Who owns what? Indigenous Knowledge and struggles over representation
Ownership of field research records involving informants and subject communities is discussed with regard to doing research amongst indigenous populations. Intellectual property rights (IPR) law often assumes, for example, that an age-old mythical story retold by a contemporary informant is owned by the legal entity that facilitated its being captured in writing. The implication is that if the story-teller now wants to tell the same story to someone else, written legal permission from the legal entity would be required. IPR contracts freeze the dynamism of knowledge, killing its ‘lived’ relation, and the process owned by others (our research partners/hosts/subjects) is transformed into commodities that the original storytellers no longer own or control. For our ǂKhomani Bushman hosts, this constitutes information theft. A third party, in our case the academy, claims ownership of ideas our subjects thought were theirs. This article examines ensuing issues of IPR and ethics in relation to doing research amongst indigenous communities.