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David P. M. Lam, Elvira Hinz, Daniel J. Lang, Maria Tengö, Henrik von Wehrden, Berta Martín-López
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Fire & Traditional Knowledge

NRFSN number: 21328
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Scholars, politicians, practitioners, and civil society increasingly call for sustainability transformations to cope with urgent social and environmental challenges. In sustainability transformations research, understandings of transformations are often dominated by Western scientific knowledge. Through a systematic literature review, we investigated how indigenous and local knowledge (ILK) is represented in peer-reviewed empirical scientific papers that apply ILK in contexts of transformation, transition, and change. Our results show, first, that all papers applied ILK to confirm and complement scientific knowledge in contexts of environmental, climate, social-ecological, and species change. Only four papers (5%) applied ILK to conduct research on transformations. Second, we identified four research clusters that apply ILK in contexts of transformation, transition, or change in (1) Arctic, (2) terrestrial, (3) coastal, and (4) grass and rangelands environments. These clusters are located along two axes: tropic to Arctic and marine to terrestrial. Finally, our results indicate that indigenous and local understandings of transformations are currently neglected in the scholarly transformations discourse. The reviewed papers do not focus on how indigenous peoples and local communities understand transformations, instead they focus on what changes indigenous peoples and local communities observe and describe, resulting from their daily experiences and activities. We argue that because of its in-depth local, place-based character, ILK can substantially contribute to a more plural understanding of transformations and the assessment of transformative change. We conclude that future research needs to investigate how to gain a more plural understanding of transformations that leads potentially to more inclusive actions toward more just, equitable, and sustainable futures on a local and global level.


Lam DPM, Hinz E, Lang DJ, Tengö M, von Wehrden H, and Martín-López B. 2020. Indigenous and local knowledge in sustainability transformations research: a literature review. Ecology and Society 25(1): 3.

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