Human Ecology

, Volume 43, Issue 1, pp 119–130 | Cite as

‘Knowledge Making’: Issues in Modelling Local and Indigenous Ecological Knowledge

  • M. Barber
  • S. Jackson


Modelling, particularly computer-based modelling, is increasingly used in political, managerial, and scientific contexts to enable and justify decisions. Technocratic decision makers also aspire to understand and incorporate local knowledge, albeit at times only superficially. We analyse one consequence of this situation – ongoing attempts to formalise, synthesize and integrate local and/or indigenous knowledge into models. Field experience of knowledge projects with Indigenous Australians underpins our analysis, but we primarily discuss a priori and general issues: the political and ethical context of such projects; knowledge making as terminology; key characteristics of (scientific) models; local capacity, participation, and representation; and examples of computer-based tools for knowledge representation. Such formal abstractions will always be controversial, but demand for them seems likely to continue. To improve interdisciplinary understanding of what might be entailed by genuine attempts to meet that demand, our paper provides signposts to and analysis of important features of local ecological knowledge modelling.


Local knowledge Modelling Visualisation Indigenous ecological knowledge Causality Indigenous Australian societies 



This work was funded by the Water for a Healthy Country Flagship of the CSIRO. It was aided by many previous projects undertaken with Indigenous Australians by the authors, and by conversations with numerous co-researchers at the CSIRO. We thank the conveners of the American Anthropological Association panel at which aspects of this paper were presented and the anonymous reviewers for their comments.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Social and Economic Sciences ProgramCSIROBrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.Australian Rivers InstituteGriffith UniversityNathanAustralia

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