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Identifying plants as a process of cultural cognition: comparing knowledge production and communities of practice in modern botanical science and Nuaulu Ethnobotany

Ellen, Roy (2023) Identifying plants as a process of cultural cognition: comparing knowledge production and communities of practice in modern botanical science and Nuaulu Ethnobotany. Journal of Ethnobiology, 43 (3). pp. 208-218. ISSN 0278-0771. E-ISSN 2162-4496. (doi:10.1177/02780771231194153) (KAR id:102399)

Abstract

We all seek to identify plants in our ordinary lives, or as professionals, yet what we mean by 'identification' and our intentions in seeking them are not always the same. Moreover, the 'identifications' we achieve are often subject to disagreement. This paper draws on the practices of contemporary professional taxonomists producing herbarium reference collections and plant naming among Nuaulu subsistence cultivators in eastern Indonesia. I examine how these communities of practice differ as groups and among themselves in the identifications they make of plants. I argue that the differences between them arise from the way material presents itself in radically different socio-cultural contexts, and the purposes for which the identifications are sort. Differences between the groups arise from the ways individuals prioritise different kinds of information as this becomes available. Ethnobotanists often seek to translate between different worlds of identification by seeking one-to-one correspondences between scientific and local categories that we describe as taxa, but sometimes fail because the material used to identify plants and the purposes of identification are so different. I concludes by asking how intra-cultural and cross-cultural translation might operate in in-between hybrid spaces, such as para-taxonomy, where different assumptions and practices overlap or collide.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1177/02780771231194153
Uncontrolled keywords: plant identification, botanical taxonomy, herbarium practice, Nuaulu ethnobotany, orality and literacy
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Anthropology and Conservation
Funders: University of Kent (https://ror.org/00xkeyj56)
Depositing User: Roy Ellen
Date Deposited: 12 Aug 2023 09:55 UTC
Last Modified: 09 Jan 2024 12:01 UTC
Resource URI: https://kar.kent.ac.uk/id/eprint/102399 (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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