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Ethnoscience


Ethnoscience has been defined as an attempt "to reconstitute what serves as science for others, their practices of looking after themselves and their bodies, their botanical knowledge, but also their forms of classification, of making connections, etc." (Augé, 1999: 118).

Ethnoscience’s focus was not always different from the ideas of “cognitive anthropology”, “component analysis,” or “the New Ethnography”; it is a specialization of indigenous knowledge systems, such as Ethno-botany, ethno-zoology, ethno-medicine, etc. (Atran, 1991: 595)”. According to Scott Atran, ethnoscience looks at culture with a scientific perspective (1991: 650), although most anthropologists abhor this definition. Ethnoscience helps to understand how people develop with different forms of knowledge and beliefs, and focuses on the ecological and historical contributions people have been given (Atran, 1991: 650). Tim Ingold describes ethnoscience as being a cross-discipline (2000: 160). He writes that ethnoscience is based on increased collaboration between social sciences and humanities (e.g., anthropology, sociology, psychology, and philosophy) with natural sciences such as biology, ecology, or medicine (Ingold, 2000: 406-7). At the same time, ethnoscience is increasingly transdisciplinary in its nature (Ingold, 2000: 407).

Of course, naturally over time, the ways in which data has been collected and studied has changed and it has evolved, becoming more detailed and specific (Urry, 1972: 45). The ideas, mechanics, and methods of ethnoscience evolved from something else - a combination of several things. This pretext amalgamation of theories, processes, and –isms led to the evolution of today’s ethnoscience.

Early on, Franz Boas established cultural relativism as an approach to understanding indigenous scientific practices (Uddin, 2005: 980). Cultural relativism identifies people’s differences and shows how they are a result of the social, historical, and geographical conditions (Uddin, 2005: 980). Boas is known for his work in Northern Vancouver, Canada, working with the Kwakwaka'wakw Indians, which is where he established the importance of culture (Uddin, 2005: 980). Lévi-Straussstructuralism was a strong contributor to the ideas of ethnoscience (Uddin, 2005: 980). It, itself, was the leading idea of providing structure to the research and a guide to organizing and relating different cultures. “Ethnoscience refers to a ‘reduction of chaos’ achieved by a particular culture, rather than to the ‘highest possible and conscious degree’ to which such chaos may be reduced;” basically, the ethnoscience of a society creates its culture (Sturtevant, 1964: 100). Much of the influence of anthropology, e.g., geographical determinism, was through the contributions of Jean Bodin (Harris, 1968: 42). In his text, he tried to explain why “northern people were faithful, loyal to the government, cruel, and sexually uninterested, compared to why southern people were malicious, craft, wise, expert in science but ill-adapted to political activity (Harris, 1968: 52).” The Greek historian, Polybius, asserted “we mortals have an irresistible tendency to yield to climatic influences; and to this cause, and no other, may be traced the great distinctions that prevail among us in character, physical formation, complexion, as well as in most of our habits…” (quoted in Harris, 1968: 41).



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