LOGOS & EPISTEME, IV, 2 (2013): 145159
SCIENTIFIC EPISTEMOLOGY VERSUS
MEANINGS OF PLACE AND KNOWLEDGE
IN THE EPISTEMIC CULTURES
ABSTRACT: The article is based on a synthetic comparative analysis of two different
epistemic traditions and explores indigenous and scientific epistemic cultures through
close reading and exploration of two books. The first book, Epistemic Cultures: How the
Sciences Make Knowledge, written by Austrian sociologist Karin Knorr-Cetina (1999),
serves as an excellent foundational material to represent scientific epistemic tradition.
The second book by cultural and linguistic anthropologist Keith Basso (1996), Wisdom
Sits in Places: Landscape and Language among the Western Apache, opens a wide
perspective for exploration indigenous epistemic culture. Both of the books deal with
questions of knowledge production and social-cultural mechanisms that surround these
processes. The article seeks to explain how the differences between methodological
approaches, in their distinct questions, and the variance in research subjects eventually
leads the authors to completely dissimilar understandings of such shared notions as
place and knowledge. Through the comparative exploration of both texts, the present
analysis uncovers the meanings of these notions as articulated and presented in each of
KEYWORDS: epistemic culture, knowledge production,
scientific epistemology, indigenous epistemology
Theorizing about creating paradigms of truth, establishing knowledge that
becomes truth, or reconstituting ways of creating knowledge are all aspects of
epistemology. It has been recognized that knowledge is constructed by
communities, and such communities are epistemologically prior to individuals
who know.1 Considering a diverse variety of epistemic traditions and world views
embedded in social-cultural environments of different communities, in recent
decades the notion of epistemic culture has gained a considerable academic
1 Lynn Hankinson Nelson, Epistemological Communities, in Feminist Epistemologies, ed.
Linda Alcoff and Elizabeth Potter (New York: Routledge, 1993), 121160.
attention.2 Epistemic culture can be described as a set of specific social-cultural
norms, beliefs, traditions and restrictions, shaped by affinity, necessity, and
historical coincidence, and defined by causal and principled ideas coupled with a
common knowledge base and policy goals.3 Epistemic cultures are nurtured and
developed within particular epistemic environments which belong to broader
historical cultural paradigmatic contexts of human civilizations.
The epistemic culture of Western civilization, based on the ideas of
knowledge society has long established foundational principles of epistemic
traditions, recognizing science or scientific enquiry as the most trustful source of
knowledge. Scientific paradigm of epistemic culture predominantly relies on such
concepts as objectivity of approach and acceptability of the results.4 Objectivity
refers to employment of specific ways of observation or experimentation which
exclude the possibility of falsifying results; and acceptability is attested in terms of
the degree to which observations and experimentations can be reproduced.
Scientific method is traditionally based on two major reasoning processes:
inductive reasoning or developing general hypotheses upon results gained through
specific observations and experiments; and deductive reasoning, which, in
contrast, is based on prior theoretical foundations leading to developing specific
experiments for testing predicted results. Both of the reasoning processes build the
foundations of the broad laws that become part of the understanding of the
natural world within the scientific epistemic community.5
This view of scientific inquiry is one that is commonly and almost
universally accepted in the Western academic world even today.6 This scientific
epistemic tradition or scientific epistemology has been dominating the field of
research and knowledge production for many generations and has come to be
fixed in the public consciousness.7 However, in recent decades, the feminist,
postcolonial, and postmodernist studies have challenged these epistemic canons
and opened opportunities for exploring alternative worldviews, which required
2 Karin Knorr-Cetina, Epistemic Cultures: How the Sciences Make Knowledge (Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 1999).
3 Peter Haas, Introduction: Epistemic Communities and International Policy Coordination,
International Organization 46, 1 (1992): 1-35.
4 Arthur David Ritchie, Scientific Method: An Inquiry into the Character and Validity of
Natural Laws (London: Routledge, 1923).
5 Ritchie, Scientific Method, 12.
John Rudolph, Epistemology for the Masses: The Origins of The Scientific Method in
American Schools, History of Education Quarterly 45, 3 (2005): 341-376.
7 Rudolph, Epistemology for the Masses, 342.
Scientific Epistemology Versus Indigenous Epistemology
new methodologies outside of the dominant tradition.8
has emerged as a new epistemic culture out of a necessity to provide indigenous
ethnic groups to assert the validity of their own ways of knowing and being, in
resistance to the intensifying hegemony of mainstream epistemology from the
The indigenous epistemology is not only about ethnic identity or
revitalizing traditional cultures, but more about exploring alternative ways of
constructing knowledge. It refers to a cultural groups ways of thinking and
reformulating knowledge using traditional discourses and means of
communication, such as .10 The indigenous
knowledge is usually contrasted with scientific knowledge within numerous rural
development discourses and practices, which account for the development agenda
in the international arena in regard to improving the poor economic situations in
so called developing countries, for example in Africa, Latin America or the
Pacific Islands. Usually, these discourses do not go beyond a mere advocacy for
incorporation of indigenous knowledge into development practices, which are
already based on the Western knowledge systems, values, and social formations.
Likewise, within ethnographic or anthropological research frameworks on
the study of indigenous cultures, when outsider researchers explore other peoples
cultures, usually they construct accounts of indigenous socio-cultural
environments based on their own perceptions and world views. As anthropologists
Gegeo and Watson-Gegeo insightfully point out the foregoing activities, while
they draw on indigenous cultural knowledge, are imagined, conceptualized, and
carried out within the theoretical and methodological frameworks of AngloEuropean forms of research, reasoning, and interpreting.11 The concept of
indigenous epistemology is different from these outsiders theories and accounts
for specific ways of theorizing knowledge and employing particular
methodological approaches in exploring the truth beyond the dominant academic
Though the indigenous epistemology is gaining a growing recognition as a
contested epistemic paradigm, there is still a room for conceptualizing the
differences between the scientific and indigenous epistemic cultures. This article
8 Michael Hart, Indigenous Worldviews, Knowledge, and Research: The Development of an
Indigenous Research Paradigm, Journal of Indigenous Voices in Social Work 1,1 (2010): 1-16.
9 David Gegeo and Karen Ann Watson-Gegeo, How We Know: Kwaraae Rural Villagers Doing
Indigenous Epistemology, The Contemporary Pacific 13, 1 (2001): 55.
10 David Gegeo, Indigenous Knowledge and Empowerment: Rural Development Examined
from Within,The Contemporary Pacific 10, 2 (1998): 290.
11 Gegeo and Watson-Gegeo, How We Know, 55.
aims to address these issues and provides a modest contribution to the theoretical
framework of exploring epistemic cultures and traditions through comparison and
contrast of the two knowledge production models. This work presents a synthetic
comparative analysis of the indigenous and scientific epistemic cultures through
close reading and exploration of two books, which both deal with questions of
knowledge production and social-cultural mechanisms that surround these
processes. The first book, Epistemic Cultures: How the Sciences Make Knowledge,
written by Austrian sociologist Karin Knorr-Cetina (1999), serves as an excellent
foundational material to represent scientific epistemic tradition. The second book
by cultural and linguistic anthropologist Keith Basso (1996), Wisdom Sits in
Places: Landscape and Language among the Western Apache, opens a wide
perspective for exploration indigenous epistemic culture, both through the eyes of
the indigenous communities, as well as the Western anthropologist, the author of
the book. Both of these research studies originate from completely different
cultural and epistemic contexts and backgrounds in terms of goals set, arguments
employed, and empirical data collected and analyzed. However, both of these
studies aim to rethink the spatial questions of epistemic environments through the
mapping of cultural structures around knowledge generating and transferring
This article compares and contrasts the aforementioned readings concerned
with place and knowledge from multiple angles. It seeks to explain how the
differences between methodological approaches, in their distinct questions, and
the variance in research subjects eventually leads the authors to completely
dissimilar understandings of such shared notions as place and knowledge which
representatively account for distinct differences between the scientific and
indigenous epistemologies. Through the comparative exploration of both texts, the
present analysis uncovers the meanings of these notions as articulated and
presented in each of the books. The article starts with the analysis of research
subjects investigated by Knorr-Cetina and Basso and then moves to compare the
methodologies employed for each of the research projects. Eventually, this work
discusses how the authors understand knowledge, people, and place within the
contexts of their research studies and questions the implications for science and
society in each of their positions.
Research subjects: knowledge society versus wisdom culture
In her book, Knorr-Cetina contextualizes her research in a study of big sciences
in knowledge societies to argue that science is geographically and culturally
dispersed enterprise. Her research aims to prove that contemporary science is a
Scientific Epistemology Versus Indigenous Epistemology
whole landscape-or market-of independent epistemic monopolies producing
vastly different products.12 Interestingly, Basso in his research on the indigenous
community of the Western Apache culture also looks at the notion of place and
explores the significance of this concept in the knowledge paradigm of Apache
tribe. He investigates the connections among place, knowledge, and morality as
understood within the Apache culture and builds his research project on the deep
immersion into and exploration of the historical tribal past as re-articulated for
him in the present.
To analyze knowledge processes and decipher scientific epistemic tradition
or construction and fashioning of social arrangements within science KnorrCetina looks closely at two science monopolies that are at the forefront of
academic respectability, intense, successful, and heavily financed.13 These
sciences are experimental high energy physics and molecular biology. KnorrCetina draws her analytical observations and comparisons through analysis of
contemporary machineries of knowing by questioning how they work and what
principles govern their procedures. She aims to understand if social order norms
can be employed as patterns to describe and analyze the organizational structures
around science agencies and how these patterns differ across the landscapes of
science or so called epistemic sub-cultures.14 As a result of her comparison
between physics and biology disciplines, she points out the epistemic disunity of
contemporary natural sciences by contrasting institutional forms and structures
that define and shape knowledge systems and processes:15
These were the differences between the liminal approach to truth in physics and
blind variation in molecular biology, or the difference between physics’ way of
locating data at the intersection between signs, simulations, and theory and
molecular biology’s experiential conception of measurement, or the difference
between communitarian mechanisms in one case and individuation in the
Looking also at social and cultural construction around knowledge systems
of indigenous culture, Basso, on the other hand, grounds his anthropological
research in an exploration of Apache epistemic tradition with its non western
conceptions of knowledge, space, and time. In contrast with Knorr-Cetina, who is
concerned more with larger social structures as monolith systems, Basso advocates
12 Knorr-Cetina, Epistemic Cultures, 4.
13 Knorr-Cetina, Epistemic Cultures, 4.
14 Knorr-Cetina, Epistemic Cultures, 3.
15 Knorr-Cetina, Epistemic Cultures, 8.
16 Knorr-Cetina, Epistemic Cultures, 246.
for sensitivity to individual human experiences bounded to human existence that
is irrevocably situated in time and space.17 Concerned with the questions of
production and the sharing of knowledge of the self in the Apache cultural
system, Basso investigates the schemes of reproductions of knowledge within
larger social and cultural fields including community, places, and tribal historic
past.18 Specifically, Basso is interested in understanding the role of place in the
cultural domain of Apache communities located within the geographical and
cultural landscapes of Cibecue.19 Through a depiction of the peculiarities of the
Apache culture, Basso illustrates how a geographic concept of place acquires
cognitive, emotional, esthetic, and social dimensions:
When places are actively sensed, the physical landscape becomes wedded to the
landscape of the mind, to the roving imagination, and where the latter may lead
is anybody’s guess.20
Building on the Apache cultural understanding of place significance, Basso
discovers that geographical locations and objects can generate their own meanings
and communicate their own aesthetic immediacies, their shifting moods and
relevancies, their character and spirit.21 However, the ability of the places to
speak is heavily grounded in the social interactive capacities of embedded
environment which comes to life through communication among individuals
sharing the same physical and cultural space.
The differences of the research subjects explored by Basso and Knorr-Cetina
contextualize their research projects in oppositional cultural and social
environments of scientific and indigenous epistemologies. Examining the
influential science agency and its epistemic subcultures, Knorr-Cetina
investigates the scientific epistemic tradition from the position of a distinguished
sociologist, who was educated within the Western knowledge production system
and who belongs to it. On the contrary, Basso, as an alien to the Apache culture
and its epistemic environment, tries to reach an understanding of the indigenous
epistemology by digging into the world of a small indigenous tribe striving to
survive in a modern world under the pressure of globalization. These cultural and
social differences in the chosen research environments, as well as researchers
dissimilar positions within these environments lead authors to choose completely
17 Keith Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language among the Western Apache
(Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996), 106.
18 Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places, 34.
19 Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places, XV-XVI.
20 Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places,107.
21 Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places,109.
Scientific Epistemology Versus Indigenous Epistemology
different tools and methodological approaches in order to uncover and reveal the
complex mechanisms of knowledge production within the scientific and
indigenous epistemic cultures.
Methodologies: intellectual abstraction versus cultural immersion
As Australian psychologist, Dawn Darlaston-Jones, insightfully indicates: the
ability to identify the relationship between the epistemological foundation of
research and the methods employed in conducting it is critical in order for
research to be truly meaningful.22 The focus on methods shapes not only
theoretical frameworks of epistemic cultures but more importantly defines how
epistemic traditions, which are under investigations, can be understood and
interpreted. The rules of scientific research require systematic, skeptical, and
ethical enquiry based on empirical data.23 Within the positivist paradigm of
scientific epistemology this means controlled, objective, and value free enquiry
which can lead to justified generalizations and theorization.24 However, as
researchers Berger and Luckman from the postmodern social constructivism
tradition advocate, opening wider frames of scientific enquiry can significantly
diversify and broaden a range of methodologies, which allow a more accurate and
deeper understanding of the unique characteristics of a domain and the
individuals who comprise it.25
Both of the authors, Knorr-Cetina and Basso, in order to collect their data
utilize quite similar methodologies of anthropological field studies, originating
from the scientific epistemological tradition. However, they employ quite
different approaches in the use of these methods which naturally immerse them
deeper in their research environments and help to uncover the subtle structures
and complex mechanisms running through epistemic environments. Knorr-Cetina
contrasts two sciences of high energy physics with the molecular biology. She
chooses these two scientific fields because it allows her to compare the differences
in the communication systems between scientists within both fields in order to:
evaluate the scales of time and space in their organizations and workflows;
contrast semiological and linguistic differences in the fields; and to question the
22 Dawn Darlaston-Jones, Making connections: The relationship between epistemology and
research methods, The Australian Community Psychologist 19, 1(2007): 19.
23 Colin Robson, Real World Research (Malden: Blackwell, 2002).
24 Darlaston-Jones, Making connections, 21.
25 Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman, The Social Construction of Reality (Middlesex: Penguin
Books Ltd, 1966).
role of the empirical versus experimental sides of the sciences.26 The author
attempts to examine physics through the lens of biology and vice versa by
employing a comparative optics analysis that visibilizes patterns extracted from
one science that become amplified through the analysis of an equivalent
phenomena in the other science.27 Thus, Knorr-Cetina intentionally employs
external analytical observation and personal abstraction on both a cultural and
epistemic levels from the worlds of laboratorial explorations in physics and
In contrast, Basso tries to fully immerse himself in the cultural, social, and
geographic environment of the Apache communities. For Basso it is very
important to ground his anthropological exploration by living on the edge of
denying/forgetting his personal cultural background and epistemic tradition in
order to grasp the full nuances of Apache collective cultural-epistemic construct
that he attempts not to deconstruct, but to describe with detailed preciseness.
Basso is concerned that local understandings of external realities cannot be fully
achieved by any anthropologist because Cultures run deep, as the saying goes,
and all of us take our native’s point of view very much for granted.28 The
ethnographic research that he conducts thus seeks to extend the boundaries of
understanding the other without re-interpreting the realities of a different
cultural setting from the point of view of his own cultural significance.29
From the methodological perspective, the role and place of the researcher in
these field studies, that each of the authors conducted, also differ significantly.
Knorr-Cetina and Basso engaged themselves in similar commitments of nonstop
field work over multiple years which entailed a strong personal dedication.
However, they situate themselves within research on quite different levels.
Knorr-Cetina emphasizes the importance of her personal contribution to the
research being implemented across the two different fields. Despite the fact that
her field studies required collaboration with a great number of scientists from
both of the laboratories and the help of two observers, she stresses that The
present study is the outcome of the comparison conducted by myself.30 KnorrCetina emphasizes her strong individual intake in collecting, analyzing, and
interpreting data from the field. She nurtures her conceptual understanding of
epistemic culture through analysis of highly selective data gathered in her
26 Knorr-Cetina, Epistemic Cultures, 4.
27 Knorr-Cetina, Epistemic Cultures, 246.
28 Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places, 72.
29 Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places, 72.
30 Knorr-Cetina, Epistemic Cultures, 19.
Scientific Epistemology Versus Indigenous Epistemology
selected fields with formal preciseness. She finds the evidence for her
generalizations and specifications of social and cultural patterns across physics and
biology by conducting structured interviews with scientists, collecting written
records provided by laboratories, such as meeting transparencies, internal notes,
versions of talks and papers, as well as soliciting internal e-mail correspondence
reflecting the development of scientific projects run by teams of scientists.31
Thus, she places herself above the cultural domain of the laboratorial life
that she researches and brings the wealth of her academic expertise into the
careful design of her research. In every stage of the studys development, she
exercises her strong power as an independent researcher and intellectual to direct
the data collection and analysis processes according to specific scholarly
instructions and schemes. In this way she seeks to legitimate the results of her
fields observations and to supply all the necessary evidence to validate the
scientific truth that she is pursuing.
In contrast, Basso takes a completely different approach in his
anthropological research. He almost shocks readers by deliberate diminishing his
role in the project and by portraying himself as a mere transmittor or recording
device that aims to preserve pure information in the form comprehendible within
his own culture. In order to achieve a high sensitivity to cultural nuances and to
embrace the complexity of the Apache epistemic construct, grounded in the
notion of geographic and cultural locality, Basso transforms from an authoritative
academic to a proper student. Throughout his research project, he develops the
narration of his learning processes through sincere and honest depictions of his
failures on the long way to the cultural truth he is trying to uncover. He positions
himself in a complete reliant state dependent on his teachers who not only open
their world of knowledge and wisdom to him, but also dictate to him where,
when, and how to conduct his anthropological observations and collect his data.
For example in the first chapter, Charles, one of the Apache who accompanies
Basso on a field trip, insists on taking a break from the study and explain that
collected data has to be properly translated which is a highly time consuming
process. The Apache teaches Basso that it would not be wise for us (he means me)
to do it in a hurry.32
Even the privilege of personally knowing people from the Apache
community for several years does not allow the author to leverage his friendship
to request data and interview people whenever he feels like doing it. The author is
31 Knorr-Cetina, Epistemic Cultures, 19.
32 Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places, 29.
extremely careful to listen and wait for when people are ready and eager to share
their opinion and knowledge with him and he trains himself to be patient:
I have known Dudley for twelve years and on other occasions have seen him
withdraw from social encounters to keep counsel with himself. I also know that
he is mightily interested in red ants and holds them in high esteem. I would like
to ask him a few more questions, but unless he invites me to do so (and by now, I
suspect, he may have had enough) it would be rude to disturb him.
Knorr-Cetina and Basso, as anthropologists, take oppositional approaches in
their research studies. In order to establish a strong personal contact with
representatives from the Apache communities, Basso suppresses his academic
authority and nurtures his innately human abilities to listen, to dialogue, and to
wonder. As a result, this approach emphasizes his power as a human being to
understand and to learn from the other. In contrast, Knorr-Cetina employs her
academic expertise to collect her data and to investigate human interactions in the
laboratories. The environment of the science industry urges her to follow
academic ethics and utilize formal procedures that establish her authority among
other researchers. Eventually, the academic burden, structural formality, and
preoccupation to visualize patterns undermine her human powers and learning
freedom to go beyond the comparison and evaluation into deep exploration. These
different approaches in positioning themselves as researchers in different
epistemic environments, scientific versus indigenous cultures, result in
oppositional understanding of such notions as knowledge and place, which again
rearticulate the role of a researcher within different epistemic traditions.
Place as a tool versus scientist as a device
Though both of the authors try to explore the cultural mechanisms of knowledge
production and sharing within the context of their research studies, they have
quite different understanding of what knowledge is and of the actors who produce
and transmit knowledge across time and space. Being grounded in scientific
epistemic tradition, which sets a binary opposition between such concepts as
knowledge versus belief, the research of Knorr-Cetina reemphasizes again a
specific role and place of knowledge in the scientific epistemic paradigm. Within
this paradigm, knowledge as an analytical construct, based on subsets of the
whole, is a phenomenon acquired through scientific method or independent and
rigorous testing, which is accepted and approved within the scientific community.
The validity of this knowledge is ultimately based on empirical evidences, which
33 Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places, 120.
Scientific Epistemology Versus Indigenous Epistemology
within the scientific epistemic culture have to be interpreted according to
reductionist, objectivistic, and positivistic traditions.
Therefore, for Knorr-Cetina, knowledge is a production context in its own
right, that includes processes and knowledge-related structures.34 She advocates
for a definition of knowledge that stresses the importance of processes within
environments building epistemic settings. Knorr-Cetina does connect the notion
of knowledge with the social constructs involving multiple instrumental,
linguistic, theoretical organizational, and many other frameworks.35 However,
she understands knowledge producers as derivative from the very practices of
knowledge creating, as mere devices in machineries of knowledge. Knorr-Cetina
stresses that scientists are specific epistemic subjects who have been shaped in a
similar ways as tools that they use in scientific inquiry.36 Scientists are are part
of a field’s research strategy and a technical device in the production of
knowledge.37 Knorr-Cetina underlines the secondary role of scientists in
laboratory science by revealing communitarian superordering imposed upon
these subjects. She supports her opinion by providing numerous examples from
high energy physics that requires collaboration among and involvement of a great
number of researchers in experimental processes and developing research projects.
In contrast, for Basso, knowledge is closely linked to the knowledge of the
self that reconstructs one’s position in the larger scheme of things, including
one’s own community, and to securing a confident sense of who one is as a
person.38 Unlike Knorr-Cetinas focus on processes within epistemic structures,
Basso draws on the Apache theory of wisdom to link the understanding of
knowledge, not with human activities per se, but rather with places, as well as
human memory and intangible heritage embedded in these places. Bassos project
explicitly demonstrates the key points of indigenous epistemology which is
grounded in the self, the spirit, the unknown, where knowledge must be sought
through the stream of the inner space in unison with all instruments of knowing
and conditions that make individuals receptive to knowing.39
Knowledge of places and their cultural significance is crucial for Basso
because, according to Apache beliefs, they enable mental conditions needed for
wisdom, as well as the practical advantages that wisdom confers on persons who
34 Knorr-Cetina, Epistemic Cultures, 7.
35 Knorr-Cetina, Epistemic Cultures, 10.
36 Knorr-Cetina, Epistemic Cultures, 32.
37 Knorr-Cetina, Epistemic Cultures, 29.
38 Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places, 34.
39 Willie Ermine, Aboriginal Epistemology, in First Nations Education in Canada: The Circle
Unfolds, ed. Marie Ann Battiste and Jean Barman (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1999), 108.
possess it.40 Understanding knowledge as wisdom and understanding wisdom
first and foremost as an instrument of survival, Apache culture shifts the focus of
the epistemic paradigm from knowledge universality to personification of
knowledge. Consequently, in any Apache community, wisdom as a virtue of
unusual mental powers is a truly human ability to foresee disaster, fend off
misfortune, and avoid explosive conflicts with other persons.41 Knowledge or
wisdom is generated inside the communities through individuals experiences in
relation to particular geographic localities which legitimize the past and serve as
the main historical evidence for the truthfulness of the stories happened in these
Such an understanding of knowledge within the Apache cultural epistemic
tradition is coherent with later findings of other researchers who tried to uncover
the mysteries of indigenous epistemologies. Therefore, anthropologist from Peru,
Mahia Maurial, defines indigenous knowledge as the peoples cognitive and wise
legacy as a result of their interaction with nature in a common territory.42
Canadian ethnographer, Marlene Brant Castellano, highlights major
characteristics of indigenous knowledge as personal, oral, experiential, holistic,
and conveyed in narrative or metaphorical language.43
Furthermore, in contrast with Knorr-Cetinas under-statement of the role of
scientists in the processes of knowledge production and further dissemination,
Basso celebrates the power of ordinary individuals not only to generate wisdom
through their life experiences but also to share knowledge in human interactions.
He points out how important it is for the Apache community to keep oral
narrations about concrete individuals from the past with their own stories and
human characters, with details about their appearances, with their names and
their roles in the tribe:
The Apache landscape is full of named locations where time and space have fused
and where, through the agency historical tales, their intersection is made visible
for human contemplation.44
40 Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places, 130.
41 Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places, 131.
42 Mahia Maurial, Indigenous Knowledge and Schooling: A Continuum Between Conflict and
Dialogue, in What is Indigenous Knowledge: Voices from the Academy, ed. Ladislaus Semali
and Joe Kincheloe (New York: Falmer Press, 1999), 62.
43 Marlene Brant Castellano, Updating Aboriginal Traditions of Knowledge, in Indigenous
Knowledges in Global Contexts, ed. Budd L. Hall, George Jerry Sefa Dei, and Dorothy Goldin
Rosenberg (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000), 21-36.
44 Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places, 62.
Scientific Epistemology Versus Indigenous Epistemology
These stories from the past come to life in the present reality only through
person-to-person communication in the act of knowledge transfer from one
generation to the other. It is almost a form of narrative art, a type of historical
theater where the past unfolds in front of one’s eyes with respect to his/her own
age, character, and ability to understand and appreciate the story. The real-ness
of the stories being told is fostered through utilizing active present tense in
describing the actions that took places generations ago. The use of quoted speech
in the narrations also strengthens the first person experience and captivates the
hearts and minds of listeners, thus making the wisdom of ancestors relevant and
sounding in the presence.45
Through his research on endogenous epistemology, Basso highlights a
strong focus on people and entities coming together to help and support one
another in their relationship, which has become known as a relational
worldview.46 The most important characteristic of this relational worldview is the
stress on spirituality and a sense of communitism or, in other words, a sense of
community tied together by familial-tribal relations and the families commitment
to it.47 Furthermore, indigenous worldviews and their epistemologies are rooted in
peoples close relationship with their surrounding environments.48 Interestingly,
both researchers, Knorr-Cetina and Basso, illuminate the importance of location in
the cultural-epistemic constructs and believe that physical localities are never
culturally vacant. Nevertheless, they look at physical places and conception of
space from different perspectives.
Knorr-Cetina stresses the role of laboratories in knowledge production by
deconstructing the machinery of science monopolies; she accentuates the power of
epistemic environments to shape human interactions. She understands the
laboratory space as a defining force that emerges along with the development of
cultural and social surroundings that directs human activities. Oppositely, Basso
introduces a completely different understanding of locality in the epistemic
culture; he puts a special emphasis on the human power (not the power of the
place itself) to animate the physical environments:
Animated by the thoughts and feelings of persons who attend to them, places
express only what their animators enable them to say; like the thirsty sponges
45 Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places, 33.
46 Thomas L. Crofoot Graham, Using Reasons for Living to Connect to American Indian
Healing Traditions, Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare 1(2002): 55-75.
47 Hart, Indigenous Worldviews, 3.
48 Hart, Indigenous Worldviews, 2.
they yield to consciousness only what consciousness has given them to
Landscapes, as Basso stresses, become the devices for people to
communicate among each other and to transfer knowledge and wisdom from one
generation to the other. Geographical localities in the Apache culture are mere
tools for imaginations, expressive means for accomplishing verbal deeds and
eminently portable possessions to which individuals can maintain deep and
abiding attachments50 As a result, its the power of people, rather than the
spaces, to define learning and knowledge generating experiences; geographical
landscapes serve as marks to refer to particular knowledge or wisdom resources in
the universe of the Apache culture.
The knowledge-place paradigms, grounded in the scientific and indigenous
epistemic cultures, introduced by Basso and Knorr-Cetina, are different and create
quite oppositional understandings of persons place and role in their epistemic
environments. Knorr-Cetina looks at the epistemic space of laboratories as a
powerful force that puts scientists in the position of mere device in more complex
structures of knowledge machineries. In opposition, Basso emphasizes the power
of people to enable places to acquire human abilities to talk, to interact, and to
It is fascinating how both readings, analyzed in this article, present completely
different perspectives on how to view knowledge systems and their major
components from the positions of two different epistemic paradigms: scientific
versus indigenous. The book by Knorr-Cetina describes the functioning
mechanisms of gigantic machineries of knowledge that rule society, shape human
perceptions of the world, and define the place of the person in this world. This
research once again highlights the postmodern uncertain position and dependence
of a human agency on numerous contexts that are portrayed as powerful forces in
constructing the activities and identities of human beings. The study conducted by
Basso, on the other hand, returns people to their roots, to physical geographies of
places (not spaces), and to the natural world of social and cultural interactions.
The wisdom of the culture that he researches opens bigger philosophical questions
of what knowledge is and why the human universe is so deeply connected to the
physical reality of our world. His book is a call to scientists and people to look
49 Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places, 108.
50 Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places, 75.
Scientific Epistemology Versus Indigenous Epistemology
back inside ourselves to find unlimited resources of knowledge and our power
within. It celebrates the human being as a focal point where imaginary and
physical realities converge to reflect a mystery and the surrounding beauty of the
Indeed, the scientific knowledge generated through centuries has secured a
foundational position in the Western civilization and specifically in the epistemic
tradition. However, because it is ultimately based on empirical evidence, it cannot
provide answers to questions that do not have an empirical basis. It cannot deal
with questions of faith or morals, or controversial subject topics such as eugenics,
stem cell research, abortion, and so forth. It cannot be used to make human value
judgments.51 In contrast, the traditional or indigenous knowledge celebrates the
pluralism in truth, because it is dependent upon individual experiences and
relationships with living and non-living beings and entities.52 Being holistic and
cyclic in nature, the indigenous knowledge as a human-environmental wisdom
stresses deep connections between people and their spiritual reality and opens up
opportunities for understanding the world around us on a different level. It is
imperative to understand, acknowledge, recognize, and appreciate epistemic
cultures originating from various historical, social and cultural backgrounds,
because these various epistemologies can significantly enrich the nature of human
research enquiry and enhance our harmonic world perception.
51 Carl Wenning, Scientific Epistemology: How Scientists Know What They Know, Physics
Teacher Education Online 5, 2 (2009): 13.
52 Leanne Simpson, Anishinaabe Ways of Knowing, in Aboriginal Health, Identity and
Resources, ed. Jill Oakes (Winnipeg: Native Studies Press, 2000), 165-185.
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