What is Traditional Knowledge?

Indigenous scholars have suggested that traditional knowledge unifies theory and practice and that it cannot be separated from a way of being and a way of doing. TK as a way of knowing is a method of reasoning that is most appropriate for complexity, as it seeks to make sense of diverse variables. It also purposely integrates subjective ways of knowing such as spirit, values and compassion. This range of descriptions has led some observers to conclude that it is not a proper field of study at all. Others argue that the prefix “traditional” is completely misguided, as this suggests something that is static, rigid, fixed and unchanging when in fact it is fluid and generative, integrating the weave of pattern and variation into new ways of knowing.

Links to Modern Science

TK historically is entangled with the spread of western science and scientific method in the world. TK is not a precursor to science, nor encompassed by science, although a number of commentators attempt to see it through a modern scientific lens to either convey status, or conversely, to suggest its inferiority. Science too has many faces, but in contrast to traditional knowledge as a method is inclined towards quantitative simplification. The privileged position of western science and its colonial impacts on the marginalization and disabling of traditional knowledge must be noted in any discussion of TK. Fully ¾ of the modern “scientific” pharmacopoeia is derived from traditional folk medicines, a fact that has raised global concerns regarding the corporate patenting of local knowledge.