[HASN logo] No. 34, March 1995 ISSN 0811-4757

Edited and published by Tim Sherratt (Tim.Sherratt@asap.unimelb.edu.au) for ASAP.

[Reports logo]Talking about Science and Other Knowledge Traditions in Australia

Report on the Working Disparate Knowledge Systems Together Seminar/Workshop, 26-7 November, 1994, Deakin University, Geelong, Victoria, Australia.

One beginning for this workshop lies in the call, some years ago, for suggestions for chapters in the proposed STS Handbook-a 'state of the art' of STS, published this year by Sage Publications. We were sufficiently irritated by the lack of any non-Western content in the first raft of proposals to volunteer a chapter that would bring together work we had both been doing juxtaposing science and non-Western knowledge traditions. After finishing that we realised we needed to go beyond developing a theoretical framework within STS, and to begin to look for ways of enabling other knowledge systems to contribute to the discourse of STS.

Feeling we should build on the well established practice of including non-Western knowledge traditions in the curriculum developed by the Deakin Social Studies of Science Unit [Helen Watson with the Yolngu Community at Yirrkala and DW Chambers, Singing the Land, Signing the Land, 1989, Deakin University Press, Geelong; Chambers, W. and Turnbull, D. (1989) Science Worlds: Teaching Social Studies of Science at Deakin University, Social Studies of Science, 19, 155-179; Turnbull, D., Mapping the World in the Mind: An investigation of the unwritten knowledge of the Micronesian navigators, Deakin University Press, Geelong, 1991; Turnbull, D., Maps are Territories: Science is an Atlas, Chicago University Press, Chicago.1993] we put out the word that Deakin's Science in Society Centre would hold a seminar/workshop entitled "Working Disparate Knowledge Systems Together" to see if there was anyone 'out there' interested. At the same time we talked about holding a meeting of the Comparative Scientific Traditions Conference in Australia. We had both been involved with this conference since its beginnings in Hampshire College in 1990. No sooner had we started on that than we heard about the Australian National University's Humanities Research Centre theme for 1996 "Science and Culture", and its plan for a Cairns conference involving indigenous peoples talking of their knowledge traditions in the light of this theme. We proposed joining forces and running a joint conference in Cairns in August 1996, "Science and Other Indigenous Knowledge Traditions" - the title of our chapter in the STS Handbook.

We got the WDKST seminar/workshop going in the expectation that we would have a lot of networking to do and problems to solve before the 96 conference. We had little idea how to structure the seminar/workshop and asked Wendy Brabham and Peter Ferguson, Koori Aboriginal Australians, at Deakin's Institute of Koori Education to be involved and tried to make the workshop/seminar as widely known as possible in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific. The event was structured around responses we got from Aboriginal Australians, Maoris and people interested in the Chinese knowledge tradition. We planned for twice as much time to be given over to talking and workshopping compared to formal presentation of papers. The seminar was to be opened by Wade Chambers (Deakin Univ) who would explain the presence of video cameras and camera woman as our (last minute) decision to video the proceedings as a way of recording the event. To turn on the video cameras was to be a decision made by the workshop participants in each session. The formal sessions were to begin with David Turnbull and Helen Verran explaining the approach currently developing within STS. The first afternoon was to be given over to Paul Brown (UNSW) and Cath Laudine(Macquarie Univ) giving papers and Peter Ferguson leading a workshop. The second day would start with the Chinese tradition with Henry Chan (Univ of Newcastle) and Rey Tiquia(Univ of Melb) and finish with the Maori session with papers by Pam Ringwood (Univ of Auckland) and Mere Roberts (Univ of Auckland) and a workshop run by Kiri Jacobs, Marie-Ann Selkirk, Pat King, and Pauline Waiti from the Faculty of Maori Education at the Institute of Technology Auckland.

At least that was the plan, and people did listen politely to Wade Chambers, David Turnbull and Helen Verran for an hour. But things got going in the four working groups we broke into before lunch. The formal papers were ignored in the discussion in these groups, as they would continue to be ignored throughout the workshop. The real action was in the discussions.

Kooris brought up 'epistimicide' as a way of working knowledge systems together; Maoris strongly objected because the seminar/workshop is not opened by Kooris. The Chinese participants wondered about their legitimacy because they are speaking about the dominant Han traditions, what of the many other indigenous 'chinese' traditions?

A central issue emerges during the afternoon. Can white Australians talk meaningfully of Aboriginal traditions? Paul Brown and Cath Laudine both try to do so. But after their papers it is obvious to all that we have to try to give a greater voice to Aboriginal Australians. Peter Ferguson leads us outside to a nearby grassy area. A distraught plover squawks above us.

Peter confronts us with the reality of the white invasion of southeastern Australia. There is not one member of the Wutharong people who formerly owned the land we are seated upon still alive. Not one person who can welcome us to this land. Pain and hope, guilt and anger flow through the group in confused waves.

Sunday morning begins with the Chinese section. Henry Chan gives an entertaining paper arguing contra Joseph Needham, that the Chinese did indeed have a scientific revolution in which they deliberately gave away the Western agenda and devoted themselves to studying good leadership. He argues that this is the archetype, and that Western science is the deviant form that needs explaining. Then Rey Tiquia, an Australian Chinese practitioner of TCM shows us that practice as local knowledge with various strategies which constitute it as a system. It is this characteristic he suggests which enables TCM to be worked into the medical establishment of contemporary Australia.

At this point a large group of Koori Aboriginal Australians arrive in company with their elder Dawn Wolf - a significant event for the seminar, and one which probably originated in the support Peter Ferguson drew from the presence of the Maori women. In fact these women transformed the seminar/workshop later that afternoon when they took control and gave a series of speeches in Maori led by their elder Kiri. They explain that they have told us about themselves by naming their mountain their river and their canoe.

Following their lead, and at their insistence, we all tell of "our mountain, our river, our canoe" - the place we are located, how it relates to other places, and through what historical happenstance we got there. It is profoundly moving. Many of us are in tears. Going around the room we are Maori and Scottish, Chinese and Philippino, Iranian and Australian, Yorta Yorta, Wuradgeri, Men of Kent (or is it Kentish men?), Jewish, German, Hugenot, and Cherokee. We are all of many parts, managing and balancing those parts with varying strategies and tactics. Where previously we had been disunified by the political difficulties of working disparate knowledges together, this session shows us that unity is possible. There could be common discourse. In the last formal session Pam Ringwood explains the relationship between Maori and white concepts of law, and Mere Roberts explains how she co-ordinates the teaching of Maori knowledge in the Science Faculty at Auckland University.

Much of this unity dissolves as we go into the final session where we talk of what next and the 96 conference. Some of the Maori women wade in strongly again saying that no conference should go ahead without Aboriginal control.

In fact it has already been agreed that Aborigines will have full charge of the agenda for one of the three days of the Cairns Conference. Clearly there is a strong feeling that whites had failed to cede any power and control and that here we are agenda setting as usual. Turning to discuss what might come out of this seminar/workshop we all agree that the important part of the seminar/workshop has been in the non-formal parts. A collection of papers would in no way be a valid representation. We ask everyone to write a response to the weekend, and submit these to the Sciences in Society Centre of Deakin University which would seek the assistance of the Institute of Koori Education in editing both the video and the multivocal 'report'. This process is now underway and will hopefully produce some interesting examples of disparate knowledge traditions

So what of science and other knowledge traditions? Has any concensus on how we might usefully juxtapose these or work them together come out of the weekend?

Some years ago a group like this might have been concerned to show that Maori knowledge, or traditional Chinese medicine is 'really' scientific. Taking science as the apothesis of truth, spokespersons for 'other' knowledges then try to validate 'our' knowledge as science. With science as some sort of benchmark, this endeavour struggles to show that this or that knowledge tradition has always been scientific. This is to remake the debate about the boundary between science and non-science, so beloved of old-time philosophers of science. 'We' show that 'our' knowledge is on the science side of the boundary. At our workshop there was very little of this endeavour. Yet many were in the business of drawing boundaries: science is to be kept as 'the other'. A neat inversion of that former enterprise.

It is understandable for those who have suffered at the hands of science - and many Aboriginal communities have suffered terribly in many ways, under a regimen of scientific treatment - to want to distance themselves from what they see as the polluting effects of science. And there is no doubt that having science as 'other' is useful. It provides protection; possibilities for establishing a community of knowers united in elaborating a form of knowledge that is 'not science'.

One problem is the view of science that goes along with this. It is a view of science without hands. Science as 'other' is all about abstraction and theory - the belief system of science. It's the old philosopher's view which gives no possibility of critique. It goes along with a peculiar obsession with keeping science black-boxed and monolithic. Science needs to be both knowable and unknowable with respect to 'our' knowledge - the familiar paradox of relativism. Another problem is that as political strategy it is costly. It strengthens the sciences to render them as 'untouchable'. It denies the possibility of identifying which scientific hands engaged in which scientific practices leading to violence and domination, denial and silencing.

And of course it brings contestation over the possibility of 'working' knowledges together. To 'celebrate' disparate knowledges would be more appropriate some suggested; 'working' things together implies pollution. And here's a rub. It seems peculiarly Western to be concerned with keeping things pure. The concern for 'essences' so dear to Western traditions, is, at least in our experience, something remote from many non-western knowledges.

But the refrain of 'keep them quite separate if you please' is sung often and loud during the workshop: in separate columns; different departments; examined in different sections of the exam paper. 'Celebrating' disparate knowledges leads us to a focus on 'communication'. But this is communication as a swapping of slogans, assertions and attributions: "I (we) believe this"; "scientists (science) believe that".

But there is another view of the matter circulating in the workshop, a minority position, which refuses science's stories of itself and insists on telling other stories about science as doing, not a set of beliefs. Beliefs of course are part of what we do, but there is no reason to privilege beliefs as somehow the be all and end all of knowledge traditions.

Knowledge, scientific or otherwise, is never just words. This position is risky. Not only does this remove the high ground of certainty from science, it also removes the high ground of certainty (albeit taken as originating in quite different foundations) from other traditions.

Science and other knowledge traditions can be revealed in telling ways by working them together. Translation from both sides is involved, throwing light in both directions, and translations are not just about words, but about fitting our practices together. "Whose translations?", and "For what (whose) purposes?" must be asked again and again. The workings of diverse practices of knowledge making are thrown open for scrutiny. To claim that disparate knowledges can be worked together acknowledges contesting cognitive authorities and looks for ways to work responsibly within these disparate and contesting authority structures, treating them as of equal significance.

Elders in Aboriginal communities regularly challenge the cognitive authorities located in the Australian academy and those of us in Australia who see ourselves as working these disparate knowledge traditions together need to find ways of recognising and respecting the dual intellectual spaces.

Working knowledges together is to recognise the inevitable locatedness of all knowledge. This implies a reflexive concern with the research process itself, an unmasking of the politics of intellectual life and work. It is to foreground the lack of innocence in any discourse, including the working together of disparate knowledge traditions. It is to keep a corrective moment, a safeguard against dogmatism, a continuing displacement. Strategically the practice of working disparate knowledge traditions together becomes the site where we learn to attend to the politics of what we do, and do not do. And in this perhaps the notion of working disparate knowledge traditions together has a special contribution to make to STS.

- Helen Watson Verran, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Melbourne

- David Turnbull, Social Studies of Science, School of Social Inquiry, Deakin University.

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