The Value of Knowledge

A few weeks ago I was asked a seemingly simple question in a survey: “Do you think that knowledge can currently be seen as a commodity?” After a couple of seconds’ thought, I started writing my answer. Several minutes later, I still hadn’t finished and decided at that point that I should probably stop in order to prevent myself from overwhelming the person in charge of collating the answers with an unnecessary essay.

I used to work in theoretical particle physics, which is a field where knowledge is very highly valued. After all, the raison d’être of myself and my colleagues was to acquire knowledge about the fundamental laws of nature, and then to disseminate it via peer-reviewed papers, thus making it available to everyone. Equally important was that, whilst writing any paper, we carefully cited previous related works, therefore acknowledging the importance of the knowledge acquired by others. I use the word ‘knowledge’ in this sense to mean concepts, methods, techniques, and observations. If the world of science did not work this way, then everyone would be on their own and we would literally be trying to reinvent the wheel every single day. Read More »

Guest Roast: Is Poverty a State of Mind?

By Erin Taylor

What is the psychology of poverty? This question has been a contentious one in anthropology, particularly during the last half a century. In La Vida (1966), a study of poor Puerto Rican families, Oscar Lewis argued that poverty produces certain psychological traits and social behaviours that become enculturated. His ideas caused an uproar because they were widely interpreted to imply that so-called poor people are not capable of escaping poverty. Critics lamented that his book was being misappropriated by the U.S. Government to implement paternalistic, “blame the victim” policies among poor African-American communities that stripped them of their agency, treating them like hopeless cases that needed to be disciplined rather than assisted.

Since then, a plethora of research in poor communities around the world has overturned the idea of a global culture of poverty. Read More »

We try to protect the biosphere, but what about the Ethnosphere?

According to the Living Planet Report issued in 2012 by the Word Wildlife Fund Global, due to increasing deforestation, natural resource procurement, and habitat destruction, global biodiversity—plethora of plant and animals found on the planet—has decreased by 30 percent since the 1970s with tropical zones incurring a 61 percent loss. This fact is shocking but will not come as a surprise to many. What few people realize, however, is that the world is seeing an equally staggering loss of cultures, traditions, and ways of life due to the same manmade conditions, a loss that significantly decreases the chances of a sustainable future.

One way we can measure cultural destruction is to examine the loss of language. A product of a culture that evolved over many generations, language embodies a culture’s imagination and unique perspective of viewing the world into a concise, single form of expression. This means every time a language dies so does a unique conglomerate of knowledge that took hundreds of generations to develop. Read More »


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