Epistemological and methodological framework for indigenous knowledge in climate science

  • Nelson Chanza
  • An ton de Witt
Keywords: Climate science, epistemology, indigenous knowledge, methodology, neo-indigenismo.


The current wave of interest in indigenous knowledge (IK) is mainly due to growing acknowledgement of the limitation on the part of conventional science in addressing environmental issues. Because indigenous people are keen observers of the climate system, from their many years of close interaction with the environment, they undoubtedly hold knowledge, the relevance of which is two-fold: IK helps in understanding climate change (CC); and it offers useful insights in sustainable adaptation strategies that are pragmatic at the level of society. Apparently, there is a plethora of approaches in the study of IK; and no clear framework has yet been proposed for documenting IK in climate science. By reviewing appropriate scholarship on IK and CC, this article outlines a framework of study intended to harness the valuable insights of the local ‘scientists’, whose knowledge has previously been subjected to epistemological injustices. We argue that this neo-indigenismo – the belief that indigenous knowledge has something to offer – faces numerous problems, unless it is framed within a robust epistemological and methodological configuration. The article concludes by analysing five problems associated with a hasty and ad hoc approach in indigenous science inquiry. Such approaches could be viewed as unscientific; and therefore, easily dismissed; the knowledge may remain untapped, and fail to give any practical directions to policy implementation; generators of the knowledge could remain transmogrified and subjugated. The approach would not be ethical in an indigenous context, and IK could be facing a natural demise.

Keywords: Climate science, epistemology, indigenous knowledge, methodology, neo-indigenismo.


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1683-0296