Relating traditional and academic ecological knowledge: mechanistic and holistic epistemologies across cultures

David Ludwig*, Luana Poliseli

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Current debates about the integration of traditional and academic ecological knowledge (TEK and AEK) struggle with a dilemma of division and assimilation. On the one hand, the emphasis on differences between traditional and academic perspectives has been criticized as creating an artificial divide that brands TEK as “non-scientific” and contributes to its marginalization. On the other hand, there has been increased concern about inadequate assimilation of Indigenous and other traditional perspectives into scientific practices that disregards the holistic nature and values of TEK. The aim of this article is to develop a practice-based account of the epistemic relations between TEK and AEK that avoids both horns of the dilemma. While relations between TEK and AEK are often described in terms of the “holistic” nature of the former and the “mechanistic” character of the latter, we argue that a simple holism–mechanism divide misrepresents the epistemic resources of both TEK and AEK. Based on the literature on mechanistic explanations in philosophy of science, we argue that holders of TEK are perfectly capable of identifying mechanisms that underlie ecological phenomena while AEK often relies on non-mechanistic strategies of dealing with ecological complexity. Instead of generic characterizations of knowledge systems as either mechanistic or holistic, we propose to approach epistemic relations between knowledge systems by analyzing their (partly mechanistic and partly holistic) heuristics in practice.

Original languageEnglish
Article number43
JournalBiology and Philosophy
Issue number5-6
Publication statusPublished - 22 Nov 2018


  • Holism
  • Indigenous knowledge
  • Mechanisms
  • Mechanistic explanation
  • Philosophy of ecology
  • Traditional ecological knowledge


Dive into the research topics of 'Relating traditional and academic ecological knowledge: mechanistic and holistic epistemologies across cultures'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this