Traditional communities’ knowledge and formal scientific knowledge: How activists use modern science to empower environmental speech

Author: Diogo de Oliveira – Universidade Federal de Campina Grande, Brazil


  • Bruce Lewenstein – Cornell University, United States

Centuries before modern science, humankind developed many ways of understanding nature. The accumulated knowledge and its practical application in ordinary life as habits that endure over the years make part of the cultural heritage that traditional communities bring to contemporary life. Many indigenous tribes and traditional communities have been extinguished but many others still survive, especially in Latin America, in the Amazon Forest Region. Living in preserved areas and struggling against powerful industrial, mineral and agricultural companies, activists in traditional communities combine their traditional knowledge with data and analyses drawing on formal scientific knowledge to create arguments for shaping public opinion. The combination of traditional knowledge, practical knowledge, and academic knowledge seems to be a particularly powerful way of constructing potent arguments. Traditional knowledge is also a source for research companies and universities as they conduct their studies; but their use of principles discovered by minority populations is sometimes criticized as expropriation. Our paper investigates these relations and points out the importance of combining local knowledge with formal scientific knowledge to convince global citizens about the realities of socio-environmental conflicts. This paper is part of a project of understanding socio-environmental conflicts through the perspective of science communication.

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Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Transformation