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Ethnobiological studies should not assume cultural consensus of knowledge

Traditional fishing communities are strongholds of ethnobiological knowledge. In many ethnobiological studies, however, it has been a challenge to establish whether these communities harbor cultural consensus about different aspects of this knowledge, and if so, to what degree.

Classification knowledge is an important target, as human societies have always built knowledge systems that can make sense of the biological diversity around them. Fishing communities, in particular, usually develop their own classification systems of the fish they use. In a new paper led by KLI fellow Vitor Renck, however, they found that there was very little consensus in the way the community members of Siribinha, an artisanal fishing village in Northeast Brazil, classify fishes.

This was a surprising result. It suggests that when doing ethnobiological studies, we should not assume that there is a single way that members of a traditional community will classify biological organisms.

In a more recent paper, Renck and his coauthors further show how knowledge of artisanal fishers can complement academic knowledge and bring about tensions that need to be addressed through intercultural dialogue. By integrating a general philosophical framework of partial overlaps with a mixed-methods study on fishers’ knowledge, they show how ethnobiology can contribute to reflective and empirically-grounded transdisciplinary practices.



Renck, V., Apgaua, D.M.G., Tng, D.Y.P. et al. Cultural consensus and intracultural diversity in ethnotaxonomy: lessons from a fishing community in Northeast Brazil. J Ethnobiology Ethnomedicine 18, 25 (2022).

Renck, V., Ludwig, D., Bollettin, P. et al. Exploring partial overlaps between knowledge systems in a Brazilian fishing community. Hum Ecol (2022).