CDU talks examine the place for Indigenous knowledge in modern academy 


University of Melbourne lecturer, Dr Helen Verran, visited Charles Darwin University (CDU) recently to participate in discussions with CDU academics and researchers about possible ways of identifying and understanding Indigenous knowledge when coming from a modern academic perspective.

Dr Verran (pictured) said she believed that the type of thinking that served society well when the modern academy was born in 17th Century Europe did not benefit the 21st Century academy.

She said that a consequence of the times was that the then emerging modern academy was left with a peculiar and intense blind spot with regard to the nature of knowledge.

Dr Verran recounted her experiences in Africa, lecturing in science and the philosophy of science at the University of Ile-Ife in Yorubaland, in Nigeria's south west.

She noted that indigenous African knowledge was recognised and respected at the highest levels in most African universities. Not surprisingly, African philosophy was firmly established in the African academy.

Yet, indigenous knowledge at the level of individual learners has not been as well-recognised while at the same time pervading every aspect of learning.

“Indigenous knowledge in the academy also comes in the form of the working knowledge of the indigenous African learners,” Dr Verran said.

“And in contrast to most of Africa, in Australia the working knowledge of Indigenous learners in the academy is well recognised. But the Australian academy offers very little official recognition of alternative systems of knowledge.”

Study of indigenous Australian knowledge was not a well established area in philosophy, for example.

She said “an uncomfortable duality characterises the participation of contemporary Indigenous knowledge in the modern academy, [which has been] born out of an intense blind spot of modern secular knowledge concerning the nature of knowledge and the configuration of knowers”.

But she said she believed it was possible to create a new working model of knowledge based on the interaction of modern secular knowledge with Indigenous knowledge by recognising “the conditions that characterise the participation of contemporary indigenous knowledge in the modern academy”.