By David Lam
Our new study investigated the role of indigenous and local knowledge in sustainability transformations research. Sustainability transformations entail fundamental alterations of how people interact with nature.
In sustainability science, indigenous and local knowledge has been acknowledged to make vital contributions, for instance, for biodiversity conservation and environmental resource management. Furthermore, global sustainability research initiatives, such as the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) specifically include indigenous and local knowledge into their assessments because of its in-depth local, and place-based character.
Our comprehensive study reviewed 81 peer-reviewed articles on transformation, transition, and change that include indigenous and local knowledge.
Our results show that this body of literature often applied indigenous and local knowledge to confirm and complement scientific knowledge in contexts of environmental, climate, social-ecological, and species change. This research can be clustered according to the environments in which researchers as well as indigenous peoples and local communities observe change: Arctic, terrestrial, coastal, as well as grass and rangelands environments.
Most important, we also conclude that research on sustainability transformations neglects to understand transformations from the perspective of indigenous peoples and local communities.
Indigenous and local understandings of transformations can be vital keys to reach a more sustainable society. In sustainability transformations research, we have very scientific, positivistic, and Western understandings of how we can make our society more sustainable. We focus a lot on new cleaner technologies, carbon reduction, and renewable energies. But recent studies highlight that it is our connection and values to nature that need to change. Indigenous peoples and local communities have very different connections to nature and can therefore complement our scientific understanding of what we can do to foster transformations towards sustainability.
Finally, we propose future research endeavors that could yield a plural understanding of transformations and hence, provide an enriched picture of how we could foster inclusive transformations in times of pressing sustainability challenges. Collaborating with indigenous peoples and local communities for transformations has the potential to substantially enrich and question scientific approaches to transformations by providing, for instance, alternative and complementary goals to sustainability, such as Buen Vivir or Ubuntu. Sustainability transformation research needs to avoid the risk of neglecting nonscientific knowledge systems and the risk of perpetuating the supremacy of Western scientific knowledge systems as we endeavor to foster transformations toward just, equitable, and sustainable futures.
Link to our new article:
Lam, D. P. M., E. Hinz, D. J. Lang, M. Tengö, H. von Wehrden, and B. Martín-López. 2020. Indigenous and local knowledge in sustainability transformations research: a literature review. Ecology and Society 25(1):art3.