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:
2 Early approaches
3.2 Taxonomy and classification
3.3 System of classification – among cultures
3.4 Contemporary research
4 See also
Ethnoscience has not always focused on ideas distinct from those 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[quantify]
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)[by whom?]. Tim Ingold
describes ethnoscience as a cross-discipline (2000: 160). He writes
that ethnoscience is based on increased collaboration between social
sciences and the 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,
Of course, naturally over time, the ways in which data has been
collected and studied has changed and the field has evolved, becoming
more detailed and specific (Urry, 1972: 45).[need quotation to verify]
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.
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-Strauss' structuralism 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).
Another aspect of anthropology prior to ethnoscience is enculturation.
Newton and Newton described enculturation as a process whereby the
novice, or "outsider", learns what is important to the "insider"
Marvin Harris writes, "One of [enculturation's] most important
technical expressions is the doctrine of 'psychic unity,' the belief
that in the study of sociocultural differences, hereditary (genetic)
differences cancel each other out, leaving 'experience' as the most
significant variable" (Harris, 1968: 15). This is one of the many
starts of people opening up to the idea that just because people are
different, doesn't mean they are wrong in their thinking. Harris
describes how religious beliefs hinder and affect the progress of
anthropology and ethnography. The moral beliefs and restrictions of
religion fought against anthropological ideas, possibly due to
(especially at the time) to the newly hyped idea of evolutionism and
Darwinism (Harris, 1968).
Bronislaw Malinowski was one of many who contributed heavily to the
precursor of ethnoscience. His earlier work brought attention to
sociological studies; his earliest publication focused on a family in
Australia, using a sociological study perspective (Harris, 1968: 547).
After the First World War, anthropological work was at a stand still;
nothing had evolved, if not regressed (Urry, 1972: 54). This allowed
him to start from scratch, and rebuild his ideas and methods (Harris,
Later, however, Malinowski branched out to political evolution during
World War II. The period after
World War II
World War II is what led to
ethnoscience; anthropologists learned their skills could be applied to
problems that were affecting modern societies (Mead, 1973: 1).
Malinowski said "… with his tables of kinship terms, genealogies,
maps, plans and diagrams, proves an extensive and big organization,
shows the contribution of the tribe, of the clan, of the family, and
he gives a picture of the natives subjected to a strict code of
behavior and good manners, to which in comparison the life at the
Court of Versailles or
Escurial was free and easy" (1922: 10). After
World War II, there was an extreme amount of growth in the
anthropological field, not only with research opportunities but
academically, as well (Mead, 1973: 2).
The anthropologist Robin Horton, who taught at several Nigerian
universities, considered the traditional knowledge of indigenous
peoples as incorporated within conceptual world views that bear
certain similarities to, and differences from, the modern scientific
worldview. Like modern science, traditional thought provides a
theoretical structure that "places things in a causal order wider than
that provided by common sense" (Horton, 1967, p. 53). In contrast
to modern science, he saw traditional thought as having a limited
awareness of theoretical alternatives and, consequently, displaying
"an absolute acceptance of the established theoretical tenets"
(Horton, 1967, pp. 155–6).
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of related methods and processes
that preceded ethnoscience.
Ethnoscience is just another way to study
the human culture and the way people interact in society. Taking a
look at the ideas and analyses prior to ethnoscience can help
understand why it was developed in the first place. Although, it is
not widely used and there is criticism on both ends, ethnoscience
allows for a more comprehensive way to collect data and patterns of a
people. This is not to say the process is its best or that there will
be nothing better. That is the best part: everything evolves, even
thought. Just as the ideas did in the past, they can improve over time
and regress over time but change is inevitable.
Ethnoscience is a new term and study that came into anthropological
theory in the 1960s. Often referred to as "indigenous knowledge",
ethnoscience introduces a perspective based on native perceptions. It
is based on a complete emic perspective, which excludes all
observations, interpretations and or any personal notions belonging to
the ethnographer. The taxonomy and classification of indigenous
systems, to name a few, used to categorize plants, animals, religion
and life is adapted from a linguistic analysis. The concept of "Native
Science" is also related to the understanding the role of the
environment intertwined with the meaning humans place upon their
lives. Understanding the language and the native people's linguistic
system is one method to understand a native people's system of
knowledge of organization. Not only is there categorization for things
pertaining to nature and culture thought language, but more
importantly and complex is the relationship between environment and
Ethnoscience looks at the intricacies of the connection
between culture and its surrounding environment. There are also
potential limitations and shortcomings in interpreting these systems
of knowledge as a dictation of culture and behavior.
Since an ethnographer is not able to physically enter inside an
indigenous person's mind, it is essential to not only create a setting
or question-answer format to understand perspective but to analyze
semantics and word order of given answer to derive an emic
understanding. The main focus on a particular component of the
languages is placed on its lexicon. The terms "etic" and "emic" are
derived from the linguistic terms of "phonetic" and "phonemic".
As introduced by Gregory Cajete, some limitations the concept of
indigenous knowledge, is the potential to bypass non-indigenous
knowledge as pertinent and valuable. The labels of "indigenous" are
overly accepted by those who seek more support by outsiders to further
their cause. There might also be an unequal distribution of knowledge
amongst a tribe or peoples. There is also the idea that culture is
bound by environment. Some theorists conclude that indigenous people's
culture is not operated by mental concentrations but solely by the
earth that surrounds them. Some theorists go the extent to state that
biological processes are based upon the availability, of lack thereof,
environmental resources. The methods for sustainability are founded
through the workings of the land. These techniques are exercised from
the basis of tradition. The importance of the combination of
ecological process, social structures, environmental ethics and
spiritual ecology are crucial to the expression of the true connection
between the natural world and "ecological consciousness".
The origin of
Ethnoscience began between the years 1960 to 1965;
deriving from the concept of "ethno- + science". Ethno- a combining
form meaning "race", "culture", "people", used in the formation of
compound words: ethnography. The two concepts later emerged into
"ethno-science". The origin of the word 'science' involves the empiric
observation of measurable quantities and the testing of hypotheses to
falsify or support them. "
Ethnoscience refers to the system of
knowledge and cognition typical of a given culture...to put it another
way a culture itself amounts to the sum of a given society's folk
classifications, all of that society's ethnoscience, its particular
ways of classifying its material and social universe" (Sturtevant
1964: 99–100). The aim of ethnoscience is to gain a more complete
description of cultural knowledge.
Ethnoscience has been successfully
used on several studies of given cultures relating to their
linguistics, folk taxonomy, and how they classify their foods, animals
Ethnoscience is the examination of the perceptions, knowledge, and
classifications of the world as reflected in their use of language,
which can help anthropologists understand a given culture. By using an
ethnographic approach to studying a culture and learning their lexicon
and syntax they are able to gain more knowledge in understanding how a
particular culture classifies its material and social universe. In
addition, this approach "adopted provides simultaneously a point at
which the discipline of linguistics, or at least some of its general
attitudes, may sensibly be used in anthropology and as a means of
gaining insight not only into the nature of man but also into the
nature of culture" (Videbeck and Pia, 1966).
Researchers can use linguistics to study what a given culture
considers important in a given situation or unforeseen event, and can
rank those potential situations in terms of their likelihood to recur.
In addition, "understanding the contingencies is helpful in the task
of comprehending folk taxonomies on the one hand, and, on the other,
an understanding of the taxonomy is required for a full scale
appreciation of criteria considered relevant in a given culture
(Videbeck and Pia, 1966).
Taxonomy and classification
Ethnoscience can be used to analyze the kinship terminology of a given
culture, using their language and according to how they view members
of their society. Taxonomies "are models of analysis whose purpose is
the description of particular types of hierarchical relationships
between members of a given set of elements" (Perchonock and Werner,
1969). For example, in our society we classify family groups by giving
members the title of father, mother, sister, daughter, brother, son,
grandfather, grandmother, etc.
System of classification – among cultures
Ethnoscience deals with how a given culture classifies certain
principles in addition to how it is express through their language. By
understanding a given culture through how they view the world,
anthropologists attempt to eliminate any bias through translation as
well as categorized their principles in their own ways. "The new
methods, which focus on the discovery and description of folk systems,
have come to be known as Ethnoscience.
Ethnoscience analysis has thus
far concentrated on systems of classification within such cultural and
linguistic domains as colors, plants, and medicines" (Perchonock and
Werner, 1969). An ethnoscientific approach can be used to better
understand a given culture and their knowledge of their culture. Using
an ethnographic approach can help anthropologists understand how that
given culture views and categorizes their own foods, animal kingdom,
medicines, as well as plants.
Ethnoscience can be effectively summed up as a classification system
for a particular culture in the same way that a botanist would use a
taxonomic system for the classification of plant species. Everything
from class levels, food consumption, clothing, and material culture
objects would be subjected to a taxonomic classification system. In
essence, ethnoscience is a way of classifying cultural systems in a
structured order to better understand the culture. The roots of
ethnoscience can be traced back to influential anthropologists such as
Franz Boas, Bronislaw Malinowski, and
Benjamin Whorf who attempted to
understand other cultures from an insider's perspective. Ward
Goodenough is accredited for bringing ethnoscience to the stage when
he define cultural systems of knowledge by stating:
"A societies culture consists of whatever it is one has to know or
believe in order to operate in a manner acceptable to its members.
Culture is not a material phenomenon; it does not consist of things,
behavior, or emotions. It is rather an organization of these things.
It is the form of things that people have in mind, their models for
perceiving, relating, and otherwise interpreting them."
In order to properly put ethnoscience in context we must first
understand the definition of ethnoscience. it is defined as "an
attempt at cultural description from a totally emic perspective (a
perspective in ethnography that uses the concepts and categories that
are relevant and meaningful to the culture that is insider analysis)
standpoint, this eliminating all of the ethnographer's own categories"
(Morey and Luthans 27).
Ethnoscience is also a way of learning and
understanding how an individual or group perceive their environment
and how they fit in with their environment as reflected in their own
words and actions.
Ethnoscience has many techniques when applied to an emic perspective.
Ethnosemantics, ethnographic semantics, ethnographic ethnoscience,
formal analysis, and componential analysis are the terms that apply to
the practice of ethnoscience. Ethnosemantics looks at the meaning of
words in order to place them in context of the culture being studied.
It allows for taxonomy of a certain part of the culture being looked
at so that there is a clear breakdown which in turn leads to a deeper
understanding of the subject at hand. Ethnographic semantics are very
similar to cognitive anthropology in that its primary focus is the
intellectual and rational perspectives of the culture being studied.
Ethnographic semantics specifically looks at how language is used
throughout the culture. Lastly, ethnographic ethnoscience is related
to ethnosemantics such that, it uses a taxonomic system to understand
how cultural knowledge is accessible through language. Ethnographic
ethnoscience uses similar classification systems for cultural domains
like ethnobotany and ethnoanatomy. Again, ethnoscience is a way of
understanding a how a culture sees itself through its own language.
Understanding the cultural language allows the ethnographer to have a
deeper and more intimate understanding of the culture.
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Ingroups and outgroups
Ethnicity in census
Ethnic interest group
Ethnic theme park