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Five Changes to Decolonize Ecological Science – or Any Field of Knowledge • The Revelator

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By Jess Auerbach, University of the North West; Christopher Trisos, University of Cape Town, and Madhusudan Katti, North Carolina State University

The COVID-19 pandemic will dramatically change the way knowledge is produced, especially in science, technology, engineering, and medicine. Social movements such as Black Lives Matter have also increased awareness of significant economic inequalities along racial and geopolitical lines. People have new tools and new ways of working, many of which have increased awareness of systemic inequalities in daily life, work, and research.

Ecology, the study of the relationships between organisms and the environment, is an area in which the production of knowledge must evolve. In the face of pandemics and climate collapse, old ways of working in divided silos will not solve challenges between humans or with the earth.

Ecology has developed through a Western process of knowledge production which has gone hand in hand with mining, violence and imperialism. Early European explorers and collectors were an integral part of colonial land management systems, and knowledge of what would become ecology was used to justify social and environmental control.

Recognizing that science is not free from power and violence is a step towards improving knowledge systems and their adaptation to an inclusive world.

In a recent article, we explore what is needed to change knowledge production in ecology, but our arguments also carry more weight. We have reflected on ecology as a subject of scientific inquiry and the research process, and argue that it needs to change.

An approach that continues to focus scientists trained in the West on understanding the world restricts research and limits the ability of ecology to deal with environmental crises because it fails to recognize the diversity of people, knowledge systems and cultures. solutions.

From climate and environmental justice to conservation movements and global environmental assessments, including a diversity of worldviews on human-environment relationships is necessary for a just transition to a more sustainable world.

Visualize colonialism

In our article, we have used the graphic reproduced below to show an example of how the growth of Western scientific knowledge is rooted in colonialism. This example concerns the naming of birds, but similar graphics could be made for a multitude of plant, animal and even urban entities. We show the number of bird species named after European surnames, and how there are more and more of them the further away from Europe itself.

European “explorers” left their mark not only on the environment, but also on knowledge systems. What birds were called “before” or by the people living with them was simply not taken into account. We also pointed out that the way the maps were drawn, with north “up”, emphasizes Europe and North America. It is a choice of power rather than of necessity. It can change.

Bird species named after European family names. Author provided

We have described five ways to help change and decolonize ecology. They are: the decolonizing spirits; understand the stories; improving access to knowledge; recognize expertise; and work in inclusive teams.

Decolonize spirits: We argue that the minds of researchers, students, academics and activists need to be “decolonized” to open up to forms of understanding that do not arise only from Western scientific practices. It requires recognizing how language, biography, social media, and exposure give individuals a special understanding of what counts as ‘knowledge’. These understandings are often as limiting (for example, limited to English) as they allow. Opening your mind to different knowledge frameworks is a crucial first step.

Understanding the Stories: The second step is to understand the history of the places, people, environment and knowledge systems that shape a given domain. Each place is unique and understanding what happened, between whom and how is essential to find lasting solutions to current challenges. In an age when the humanities are grossly underfunded, everyone should argue for the need for deep historical knowledge so that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. History itself must show how indispensable it is in all areas.

Access to knowledge: This means a commitment to equitable access to knowledge infrastructure such as journals, servers and conferences. This includes attention to exclusion visa regimes, open access and sharing.

Recognized expertise: The Western academy has made experts in its own image: largely white, largely male, largely based in the Global North. These individuals proclaimed their expertise and the planet had no choice but to agree with them, whether or not they understood the realities of other places. We suggest that the idea of ​​expertise should be considerably broadened. Today’s “experts” may not have as much power and influence tomorrow. If the systems worked, we wouldn’t need to change them. Yet we see growing inequalities, social polarization and environmental destruction all around us.

Inclusive teams: Finally, we advocate for practicing green in inclusive teams – and for diversity in almost every area and process. Mutual translation and co-production at every stage of the research process is essential. Bias must be permanently deconstructed. And it helps to recognize how complicated (or “intersectional”) the process is. Inclusive teams must go beyond surface diversity to include individuals with different training, networks, and neurological functioning.

We believe our five Changes to Transform Ecology could be useful to anyone working in academic, political, or even corporate environments, and that the ideas apply beyond ecology. It’s easy to criticize systems – and we must – but we also need to find practical ways to improve them.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Decolonize species names


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