Indigenous Knowledge, Cultural Empowerment and Alternatives

Article excerpt


Reflecting on the failure of exogenous, top-down and blue-print `development' models, participatory development has been ever more discussed since the middle of the 1970s, although it is still enveloped in a cloud of rhetoric. Seeking for the new model of people-centered development, the concepts of empowerment and indigenous knowledge have been introduced into the context of the development world and are becoming widespread. The new methodologis of participatory development, as for example Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA), have been rapidly developed in the 1990s. The development paradigm based on the Western epistemology and value system is, however, still embedded in the development world and follows the prescriptions laid down for them [`underdeveloped' countries] by those already `developed' (Escobar 1992a: 411). Therefore, the discourse of development has been constructed based on this paradigm swallowing new alternative concepts and methodologies as rhetorical antidotes.

On the other hand, the oppressed and disempowered People have struggled against the regime and discourse of development as seen in many `underdeveloped' countries (Kaarsholm 1991), although it is very hard to construct a counter- narrative and action. Western science, combined with the regime and discourse of development, has contributed to suppress other forms of knowledge (Escobar 1992a: 420) including people's knowledge in the `Third World'.

Seeking for liberation and an alternative .path of development for the people by the people and of the People, cultural power has been focused as a foundation of social, political and psychological power of the people. According to Escobar, there is `the interest in local knowledge and culture as the basis for redefining representation; a critical stance,with respect to established scientific knowledge; and the defense and promotion of localized pluralistic grassroots movements' (ibid.: 411). The Participatory Action Research methodology (PAR) grew in the `Third World' and `combines techniques of adult education, social science research, and political activism such as collective research (between external agents or intellectuals and popular groups), the critical reconstruction of local and regional histories, the restoration and use of popular cultures (including people's feelings, imaginations, and artistic capabilities), and novel means of diffusing knowledge (ibid.: 424).

The core concept of PAR is `conscientization', which has been popularized by. Paulo Freire, `a process of self-awareness-raising through collective self-inquiry and reflection' (Rahman 1991: 17). Reflecting on deeply rooted discourses of development in collective identities and social relationships, grassroots movements, which highlight the role of local knowledge and popular power, are struggling not for development alternatives but rather for alternatives to `development' (Escobar 1992a: 417). Cultural power, however, has been highly politicized and sometimes abused for fanatical exclusionism resulting in almost endless ethnic conflicts, although sell-reflective and pluralistic approaches have been stressed for that alternative path.

From these two different and often counter perspectives, i.e. development and the people's movement, indigenous knowledge and culture (the terms are defined in chapter 2) have been focused and narrated (1). As we have briefly seen, indigenous knowledge and culture have many potentials for positive and negative power. Therefore, we should critically examine how to elicit and use this power properly for development and alternatives to development.

Under the process of modernization, indigenous knowledge and culture are at risk of imposed change and extinction. The loss of cultural diversity is on-going combined with the loss of biodiversity.

Cultural conservation is a part of the cultural dynamics of identity formation that includes the interaction of tradition and modernity, and domination and resistance (Escobar 1992b). …