Masons, Tricksters and Cartographers: Comparative Studies in the Sociology of Scientific and Indigenous Knowledge

By David Turnbull | Go to book overview

4

PACIFIC NAVIGATION: AN ALTERNATIVE SCIENTIFIC TRADITION

Speaking of Others’ Knowledge

In the last chapter it was argued that the seemingly self-evident coincidence of the internal logics of science and cartography is undermined by the fact that there are alternative ways of creating geographic assemblages. Australian Aboriginal mapping, briefly discussed in Chapter 1, is a particularly salient example of a completely different way of knowing the world. But perhaps the most telling counter-example in the context of knowledge spaces, maps and debates over the ‘great divide’ is the Pacific navigational knowledge tradition. Detailed consideration of this example also raises some of the problems implicit in comparisons between knowledge traditions, and in attempts to establish an equitable dialogue across the gap between knowledge spaces.

To talk of another culture’s knowledge is fraught with political and ethical difficulties about rights, ownership and control. Such difficulties are especially acute in Australia, where there is an indigenous culture dominated by a multiplicity of other cultures. While it is an appropriate political strategy for Aborigines to try to regain autonomy by asserting control over their own knowledge, it is, I think, a mistake to deny anyone else the right to speak of their knowledge at all. On the one hand, taken to an extreme such an attitude leads to cultural solipsism and, on the other, it denies the possibility of comparing knowledge traditions. Such comparisons constitute important political strategies for the deflation of the dominant knowledge tradition of science.

In the case of Pacific navigation it would be nice to be able to say quite straightforwardly, ‘Pacific navigational knowledge belongs to those who have produced it and they have the right to control it as they see fit.’ However, the issue is one of great complexity shot through with irony. The direct relationship between production and ownership no longer prevails, partly because of the destruction wrought by the introduction of Western modes of exchange, and partly by the

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Masons, Tricksters and Cartographers: Comparative Studies in the Sociology of Scientific and Indigenous Knowledge
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Figures vii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • 1 - On with the Motley 19
  • 2 - Talk, Templates and Tradition 53
  • 3 - Tricksters and Cartographers 89
  • 4 - Pacific Navigation 131
  • 5 - Making Malaria Curable 161
  • 6 - Messiness and Order in Turbulence Research 183
  • Bibliography 233
  • Index 259
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