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Building bridges between traditional and scientific knowledge to alleviate poverty

Dr Saskia Vermeylen, Lancaster Environment Centre

Tuesday 14 December 2010, 1600-1625
Lecture Theatre 3, Management School Building

The mounting loss of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) of local communities in the 'South' presents environmental as well as developmental issues. Fundamental among these is the sustainability of local communities and their ecosystems.

Together with other stakeholders, such as national governments and international institutions, local communities must address interlinked challenges concerning development and the environment. The conventional environment-development discourse represents TEK as the opposite of scientific knowledge but I will argue that the static opposition of local and scientific knowledge must be challenged if we if we want to respond effectively to ecosystem change and how this impacts human (and non-human) well-being.

The purpose of this presentation is to analyse the role of knowledge production in the current debate about ecosystem services and poverty alleviation by drawing on a case study in Zambia which is led by a multidisciplinary team of researchers from the Lancaster Environment Centre (LEC).

Building further on current and previous research, I will demonstrate that local and scientific knowledge share common characteristics and therefore can be regarded as complementary or parallel systems. Crossing the divide between TEK and scientific knowledge is an important strategy in a process that promotes the well-being of particular types of ecosystems.

To conclude, I will argue that this process of building bridges between the imagined, perceived or invented different knowledge domains requires an interdisciplinary research approach. It is only when the divide between the natural and social sciences has been 'dismantled' that we can start understanding the plurality and complexity of the environment-development discourse and practice.