International Journal of Cultural Property


Intellectual Property Rights Systems and the Assemblage of Local Knowledge Systems

Saskia Vermeylena1, George Martina2 and Roland Clifta3

a1 Department of Geography, University of Lancaster. Email:

a2 Department of Sociology, Montclair State University. Email:

a3 Centre for Environmental Strategy, University of Surrey. Email:


The mounting loss of the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples presents environmental as well as ethical issues. Fundamental among these is the sustainability of indigenous societies and their ecosystems. Although the commercial expropriation of traditional knowledge grows, rooted in a global, corporate application of intellectual property rights (IPRs), the survival of indigenous societies becomes more problematic. One reason for this is an unresolved conflict between two perspectives. In the modernist view, traditional knowledge is a tool to use (or discard) for the development of indigenous society, and therefore it must be subordinated to Western science. Alternatively, in the postmodernist view, it is harmonious with nature, providing a new paradigm for human ecology, and must be preserved intact. We argue that this encumbering polarization can be allayed by shifting from a dualism of traditional and scientific knowledge to an assemblage of local knowledge, which is constituted by the interaction of both in a third space. We argue that IPR can be reconfigured to become the framework for creating such a third space.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: George Martin acknowledges support from the Centre for Environmental Strategy, University of Surrey; and the Department of Sociology, University of California, Santa Cruz.