Contested knowledge, contingent classification: animals in the highlands of Papua New Guinea

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Author: Paul Sillitoe
Date: Dec. 2002
From: American Anthropologist(Vol. 104, Issue 4)
Publisher: American Anthropological Assn.
Document Type: Abstract
Length: 159 words

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Abstract :

New Guinea highlanders appear to conceive of animal taxonomy in a way that is simultaneously familiar to a scientist, yet different. This is often attributed to interaction between natural ecology, which constrains content, and cultural context, which conditions the structure of any taxonomy. The evidence presented here confirms this view, although the considerable, and initially disconcerting, disagreements between persons over taxonomic issues raise the question: To what extent is Wola classification of natural phenomena analogous to Western hierarchical classification? The stateless political environment conditions the Wola constantly to challenge hierarchy, obfuscate boundaries, and think in terms of "fuzzy sets," confounding the assumption of agreed classes and threatening intellectual anarchy. However, their taxonomic regime offsets this, facilitating discourse in the absence of authorities to adjudicate in disputes. No formal classificatory scheme devised so far can adequately represent such an oral tradition's ever negotiated ordering of animals; whatever framework we adopt will somewhat distort it. [Keywords: Papua New Guinea, ethnozoology, taxonomy]

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A95107779