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Sillitoe - Chapter 09

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Creating Natural Knowledge

Agriculture, Science and Experiments

Contemporary anthropology has contributed to a process of reflection on the possibilities and limitations of science, helping to identify the significance of non-scientific knowledge — e.g., indigenous, traditional, and local — in people's understandings of the world (e.g., Warren et al. 1995; Richards 1985; Sillitoe 1998; Ellen and Harris 2000). This has served to underline that processes of knowledge creation and negotiation do not simply belong to a scientific domain. To critically reflect on the boundaries of knowledge and to go 'beyond science' suggests that anthropology can play a role in the development of conceptual approaches that capture and expose the contradictory character of scientific knowledge in the construction of modern contemporary lives and global processes.

In this context, the concept of 'natural knowledge' acquires significance. In the seventeenth century, the term natural knowledge was used variously to describe 'a state of knowing', 'the mastery of learning' or 'a skill or craft' (Wright 1981: 83). Later its dominant meaning became 'knowledge about the workings of nature', having been adopted in the full title of the Royal Society.1 In recent years, anthropologists and historians seeking to deconstruct science have used the term to refer either to scientific data before the late nineteenth century, treating it as synonymous with natural philosophy (Wright 1981: 97; Dear 1990), or to suggest a process of questioning assumptions about the nature of science and its relationship to human culture and to non-human elements2 in contemporary life.

Creating Natural KnowledgeAgriculture, Science and ExperimentsAlberto Arce and Eleanor FisherContemporary anthropology has contributed to a process of reflection on the possibilities and limitations of science, helping to identify the significance o
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