Asking Better Questions about Indigenous Knowledge and Science

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Submission Summary
The relationship between Indigenous knowledge and science is a topic of increasing global discussion, especially regarding climate and environmental sciences. A lot of this discussion has centred around comparing or contrasting the two on a range of counts, such as epistemic merit, methodological overlap, or worthiness of inclusion in science classrooms. These discussions are not always clear about the precise meanings of ‘science’ and ‘Indigenous knowledge’ (used here as shorthand for a family of related terms) at stake. In this talk we offer a framework for greater conceptual clarity and care in these discussions. We develop our framework through the lens of the relationship between mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge, culture, values and worldview) and science (Hikuroa 2017, Mercier and Jackson 2019). A current high-profile and heated debate in Aotearoa/New Zealand centers on questions such as “Is mātauranga science?” or “(How) are mātauranga and science compatible?”. This local example provides a basis for a broader message about discussions of Indigenous knowledge and science taking place elsewhere in the world. People are talking past each other in debates about mātauranga Māori and science. This is partly due to the topic’s emotional and political entrenchment, but especially, we argue, due to pervasive ambiguities and equivocation on the meaning of ‘science’. Instead of discussing “mātauranga Māori versus science” in the abstract, these discussions should zoom in on more particular questions. A range of questions are presently run together—about the nature and limits of science, epistemic value, how to allocate research funding, proposed school curriculum changes, and other issues—to the detriment of constructively addressing any of them. As a basis for greater conceptual clarity and care in these discussions, we propose thinking of the family of claims at stake in terms of three variables: (1) mātauranga Māori, (2) science, and (3) the specific nature of the relationship being argued for or denied. Participants in these discussions should unambiguously fill in the blanks for each variable. We articulate a range of ways to do so, spanning epistemic, ontological, methodological, and socially or politically normative understandings. We discuss a range of examples from the literature on mātauranga Māori and science, and Indigenous knowledge and science more broadly, illustrating the landscape of ideas at stake in this discussion. Using the resulting framework as a basis, we urge future participants in these discussions to disambiguate any claims about “Indigenous knowledge and (or versus) science”, specify which questions they are asking and addressing, and exercise more conceptual clarity. Hikuroa, D. (2017). Mātauranga Māori: The ūkaipō of knowledge in New Zealand. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, 47(1): 5–10. Mercier, O. & Jackson, A.-M. (eds.) (2019). Mātauranga and Science. New Zealand Science Review, two-part special issue: 75(4) and 76(1–2).
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University of Auckland
University of Auckland

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