Eugene S Hunn
Ethnoscience: The original anthropological “science studies” program.
The term “ethnoscience” was first in vogue in the 1960s, but with a double meaning. First of all, the term referred to the ethnographic documentation of “folk sciences,” that is, the bodies of knowledge shared within local communities about the natural world. But it came to mean also a “scientific,” that is, replicable, qualitative ethnographic methodology modeled on the elicitation frames employed in structural linguistics.
This seminar is concerned only with the first of these two meanings of ethnoscience, i.e., what might also be called Traditional Environmental/Ecological Knowledge (TEK). The “ethnosciences” that have received the most anthropological attention are those that deal with the material of the natural sciences, most notably, the life sciences, e.g., ethnobiology and its topically focused fields of ethnobotany, ethnozoology, and ethnomycology. Ethnoecology is an alternative general designation favored by some scholars, preferred for its explicit emphasis on knowledge of the links among plants, animals, and other natural phenomena, such as soils, climate, water, and rock.
In addition to this basic ethnobiological inventory we will consider also ethnogeography, landscape ethnoecology, ethnosociology, and an “ethnopsychology” defined as local knowledge of human cognition, motivation, personality, and character.
Aside from considering the substantive issue of what people know about their natural surrounds, we will also consider how they know it and by what means anthropologists can effectively document and analyze these data. Finally, we will discuss the broader philosophical implications of ethnoscience for our understanding of Science, with a capital “S,” and of human nature and culture more generally.
As seminar participants you are expected to keep current with the assigned readings, attend and participate actively in class meetings unless prevented by some emergency, compose a wikipedia entry on a topic relevant to the seminar, and write an analytical term paper on a topic of your choice linked to the seminar theme.
Student learning goals
General method of instruction
Seminar; student led discussions based on readings, informal presentations.
A compelling interest in some combination of cultural anthropology, cognitive psychology, and natural history.
Class assignments and grading
Arrpoximately: Term paper 80%; participation 20%.