Cosmology of the African San people

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference paperEntry for encyclopedia/dictionarypeer-review

    Abstract

    Using words to capture and convey our beliefs and experiences may seem precise and comprehensive, but such omniscience is illusory (Mitchell 1994). It may, however, be possible to fragment the totalising influence of words and concepts like ‘cosmology’ – knowledge of the world – by using historically specific texts, images, sounds and sensoria to promote epistemological diversity. This approach works well within a culture. I can, for example, distinguish between Southern Baptist and Greek Orthodox as two heterodox forms of Christianity. But what about other people, in
    other places, at other times? The people on whose behalf we interlocute – in this case the San or Bushmen of southern Africa (Extra 1) – have histories marked by imperialism, colonialism, missionisation and Apartheid (Fig. 1). How then do we know when our information about these people draws on their remembrances of original traditions or when it embodies recent histories of violence? Despite ethnography's ethical problems (Clifford and Marcus 1986), we can use multiple strands of evidence to produce working knowledge that tacks between absolutism and hyper-relativism (Benhabib and Fraser 2004).
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationEncyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures
    EditorsHelaine Selin
    Place of PublicationBerlin
    PublisherSpringer-Verlag London Ltd.
    Pages644-650
    Number of pages11
    ISBN (Electronic) 978-1-4020-4425-0
    ISBN (Print) 978-1-4020-4559-2
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2008

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