Understanding local knowledge : an interdisciplinary framework in the context of sustainable development

Scherrer, Yvonne. Understanding local knowledge : an interdisciplinary framework in the context of sustainable development. 2022, Doctoral Thesis, University of Basel, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.


Official URL: https://edoc.unibas.ch/92982/

Downloads: Statistics Overview


This dissertation undertakes an in-depth analysis of the notion of ‘local knowledge’ on which basis it develops a structured, comprehensive, interdisciplinary conceptual-analytical framework on ‘understanding local knowledge’. This framework goes not only beyond typically encountered simplifications and the often seen prioritization of the factual perspective or the ecological dimension, but is also compatible with principles of sustainable development.
Local knowledge – understood in this research as an overarching term for forms of knowledge such as e.g. traditional, indigenous, traditional ecological, folk or farmers’ knowledge – is locally adapted knowledge developed over time by people living in close interaction with their natural surroundings. Such knowledge proves vital in a myriad of ways and on various societal levels: Not only does it sustain local communities in their livelihoods and, thus, survival, it also is at the base of what is commonly called ‘ecosystem management’. These services are carried out by local communities at local and regional scales, thereby contributing to advancing environmental conservation and sustainable development. Lastly, with respect to the global level, local knowledge also acts as a vast, highly diversified and locally adapted knowledge repository with many current and potential future applications such as e.g. the development or introduction of novel materials, agricultural products or pharmaceuticals.
Regrettably, despite its vital multi-functionality and -valency and a certain global recognition through the official integration of local knowledge into the ‘Convention of Biological Diversity’ at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, local knowledge continues to experience serious marginalization, devaluation and, as a result, an ongoing and almost world-wide erosion and decline.
Reasons for this development are to be located not only in real-world power dynamics and vested interests at all societal levels, but also in a limited understanding of the actual character of local knowledge. The latter often stems from a lack of insight by the generally highly specialized Western actors into local knowledge’s complexity and the influence of their own biases and constraints on how a given local knowledge form is perceived and made sense of – biases and constraints rooted in their disciplinary, organizational, structural and personal backgrounds.
This research contributes to tackling the latter issue by developing a multidisciplinary-based framework approach to ‘understanding local knowledge’. The heuristic instrument is designed generically such that it is applicable to a broad range of local knowledge forms in rural and urban areas in industrializing and industrialized countries and can be applied in the context of research as much as conservation and development cooperation.
Methodically, the dissertation is based on extended literature analyses across sociology, philosophy, anthropology, geography, the ethno-sciences and development, cultural and area studies in order to conceptualize and theoretically inform the notions formative for ‘understanding local knowledge’ as broadly and inclusively as possible, namely ‘knowledge’, ‘locality’ and, to a lesser extent, ‘understanding’. In this process, a total of 16 theory-based generic dimensions characterizing and specifying the three notions are identified. In a second step, these 16 dimensions are aggregated in a conceptual-analytical framework whereby I follow the methodology outlined by Jabareen, Dowding and Stanley.
This dissertation’s contributions concern various levels. First, on an analytical level, the heuristic developed facilitates the understanding of principally any given form of local knowledge through a theory-based minimal set of interconnected key dimensions and questions. Second, in view of its normative foundation in sustainable development, the framework provides interested parties with a differentiated way to gain comprehensive insights into local contexts as basis for collaboratively determining sustainable conservation, management and/or development strategies. Third, its structured and systematic approach facilitates comparative studies and forth, its interdisciplinary foundation is expected to promote the uptake of scientific findings across disciplinary boundaries, counteracting tendencies of disciplinary isolation. Fifth, by including the aspect of ‘understanding’, the framework also allows for a critical reflection on the contingency of one’s own understanding on pre-existing biases and constraints, thus also taking account of challenges related to understanding across epistemologies.
Approaching the topic of ‘understanding local knowledge’ with an instrument specifically developed to analyze local knowledge forms comprehensively and systematically promises to provide a more complex, transparent and at the same time balanced notion of a given local knowledge form that thus contributes to facilitating collaboration, be it in research, conservation or development cooperation.
Advisors:Burger , Paul and von Hauff, Michael and Heinrich, Michael
Faculties and Departments:04 Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > Departement Gesellschaftswissenschaften > Fachbereich Nachhaltigkeitsforschung > Nachhaltigkeitsforschung (Burger)
UniBasel Contributors:Burger, Paul
Item Type:Thesis
Thesis Subtype:Doctoral Thesis
Thesis no:14899
Thesis status:Complete
Number of Pages: XVI, 466 Seiten
Identification Number:
edoc DOI:
Last Modified:26 Apr 2023 15:42
Deposited On:15 Feb 2023 10:18

Repository Staff Only: item control page