Indigenous Knowledge and Applied Anthropology: Questions of Definition and Direction
The word indigenous has been used to refer to specific groups of people defined by the criteria of ancestral territory, collective cultural configuration, and historical location in relation to the expansion of Europe. Since the 1980s, however, the term has evolved beyond its specific empirical reference. Combined with the term knowledge, it has come to signify a social science perspective as well as a philosophical and ideological position that rests on recognition of the role of knowledge in the power relations constituted by the expansion of Europe. This article outlines the evolution of this perspective and its relationship to applied anthropology. It argues that the perspective is based on a humanistic unease with the effect of westernization on indigenous peoples, and that this humanistic thinking has deep roots in applied anthropology. Recent studies that support the use of indigenous knowledge in planned social change (development) follow in this vein, and constitute a critique of aspects of Western knowledge. The paper concludes that applied anthropologists should pay greater attention to facilitating the praxis of indigenous autonomy.