Excerpts from Briggs, John, and Joanne Sharp. “Indigenous Knowledges and Development: A Postcolonial Caution.” Third World Quarterly 25, no. 4 (2004): 661–76.

Abstract: As a result of the failure of formal top-down development, there has recently been increased interest in the possibilities of drawing upon the indigenous knowledges of those in the communities involved, in an attempt to produce more effective development strategies. The concept of indigenous knowledge calls for the inclusion of local voices and priorities, and promises empowerment through ownership of the process. However, there has been little critical examination of the ways in which indigenous knowledges have been included in the development process. Drawing upon postcolonial theory, this article suggests that indigenous knowledges are often drawn into development by both theorists and development institutions in a very limited way, failing to engage with other ways of perceiving development, and thus missing the possibility of devising more challenging alternatives.


(Emphasis added by me) (4/18/2024, 1:25:45 PM)

“than breaking away from the colonising attitudes of the past, there is greater evidence of continuity in the preservation of Western-centred attitudes, as well as an arrogant confidence in the almost unquestioned validity of science and Western knowledge (Escobar, 1995; Pretty, 1994; Nustad, 2001)” (Briggs and Sharp, 2004, p. 662)

“Development can therefore only be achieved by bringing them into line with the universal knowledge of scientific truths, whether this refers to the management of soil or the management of people. This certainty in the scientific path out of underdevelopment has been shaken, of course, by the witnessing of continuing high rates of poverty, and growing economic differences between countries” (Briggs and Sharp, 2004, p. 662)

“effects of development have not achieved their claim of drawing together all nations into the realm of development, but rather have witnessed ever increasing levels of poverty” (Briggs and Sharp, 2004, p. 662)

“some development theorists and practitioners have criticised modernisation approaches for being based on the uncritical transfer of science and technology from the North to the South (Peet & Watts, 1993; Escobar, 1995).” (Briggs and Sharp, 2004, p. 662) Old Paradigm

“number of writers has come to question scientific approaches as being the best, or the only, solution to development problems (see, for example, Ellen & Harris 2000; Kalland, 2000; Leach & Mearns, 1996; Sillitoe, 1998). They argue that other knowledges-the indigenous knowledges of the people resident in particular places-can be of equal, or greater, value. Within this argument, Western (formal) science loses its universal position, and becomes one of a range of competing and contested knowledge systems (Homann & Rischkowsky, 2001; Mohan & Stokke, 2000)” (Briggs and Sharp, 2004, p. 662)

“The experiences of the marginalised are used in the West, but without opening up the process to their knowledges, theories and explanations. When there is a meeting, it is at the metropolitan centre, in the (predominantly) Western institutions of power/knowledge (aid agencies, universities, the pages of journals) and in the languages of the West (science, philosophy, social science, and so on, expressed in English, French, Spanish, and so on” (Briggs and Sharp, 2004, p. 664)

“No need to hear your voice when I can talk about you better than you can speak about yourself. No need to hear your voice. Only tell me about your pain. I want to know your story. And then I will tell it back to you in a new way. (hooks, 1990: 343)” (Briggs and Sharp, 2004, p. 665)

Formal science still represents a powerful body of knowledge, and it is still the language of authority and dominance in many development debates. Indeed, Pretty (1994: 38) has observed that ‘the trouble with normal science is that it gives credibility to opinion only when it is defined in scientific language, which may be inadequate for describing the complex and changing experiences of farmers and other actors in rural development’” (Briggs and Sharp, 2004, p. 665)

“As a result, knowledges, other than those derived from formal science, are still eyed suspiciously” (Briggs and Sharp, 2004, p. 665)

Examples of decontextualising or freezing indigenous knowledge

“Nakashima and de Guchteneire (1999) suggest that this failure will either end up preserving indigenous knowledge as an unchanging artefact of a timeless culture, or will decontextualise it, distorting it out of all recognition to those who had depended upon it for daily life. The following examples exemplify these concerns.” (Briggs and Sharp, 2004, p. 669)

“Some approaches to indigenous knowledge can lead to a freezing of traditional cultures and ways of knowing. Such treatment supports indigenous knowledge only if presented as an unchanging presence. Silvern (1995) explains how this is played out in terms of native American use of natural resource” (Briggs and Sharp, 2004, p. 669)

“missionary zeal stands in sharp contrast to the contextual approaches of many local people” (Briggs and Sharp, 2004, p. 669)

Such mixing of notions of conservation can lead to quite ridiculous situations, leaving people’s belief systems captured within a Westernised structure” (Briggs and Sharp, 2004, p. 669)

“Inevitably, the trees died. In these circumstances, the trees would normally be used to make charcoal because they would never again produce new wood. However, as the trees had grown within the conservation area, there was a prohibition against their use by humans. And so, in order to comply with the regulations imposed by the conservation area label, Bedouin were expected to ignore the dead trees. Unsurprisingly, Bedouin saw little logic in the formal, Western position of conservation. There was a clear cultural divide between the two rather different views of conservation” (Briggs and Sharp, 2004, p. 671)

“Thus, without imposing outside views on a population of women, ‘a methodology should be adopted that will help women to perceive the limitations that they place on themselves’ (Rowlands, 1997: 134).” (Briggs and Sharp, 2004, p. 672)

“It is important not to see indigenous knowledge as an artefact, simply something to be preserved (perhaps akin to the collection of genetic diversity) as a record of what has been lost to the seemingly inevitable march of Western science” (Briggs and Sharp, 2004, p. 673)

“Indigenous knowledges all over the world are malleable, altering in response to Western ideas and practices, but also to an ever-changing array of other ways of knowing and doing” (Briggs and Sharp, 2004, p. 673)

My Thoughts on Briggs and Sharp 2004