The Political Ontology of Climate Justice and Indigenous Knowledge

The Political Ontology of Climate Justice and Indigenous Knowledge

Anders BURMAN (Sweden,Bolivia)

Department of Human Geography, Human Ecology Division, Lund University

Several influential studies have shown that indigenous people are among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Likewise, attention has been drawn to indigenous knowledge as a crucial component of climate change adaptation strategies. Nevertheless, a prolific scholarly debate on the “coloniality of knowledge” has manifested the epistemic dimension of continuous colonial domination and the existence of epistemic violence as an integral part of the asymmetric relations of power that characterize the world since 1492. In other words, when compared to “Western” scientific knowledge, indigenous knowledge is rarely seen as being of equal merit. While much has been said on the matter, I believe there is an essential dimension that is missing in the debate on the coloniality of knowledge, especially in relation to climate change and indigenous knowledge. What is missing in the debate is the fundamental discussion about “what there is” and the mechanisms by which a dominant reality imposes itself on other realities; that is to say, epistemological issues tend to be discussed as though they were disembedded from their ontological contexts. I therefore propose a number of additional questions to be considered in research on indigenous knowledge and climate change: Within which ontologically informed lifeworlds and in which relational fields are knowledges produced and by whom? How and by which mechanisms are the partial connections between different ways of producing knowledge and of experiencing realities transformed into spaces of conflict, domination and resistance? These are questions of an ontological nature; questions dealing with “what there is”, with what kind of actors there are and what kind of beings compose the relational fields within which knowledge production and political struggle take place, and within which climate change is experienced, understood, and addressed. These questions, moreover, have a critical bearing on the climate justice debate, as understood and articulated in predominantly non-indigenous contexts and idioms, and this paper addresses the relation between climate justice and indigenous knowledge from within the critical theoretical framework of political ontology.



I received my PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Gothenburg in 2009, for a thesis concerned with indigenous activism, ritual practice, perceptions of landscape and place, and Bolivian state politics. 2009 to 2011 I was a Postdoctoral Scholar at the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of California at Berkeley. I am currently a Senior Lecturer at the Human Ecology Division, Department of Human Geography, at Lund University where I teach undergraduate and graduate courses, mainly related to Political Ecology and Environmental Anthropology. I have published profusely on issues concerning indigenous peoples and movements, activism, ritual practice, cosmology, landscape and perceptions of nature, gender politics, the issue of decolonization and knowledge production in relation to central topics of Political Ecology and Environmental Anthropology with a geographical focus on Andean Bolivia where I have lived and worked for many years.

I am currently engaged in a comparative research project called “Indigenous peoples and climate change”, focusing on how climate change is perceived and explained differently by different actors and from different ontological lifeworlds in Latin America. My research focuses primarily on the contradictions arising from the encounter between hegemonic notions of “nature” and “climate” and indigenous knowledge and understandings of the Andean landscape and cosmos. I aim to understand how these contradictions are negotiated and articulated in the indigenized political language of, on the one hand, the Bolivian State and, on the other hand, emerging oppositional indigenous movements, in a debate on climate justice. The project runs over a period of four years (2014-2017) and is funded by The Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences (RJ).

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