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International Journal of Libraries and Information Studies

Editor-in-Chief: Albright, Kendra S. / Bothma, Theo J.D.

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Volume 60, Issue 1 (Jan 2010)


Development and the Documentation of Indigenous Knowledge: Good Intentions in Bad Company?

Karolina Lindh
  • Research Assistant, Division for Archival Studies, Library and Information Studies, and Museum Studies, Department of Arts and Cultural Science, Lund University, Lund, Sweden. Email:
  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
/ Jutta Haider
  • Senior Lecturer, Division for Archival Studies, Library and Information Studies, and Museum Studies, Department of Arts and Cultural Sciences Lund University, Lund, Sweden. E mail:
  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
Published Online: 2010-04-12 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/libr.2010.001


There appears to be an increasing interest within library and information studies (LIS) in so-called indigenous or traditional knowledge. Discussions on usefulness and applicability of indigenous knowledge in development seem to be motivating electronic documentation and the creation of databases. Often, definitions provided by international organisations are drawn on unquestioningly, while power structures embedded in descriptions provided by such organisations are ignored. This article aims at drawing attention to the ways in which international organisations define and talk about indigenous knowledge in relation to development. This is achieved by critical, close reading of six publications issued between 1998 and 2008 by the following organisations: WIPO, UNESCO, ICSU, UNDP, the World Bank, and IFLA. The critical reflections are also intended to shed light on how documentation practises can be understood as extensions of power. For this the authors draw on Foucauldian notions of power and discourse as well as on post-development and postcolonial perspectives. Relationships and discursive procedures for statements on science, development discourse and intellectual property rights, are shown to be influential in the creation of the concept indigenous knowledge. Relating indigenous knowledge to post-colonial and post-development studies reveals how indigenous knowledge is created and kept marginalized within the discursive structure of development. The analysis concludes by showing how knowledge named indigenous knowledge is trapped and created in a circular flow which legitimises international aid organizations, development discourse and the intellectual property rights system. The article concludes by demanding greater awareness among LIS researchers and practitioners regarding the culturally embedded character of knowledge practices and of the power of classifying and defining.

About the article

Received: 2009-08-21

Revised: 2009-12-10

Accepted: 2010-01-08

Published Online: 2010-04-12

Published in Print: 2010-03-01

Citation Information: Libri, ISSN (Online) 1865-8423, ISSN (Print) 0024-2667, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/libr.2010.001.

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