Science as a collection of ethnosciences
Pages 3

The term ‘ethnoscience’ first became widely used in the anthropological literature

of the 1960s (Bulmer 1971). It has been used in two ways:

It refers first to the ‘science’, in the sense of modes of classification of the mate-

rial and social universe, possessed by societies unaffected or little affected by

modern international scientific thinking and discoveries. Second, it refers to a

particular anthropological approach which has as its objective the systematic

scientific investigation of ways in which particular societies classify the

universe …

Such ethnoscientific research has contributed much that is of value to those

hoping to fashion a science education for a pluralist society, but we need to

broaden this definition slightly. To restrict the term ‘ethnoscience’ to societies

‘unaffected … by modern international scientific thinking and discoveries’ is both

tomisunderstand the nature of science and to risk adopting a patronizing and racist

attitude to such ethnosciences. It misunderstands the nature of science because, as

I have argued above, all science is set in a cultural milieu, so that we cannot validly

distinguish a number of ethnosciences from a single international non-

ethnoscientific science. It risks being patronizing and racist because accepting such

a definition of ethnoscience inevitably makes it likely that a writer, however

impressed she or he is with a particular ethnoscience, ends up comparing it with

‘modern international scientific thinking and discoveries’, which then act as a

benchmark against which the particular ethnoscience is judged.