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Governing Indigenous Knowledge? A Study of International Law, Policy, and Human Rights

Fan, Rebecca C (2015) Governing Indigenous Knowledge? A Study of International Law, Policy, and Human Rights. PhD thesis, University of Essex.

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The story of indigenous peoples’ knowledge systems, also known as indigenous knowledge (hereafter IK), is a complex one tangled with different and sometimes conflicting interests, values, and interpretations from a variety of disciplines, or specialized fields. A number of international treaty and trade agreements that want to ‘harness’ IK also turned it into an object of global governance, as this PhD study argues. This study also argues that the well-being of IK has gradually emerged as a global agenda for sustainable development and intergenerational justice, which constitute the defining characteristics of contemporary discourse of heritage. Consequently, IK issues and debates have become more versatile and multifaceted with a widening scope and mounting stakes. This is a sociological and legal study of knowledge that analyses the epistemological struggle resulting from different understandings of the nature and purpose of IK, which has causal relationship with the inadequacies of the governing regimes documented in this study. This study argues that such struggle and inadequacy form the core problem for IK governance. Furthermore, this study takes a novel approach guided by indigenous peoples’ epistemology, which represents ties between ecology, landscape, and people in a web of connections, to argue that IK is a cross-cutting subject and a form of emplaced knowledge. Hence it is not simply a property issue or debate as most literature tends to focus on. This study further argues that what constitutes the cornerstone of IK claims by indigenous peoples is essentially biocultural diversity that nurtured and sustained IK as well as IK-holder communities as distinct peoples. Through an interdisciplinary approach of synergy and synthesis, this study developed a number of original ideas and frameworks to analyse this complex story of IK. By doing so, this study shows how IK is a challenging subject that is inevitably political; it is also tangled with inherently heterogenetic and incoherent regimes of governance, from intellectual property and trade to environmental governance and development to natural and cultural heritage and human rights. This study takes these regimes as sites of inquiry in the tradition of critical theory to further unpack and problematize the development imperative and the private-property-based system exercised by these regimes. Finally, this study concludes that IK governance can make or break vulnerable groups like indigenous peoples to a point of prosperity or deeper poverty and extinction. Therefore, it requires particular care with an integrated approach. This study aims to fill an important gap in the literature with recommendations for future policy and research.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
K Law > K Law (General)
Divisions: Faculty of Social Sciences > Sociology, Department of
Depositing User: Rebecca Fan
Date Deposited: 03 May 2016 14:31
Last Modified: 03 May 2016 14:31

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