Researching Indigenous Ways of Knowing-and-Being: Revitalizing Relational Quality of Living

Researching Indigenous Ways of Knowing-and-Being: Revitalizing Relational Quality of Living

Norma Ruth Arlene Romm (University of South Africa, South Africa)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0833-5.ch002


This chapter focuses on exploring the contributions of indigenous-oriented relational thinking-and-being in terms of implications for the quality of social living and for sustaining relationships with everything in our ecological niche. It offers an account of how we can treat Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) as envisaging socio-economic development differently from economic models of growth which thus far can be said to govern processes of globalization. The chapter attempts to demonstrate that resuscitating IKS is not so much a matter of researchers' documenting and respecting the content of indigenous knowledge that has been created to date. More important is to direct research with the aim of drawing out and revitalizing the styles of knowing and living that can be interpreted as characterizing indigeneity. Examples are provided of how research can be directed with this in mind.
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In this chapter I unpack the notions of indigenous knowledge and indigenous knowledge systems (IKS). I suggest that in the light of the unequal relationships between Western-styled ways of knowing and indigenous-oriented approaches, it is important for researchers to actively seek opportunities to revitalize what indigeneity has to offer in terms of the quality of knowing and being.1 I aver in the chapter that this revitalization has implications for the quality of living not only in so-called developing countries, but also in developed ones. I suggest that while IKS can be seen to offer certain distinct ways of understanding human existence in the web of life (where everything is perceived as interconnected) there are possibilities for rapprochement between alternative styles of knowing, including more Western-oriented approaches. But this rapprochement requires a dialogue which is not set up as adversarial. I myself am English speaking South African – classified as “White” in terms of racialized categorizations – but I sympathize with an indigenous orientation (Romm, 2010, 2011, 2015a).

Along with many indigenous authors, I argue that we should treat IKS as a system in which learning can take place across indigenous communities and across the globe. As far as cultural traditions in IKS are concerned, I suggest that these can be seen as containing a number of options for interpretation and action, rather than as providing fixed prescriptions for conduct. I propose that researchers should gear their research to drawing out (with others concerned) the potential for human connectedness with all living and nonliving things: in this way they can exercise their obligations as researchers to making a difference to our quality of living towards a “better” world.

I suggest that IKS can all too easily be rendered marginalized and its contents rendered “harmless” in terms of rethinking our styles of engagement with one another and with our natural environment (as Tuck & Yang too caution, 2014, p. 235). I therefore seek in the chapter, following Tuck and Yang, to draw out the radical implications – for developing and so-called developed countries alike – of respectful engagement with indigenous ways of knowing and living.

I am hoping that my discussion is inspirational for researchers – whether professional or lay researchers – involved in co-exploring the contributions of IKS in terms of possibilities for knowing and living (see also Romm, 2014a,b, 2015b). My objectives of the chapter are to:

  • Offer deliberations around how we might create space for meaningful dialogue between indigenous and Western-oriented styles of knowing. These deliberations are based on my interpretation of relevant literature and of what I take to be illustrative examples. My deliberations are meant to serve as an invitation to readers to reflect further upon what such dialoguing might involve in practice.

  • Offer considerations pertaining to how we can (as researchers) treat “tradition” as open to evolution. Again I offer interpretations of theoretical arguments, coupled with chosen examples, for readers to engage with.

  • Present a “case” for directing research concerning IKS in such a way that it points to radical possibilities for connected ways of knowing and living – including revisiting capitalist modes of organizing “business”. The focus in this chapter is on how research (and researchers) indeed might serve to facilitate thinking around radical possibilities so that IKS is not rendered marginalized.

The chapter is not meant to offer any conclusive statements about theoretical frameworks or methodological options. It should be read as a story that I have created, which invites readers also to write into the story, by challenging it, modifying it, and extending it in terms of their understandings of theoretical positions and experiential contexts with which they are familiar. As Collins too advises, different contributors are seen as “writing missing parts to the other writer’s story” (2000, p. 38).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Co-Production of Knowledge: A process where people intentionally try to collaborate on equal terms to develop a more collective wisdom, which can become a basis for making the quality of life “better”.

Lay Researchers: People who during the course of social life engage in exploring (with others) aspects of life with a spirit of learning.

Relational Being: A way of living where selves do not consider themselves as separated out from the web of life in which they are enmeshed.

Research: An attempt to re-look at issues and questions that otherwise may not be further examined or questioned.

Relational Epistemology: An epistemology that sees knowing as a process of developing insights by people in relation with one another and with all that exists.

Indigenous Knowledge Systems: Ways of (relational) knowing and living developed within communities originally indigenous to a geographical area.

Social Constructivist Framework: A framework which appreciates that knowledge-creation emerges in contexts of humans creating and recreating ways of seeing their worlds as they interact with one another.

Professional Researchers: People who can be said to have certain professional credentials and experience in conducting research.

Culture: A repository of meanings that can be drawn on by people as they define meaningful ways of living.

The Quest for Objectivity: A quest often associated with Western styles of knowing where knowers try to distance themselves (and their emotions and values) from that which they are trying to “know”.

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