Philosophy of Ethnobiology

David Ludwig
Email address: 
Proposal Type: 
Live 75 minute session - which includes 6 speakers/discussant timeslots.
Session Date and Time: 
Thursday, 13 May, 2021 - 10:45 to 12:00

Ethnobiology is a transdisciplinary field that brings together the knowledge of diverse actors from Indigenous and local communities to natural and social sciences. While this diversity of knowledge is crucial for engaging with socio-environmental change, it also raises complex questions about conflicting epistemologies, ontologies, and values. Philosophy of science has become increasingly concerned with ethnobiological research (Byskov 2020, Kendig 2020, Ludwig and El Hani 2020, Villagómez-Reséndiz 2020, Weiskopf 2020) in addressing issues such as knowledge diversity in biology, the prospects of knowledge integration, and the entanglement of taxonomies and values. The aim of this session is to take this “new philosophy of ethnobiology” back into the ethnobiology community to discuss its potential contributions to methodological and theoretical debates of the field. In particular, the talks will focus on interdisciplinary negotiation of ethnobiological research methods, the structure of dialogues between heterogeneous actors, and the relations between naming practices and taxonomies beyond a simple dichotomy of universalism vs. relativism. 

Ludwig: The new philosophy of ethnobiology - what’s in it for ethnobiologists? 

Nieves Delgado: From epistemic pluralism to interdisciplinary work in ethnobiology

Bollettin: “Ethno” and “Biology": Anthropological notes on multiple dialogues in knowledge practices

El Hani: Learning from dialoguing with and integrating Indigenous/peasant and academic knowledge systems 

Renck: Applying partial overlaps in ethnobiological studies in a Brazilian fishing community

Kendig: Philosophy of ethnolichenological naming practices

Presentation format: 
Oral (pre-recorded)
, Vitor - Federal University of Bahia / Wageningen University & Research

I will explore the partial overlaps framework between traditional and academic knowledge in a fishing community in northeast Brazil. Through a mixed-methods study involving triad tasks and ethnobiological models, I analyze local categories and knowledge about salient ethnospecies of fish. Overlaps between traditional and academic knowledge provide common ground for transdisciplinary collaboration, while their partiality requires reflection about epistemological and ontological differences. Partialities also demand a reflective political positioning of a researcher with regard to the self-determination of the community. By distinguishing between different forms of partiality, we show how knowledge of artisanal fishers can complement academic researchers’ knowledge, but can also bring about tensions that need to be addressed through intercultural dialogue. By integrating a general philosophical framework of partial overlaps with a mixed-methods study on fishers’ knowledge, we show how ethnobiology can contribute to theoretically-reflective and empirically-grounded transdisciplinary practices.

Presentation format: 
Oral (live)
Nieves Delgado
, Abigail - Utrecht University

Ethnobiology is a multidisciplinary science which includes fields such as ecology, evolution, political ecology, traditional medicine, and indigenous rights, to mention a few. At the core lies the study of those complex relations and dynamics of social-ecological systems in which local knowledges is central. However, this intrinsic multidisciplinary nature of ethnobiology has resulted in the fragmentation of the field. Recently, a new integrative conceptual framework, drawing on evolutionary theory, has been introduced to address and resolve this fragmentation. In this paper we discuss this model and evaluate its potential contribution to unify ethnobiology. We argue that the adoption of an adaptationist framework does not suffice to account for the complexity and range of ethnobiological phenomena. We present a model for transdisciplinary work inspired by the work of Rolando García. In this model, the open dialogue of epistemic and non-epistemic values is central for defining a transdisciplinary research question.  

Presentation format: 
Oral (live)
, Charbel N. - Federal University of Bahia, University of Coimbra, INCT IN-TREE

Proposals for knowledge integration between traditional (TEK) and academic ecological knowledge (AEK) became common in theory and practice, especially in relation to conservation and sustainable management. One cannot avoid complex philosophical questions related to such proposals, which lie, according to Ludwig and El-Hani, at the core of a philosophy of ethnobiology and involve epistemological, ontological, ethical, and political challenges. These challenges can be addressed from a “framework of partial overlaps”, avoiding both over-optimistic and pessimistic attitudes towards knowledge integration in order to find a space for mutual learning between knowledge systems through analyzing both overlaps and divergences in ontological, epistemological and axiological domains. I will discuss how learning can be conceived in the contact zone between knowledge systems, i.e., how we can learn from each other in such intercultural situations both in the case of overlaps or when we are faced with radical alterity in ontological, epistemological and/or axiological terms.

Presentation format: 
Oral (live)
, David

Philosophy of science is increadingly recognizing ethnobiology as a transdisciplinary field that raises complex methodological questions about the negotiation of epistemologies, ontologies, and values. This talk focuses on the question what ethnobiologists can learn from this emergence of a "New Philosophy of Ethnobiology". Ethnobiological research commonly remains descriptive without clearly communicating its methodological relevance to wider communities in fields such as cultural anthropology, sustainability studies, or biological systematics. Looking at issues of (a) transdisciplinary design, (b) intercultural communication, and (c) taxonomy, this talk introduces the overall session and the relevance of philosophy in positioning ethnobiological insights in debates about socio-ecological change.

Presentation format: 
Oral (live)
, Catherine - Michigan State University, Department of Philosophy

The language of the Sàmi of Northern Finnmark reflects specialized knowledge of the environment and of their relationship with the animals that they herd. The Sàmi have specialized names for the lands on which they graze their reindeer as well as for the various lichen species that can be found within these lands. These names allow them to differentiate between lichens that grow at different times during the season and between those that the reindeer eat, which they prefer, which they avoid, and which they are willing to eat in times of scarcity. I suggest these ethnolichenological naming practices can be understood as different ways of reaching out into the world to linguistically grasp that which is of interest for a particular purpose. Linguistically grasping implies an ecologically extended kind-making interaction where interactionism involves both the object of interest as well as the ontological commitments of kind-makers, namers and kind-users.

Presentation format: 
Oral (live)
, Paride - Universidade Federal da Bahia

The presentation aims at describing some ways ethnobiologists correlate the concepts of “ethno” and “biology” in the production and sharing of their knowledge practices, having as a starting point ethnographic cases from a research conducted in Conde, Northeast of Brazil. I will describe how a variety of relations produced between the two concepts flows in the field, in the academy, and in the middle of these two inseparable limits. The focus on ethnographically grounded knowledge-practices lets a panorama of epistemological, pragmatical and ethical possibilities to emerge. The thesis is that the “and”, at multiplying the possible interfaces between the “ethno” and the “biological”, as experimented multiple dimensions can share lights on the interrelational web connecting knowledge, people, practices, politics,other-than-human beings, etc. Finally, I will appoint at some possible consequences of the diverse ways “ethno” and “biology” can be related toward symmetrical and collaborative dialogues.