Of an “ethnobotanist” within modern global society.] Most ethnobotanists would probably agree that as ethnobotanists they are not cultural practitioners, per se, but rather that as ethnobotanists they study (or study with) cultural practitioners. The difference is subtle and in some cases blurred, but still meaningful.
The second category is what I think most professional ethnobotanists would agree is the task an ethnobotanist does and should learn to do. The kinds of work that an ethnobotanist does can be applied or theoretical but is based upon scientific methods, principles and theories that direct the ethnobotanist to logical decisions and conclusions. It is likely that an ethnobotanist will be able to explore the world, cultures, and many other things. It is also likely that an ethnobotanist can also be or become some type of cultural practitioner. However, in the end, an ethnobotanist is first and foremost a scientist.
My initial instinct was to end this with the last sentence above. However, I don’t think that is correct, reasonable, or even fair. Let me return to consideration of the first category of ethnobotanist through relating an event that recently happened to me.
A botany consultant was hired by a Native American community to provide advice on the development of an ethnobotany educational program at a small college. The consultant, who was not an ethnobotanist by training or practice, looked to a variety of sources for recommendations and information. When she spoke with me I discussed the program we have at the University of Hawai`i that is intended to produce ethnobotanists of the second category above. However, through the course of our conversation, it became clear that her mission was to develop a program for the training of ethnobotanists of the first category. The emergent question was: Is the training of these two kinds of ethnobotanists different? And if so, how and why?
The heart of the answer must lay in the differences in the kinds of work that each category of ethnobotanist is likely to do (Table 1). The first category is primarily trained to be a cultural practitioner who uses plants within cultural practices. The second category is primarily trained to work with cultural practitioners in order to address scientific questions about cultural practices. Although not at all exclusive, a common difference is that the first category is primarily for cultural insiders or members, while the second category is for cultural outsiders.
Another important difference is that the first category is culture specific with training providing insight into other (particularly related) cultures but not necessarily cross-cultural transferable knowledge and practices. To the contrary, the second category is not necessarily culture specific but instead emphasizes the generalities of human cultural practices and general scientific methods for analysis of specific cultural practices.
I believe that the training for these two approaches to ethnobotany is different. Likewise, the kinds of work that are likely to be done can, and probably will, be different by these overlapping kinds of ethnobotanists. Because of this, I conclude that it is very good that there is more than one kind of ethnobotanist and hope that as ethnobotanists we are able to recognize and promote this kind of diversity within our research and educational institutions.
Table 1. Two general categories of ethnobotanists and some of their primary differences.
Cultural setting (not Universites)*
University / globalized education systems
Jobs, roles in society
Cultural practitioner (health care, carpentry, farming, merchant, etc.)
Scientist (conservation biology, government or private resource management, international development, etc.)
Global although often in tropical, developing countries and/or with minority populations
Often xenocentric or ethnorelativistitic
Specific cultural world view
Sources of prior knowledge
Tradition (oral or written), senior practitioners
Scientific literature, senior practitioners
Sources of new knowledge
Practice experience, observations, experimentation
Distribution of new knowledge
Passed on to the new practitioners and not usually others
Published as results and interpretations for anyone
Use of new knowledge
Practice improvement, better society
Theory or addressing specific needs
*There is an increasingly common trend for development of University programs organized by cultural practitioners with the purpose of training new cultural pracitioners.
Answered By: Treasure - 9/12/2010