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An experience-based perspective on the relationship between indigenous and Western epistemic systems in research

Dawn Adams

The epistemic systems that inform indigenous and Western research methods are based on competing cultural truth claims about reality, including the ways of knowing, the nature of meaning, and the separation or participation of an observer. Ian Barbour’s models of relationship between Western academic cultures with competing truth claims can be applied to the relationship between indigenous and Western research. Each of the four models of relationship—conflict, independence, dialogue, and integration—provides a meaningful context for understanding the statements and actions of Western scientists in response to indigenous research methods, and helps indigenous researchers recognise and defend against acculturation pressure. Dialogue and integration can create interstitial space for collaborative work between indigenous researchers and Western academic advisers, colleagues, journal editors, and grant-programme officers, though care must be taken that the collaborative process is not reframed back into a conflict model in which only Western epistemic processes are considered valid.

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