Decolonising and Valuing Indigenous Knowledge

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    David N Jones

    The importance and value of using a variety of sources of knowledge in social work, including user experiences and knowledge, was explored in 2003 by the Social Care Institute for Excellence as a basis for its work over several years. Well worth a read if you can find it!

    Pawson, R., A. Boaz, L. Grayson, A. Long and C. Barnes (2003). Types and quality of knowledge in social care. London, Social Care Institute for Excellence.

    Pawson, R., Boaz, A., Grayson, L., Long, A. and Barnes, C., 2003. Types and quality of social care knowledge. Stage two: Towards the quality assessment of social care knowledge. ESRC UK Center for Evidence Based Policy and Practice: Working Paper, 18, pp.1-31.


    A few thoughts after listening to the really interesting presentation on transformation changes in social work practice. Thanks for a thought provoking presentation. It was enlightening to hear how quantum science understands more clearly ideas of interdependence, self-organising dynamics, and the robust nature of far-from-equilibrium than the positivist hegemonic knowledge systems that dominated and suppressed indigenous knowledge systems during colonialism and that remain hegemonic today. Im still questioning the canopy concept- so for discussion: Im not sure the sort of peaceful co-existence it envisages, while a valid aspiration, is feasible in todays inequitable, violent capitalism, where in a battle for ideas, positivist systems deliberately hide the subjectivity of powerful actors and discount and over-ride knowledge and experience that exerts meaningful challenge. The notion of ‘neutrality’ of knowledge in positivist systems needs challenge and exposure of the values being applied (not the canopy but the ‘roots of the trees’), even while we demand, nourish and ‘grow’ knowledge systems that reflect values, such as those articulated in the conference.


    thank you, Rene. Your cautionary concern is a serious issue. Aspiration to Action is not an overnight happening. I just heard an award-winning American author saying that this July 4th will mark America being free from slavery for as many years as it was a slavery policy nation – 246 years! It is why Thomas Kuhn titled his book, Scientific Revolution, instead of Scientific Evolution. Prevailing or dominant paradigm defenders will not quietly yield to a new paradigm. They will fight openly and subtlely. Resistance to changing language to match discovered facts will be employed. One only has to look at the 500 yr plus evidence/fact that the sun does not rotate around the Earth but the rotating sun language has never changed. We still admire beautiful sunrises and sunsets. And, sadly both the controllers (dominant world scientists, university academics) and the controlled (people) are loudly silent and let it be. The same is true about the factual knowledge of our spherical Earth. The “up and down” language of flat Earth continues to persist without challenge or change. “Out and In” from the Earth’s surface is foreign to most. Pilots, and when we are passengers, and air traffic controlers have corrected the language. We fly in and out of airports. However, even astronauts and ground crews, who should really know, have often been heard in communications to ask up and down questions. “What’s it like up there,” ask the ground crew. We are flying over Houston says an astronaut, “What’s the weather like down there.” I am afraid the same is true in our working together aspirations and actions. The key language is “solidarity” as if there is a solid, all-together building block of Universe. We are left without a replacement for a tightly woven pattern/braiding of togetherness or working together, which everyone talks about but won’t give up calling it solidarity. When transformational advocates keep buying into using the language of the paradigm they are trying to change, it makes it easy for the defenders to let us stay tied to the dominant way. This is how I referred to Kuhn in an Indian Journal of Social Work Journal article on social work finding a paradigm home that accurately reflects the profession, “….When the limits of a dominant paradigm are reached, Kuhn claimed that a replacement paradigm would occur through a “revolutionary” process. Revolutionary, in this context, means that transformation to a new paradigm will involve resistance. Thus, when a dominant paradigm reaches its limits there is no guarantee of a smooth and orderly transition to a new one.” We, the global we, are onto the impending crises and the importance of thinking and doing things differently but it won’t be a cakewalk as has been attested to by many of the contributors presenting at the Summit

    There is hope I believe on its way from young scientists willing to question, study and bring into public discourse more of the dark side of pre-20th century Western science and help with shrinking the canopy of dominance over and subjugation of other bodies of knowledge and ways of living well in a world that leaves no one behind. One such person is Jimena Canales at the Univ Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She was a recent dialogue guest of the Pari Center in Italy talking about the future scientist. She was quite critical of the power of measurement that has been key to the continued dominance of reductionism and the linear tenents of proportional cause and effect. The impact of Context has been driven to the sidelines. If I heard her correctly, she was affirming what David Jones posted above about biomedicine’s hardcore defense of empirical evidence when its importance, and it is important, is only about 15% of other contextual factors that play into the robust health and well-being of an individual, community or society.


    Great contributions, insights, challenges and wisdom from across the globe – any final thoughts to share?

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