ to development projects (Chambers 1996). over and above being vehicles promoting the advancement of material existence. as long as they remain undistorted by government intervention. how it will influence choice and the appropriateness of the various options to farmers’ environ- ments and households. they are hamstrung from the start. to the lack of control that poor farmers LOCAL K N O W L E D G E I N D E V E L O P M E N T 218 . but late twentieth century versions that promote market forces and decry state intervention and regulation. a rev- olutionary change in the political relations identified by dependency theorists as inhibiting development. interest and exchange rate manipulations. but also advocates the empowerment of ordinary poor people. It not only rejects the technocentric. if not national. They also point the finger again at poor producers for being uninformed and argue for improved education and extension. It assumes that suitable technologies can be developed. Local communities have connections too. They range from incompatibil- ity of farmer-inspired and scientific approaches. state-led approach to technology transfer. will sort things out: the increased income that peasants can earn from adopting improved technologies will be incentive enough. The markets remain highly imperfect. identified as distorting the nostrums of market liberalisation. The market-liberal approach is again informed by models derived from western economic theory. and so on. research and so on. Market distortions include subsidies. While this approach accords more attention to local knowledge. which can upset empowerment agendas).centres set the agenda for change which the national elite oversees. which they seek to modify. It remains technology-focused and largely functional (Farrington 1996). in the sense that development continues to promote research into. and dissemination of. which is taken seriously and afforded a role in problem identification. all overseen by the wealthy and powerful. The main problem is to understand what factors prevent farmers adopting these improvements and to devise incentives that will encourage them. improved technologies to increase poor peoples’ productive capacities. taxes. It is here that participatory approaches to development are prominent. The participatory focus gives potential prominence to local knowledge. The difficulties with the neo-populist paradigm have been alluded to above in the discussion of participatory approaches to development. The problems with the liberal-market approach are that state interventions continue and are unlikely ever to cease. The neo-populist approach focuses attention of the socio-political factors that inevitably impinge on development. Participation and empowerment are considered by some as ends in themselves. resources. The more ambitious formulations see local people using their knowledge and skills to work out solutions of their own. The asymmetrical power relations highlighted in dependency analysis remain . Market forces and demand. assisted if they see fit by outsider experts (although this potentially raises problematical power relations. to problems which they identify for themselves. predictably among non-government organisations working outside established power structures. Advocates of market liberalisation think that the problems are largely institutional. This approach has become increasingly prominent.

There is perhaps nothing new here in the ying and yung of development. does not accommodate cultural diversity but rather encourages people to enter the modern capitalist world. The eclectic mixing of assump- tions is applaudable. and understanding of.albeit these may be more sustainable in the long term . And participation.have over many external factors that impinge on their lives. paying more attention to ‘grass roots’ perspectives. not least the unwillingness of the powerful to relinquish any authority. By furthering our 214 PAUL SlLLlTOE . facilitated by outsiders. and on the other empowerment of the poor and disadvantaged with social scientists and soft-systems approaches. Local knowledge In development: emergence and consolidation The local knowledge approach has emerged over the last decade with these paradig- matic shifts which. facilitating allowance for. Participatory approaches can take a considerable time to show any results . both technological and socio-political issues feature to an extent. not only afford anthropology a chance to become meaningfully involved in development. symbolised initially by the right and left political poles. but also recommend it as the intellectual home of participatory development. further represented by the association o n the one hand of technological advances and improvements with natural scientists and hard systems. inextricably entwined. This time perspective is another problem. While there is nothing novel in applauding attempts to encourage a rapprochement between these two positions. modifying established practices. albeit shifting responsibility locally for decisions and ultimately project failure (Stirrat 1996). notably in the natural resources sector (Rhoades 1984. Slikkerveer and Brokensha 1995. and are often mixed up in policy and projects. Successes are often community specific and cannot be replicated on a large scale. These different development paradigms are not mutually exclusive.whereas national and international agencies have political imperatives to disburse resources and show almost immediate returns. Sometimes those who subscribe to one view of the development process borrow ideas from others. Chambers 1996. striving to reach a consensus between two extremes. other times unintentionally with confused o r fortuitously beneficial results. as outlined above. to build on their combined strengths to further development. Richards 1985). maybe intentionally making an alli- ance. affording it disciplinary pedigree and coherence. Local knowledge research sets out explicitly to make connections between other peoples’ understandings and practices and those of scientific researchers and develop- ment workers. sharing here modernisation’s assumptions. the issues raised by each. notably the wider political arena where decisions are made that affect them. Regarding the more recent market-technical and populist-empowerment approaches that allow for a grass-roots perspective and advocate local knowledge research. It is this arena that the empowerment lobby target. This again suits it to non-government organisations rather than bilateral and multilateral aid agencies which target large regions and strive for tangible results in short time-frames. promoting creative tension and synergistic space. giving rise to innumerable other problems. It is a matter of emphasis. this in no way diminishes the perennial difficulties and frustrations of such work. which at root come down to differences in values and priorities. Another problem with this approach is its local focus. Warren. This relates to the need to draw together the academic and development strands that have contributed in varying extents to local knowledge research.

generating appro- priate insights. but subject to continual negotiation berween stake-holders. such as that at the Centro Inter- natiocional de la Papa into potato post-harvest technology (Rhoades 1984). The result is that local knowledge research currently lacks paradigmatic or methodological coherence. which are currently very heterogeneous in their approaches. it aims to contribute in the long term to gainful development and positive change. and advancement of a methodology that recognises that local knowledge is not static nor uniform. Howes 1980. although some pioneering applied work predates these. case histories etc. ~involves the reconciliation of tensions evident between the natural and social sciences. part of the globalisation LOCAL KNOWLEDGE I N DEVELOPMENT 211 . edited volumes and technical reports. Indeed it is caught in a battle of perspectives (Long and Long 1992. like participant-observation. I take them up elsewhere. the philosophy underlying local knowledge research is unexcep- tionable.understanding of agricultural. and bears the stamp of its robust concern for addressing practical issues in appropriate contexts: technically. Fairhead n. Apffel- Marglin and Marglin 1990) as practitioners tussle in arguments characterised as right versus left. time-effective. But this position has still to be comprehensively validated to be widely accepted (Warren 1991).d. The challenges that currently face local knowledge centre on its effective incorporation into the development process. the promotion of facilitatory anthropological research methods to foster meaningful dialogue between natural resources scientists and local people to establish what research may have to offer. promoting culturally appro- priate and environmentally sustainable adaptations acceptable to people as they increasingly exploit their natural resources commercially. sample surveys. which implies the formulation of appropriate methodologies (Barker 1977).while not compromising anthropological expectations or downplaying the difficulties attending the excogita- tion of others’ knowledge so as to render the work effectively v a l ~ e l e s sIt . 1993). in Current Anthropology. readily intelligible to non-experts etc. (Ellen 1984). The proposition that an understanding and appreciation of local ideas and practices will further development work is self-evident to any anthropologist. Chambers 1983). This is no straightforward endeavour involving the import of tried and tested approaches from anthropology. It is difficult as a consequence to define the intellectual stance of local knowledge studies. in a paper entitled ‘The development of indigenous knowledge: a new applied anthropology’. natural versus social science. Its beginnings in develop- ment are dated to the appearance of some provocative works around the early 1980s (Swift 1979. and so on.cost-effective. Much of this work has recently appeared under the auspices of the Intermediate Technology Movement. forestry and fishing regimes. . it being 4 The issues are large and beyond investigation within the limits of this paper (Mettrick 1993. people are more likely to respond positively if the new ideas are presented sympathetically with regard for their knowledge and understanding. Bell 1979. It is increasingly acknowledged as sound sense in development contexts that where we think that we can offer technical assistance to other societies based on our scientific approach. It involves the formulation of research strategies that meet the demands of development . Such research has grown rapidly since then with a proliferation of conferences. Brokensha et al. symposia. reflecting a healthy interest in any academic paradigm relevant to enquiries and pertinent to developmental problems in any region (the majority have affinity to ethnographic accounts of production systems). Nonetheless. and the establishment of an inter- national network with a quarterly newsletter (Warren et al.). culturally and environmentally. hard-system versus soft. They include the need to develop a coherent local knowledge intellectual framework to interface effectively with western science. 1980.

and the interpretation that people put on shared knowledge may differ. for the refining and reforming of anthropological methods to meet development require- ments. Research methods need to anticipate this. what is the intellectual status of such all-encompassing knowledge? The local knowledge movement. and between individuals of similar social status (Scoones and Thompson 1994). The implications of variations in knowledge within local communities demand assessment and the advancement of appropriate methodologies to gauge them. Local knowledge is not locally homogenous. This negotiation will be difficult. Can we represent everyone’s knowledge. The difficulties encountered in formulating generalisations applicable on a large scale also present a considerable barrier to local knowledge research in development. inviting unneces- sary distortion (Reyna 1994). and people interpreting and modifying for themselves any information that reaches them in the light of their socio-cultural tradition and experience. facilitating adoption of interventions by promoting partnership and an awareness of local perspectives. It is widely agreed in development circles that ‘folks rule. The problem is how to achieve this and contribute meaningfully to development. and that indigenous knowledge needs to be conveyed to natural scientists so that they can appreciate its relevance (DeWalt 1994). engaging with peoples’ lives in ways not heretofore anticipated by anthropology. not to contend that it is bogus to distinguish between them (Agrawal 1995). and increasing demand. needs to address some contentious ethical issues. Differences exist along gender. and if so. Local knowledge research is not socially neutral. occupational and other lines. okay’: that it is necessary to know the natives. and this development-oriented indigenous knowledge work is no different to any other ethnographic enquiry in this respect. But any interpretation of another culture is unavoidably distorting. The time-scale involved in ethnographic research presents problems too in development contexts. It differs in its struggle to accommodate hard natural science and soft social science perspectives in under- standing and interpreting other cultures and their environments. not only because of cross-cultural communication and difficulties of under- standing. for contributing to development which aims to assist certain people over others it inevitably interferes in their lives. methods which have been strangely ignored during recent post-modern debates over what the discipline has achieved (the criticisms of which relate in no small measure to fieldwork practice).assumed that western science has something to contribute to the development process. The element of scientific collaboration in local knowledge research may strike some anthropologists as contentious. and has the virtue of not pretending to aspire to some insider’s interpretation. depending on how it affects their interests (Mosse 1994). but also because it will inevitably have a political aspect. with their short-term orientation and politically driven considerations demanding immediate returns. as current post-modern criticism affirms. This will require some compromises. class. This involves on-going revision of knowledge and understanding. age. and there is a need to evolve methods and formulate principles that will allow some reliable anthropological input into policy debates. This is the way to dismantle the divide between indigenous and scientific knowledge. PAULSillitoe Department of Anthropology University of Durham 43 Old Elvet Durham D H 1 3 H N England process. 216 PAUL S l L L l T O E . We have to address the issue of whose knowledge we are going to privilege. an inevitable limitation of our research methods. There is considerable scope.

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