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Changing understandings of local knowledge in island environments

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 June 2017

San Diego State University – Anthropology, 5500 Campanile Dr, San Diego, CA 92182-0001, USA
*Correspondence: Dr Matthew Lauer email:


Island ecosystems have rich marine biodiversity and high levels of terrestrial endemism, but are potentially the most vulnerable to climate change and anthropogenic stressors. To effectively manage environments, scholars and conservation practitioners have increasingly turned their attention to local islander knowledge (LK) and practices. To date, much of the literature treats LK definitionally rather than examining its theoretical underpinnings. This review focuses explicitly on the concept of LK and it describes three discernible phases of research marked by conceptual shifts. Over the 20th century, LK underwent a dramatic reversal from something understood as inferior and deficient to something that is valuable and empirically sound. This shift ushered in widespread acceptance of local islander knowledge as a unique, rich corpus of information that could be tapped by Western science to enhance community-based resource management. Over the last several decades, a third phase of LK research has emerged in which a more dynamic framing has developed, emphasizing LK's hybrid and adaptive dimensions, as well as its constitutive entanglements with other social–ecological processes. This has expanded the scope of inquiry into the strategies islanders employ as they adapt to changing social and environmental milieus, and as they attempt to co-produce knowledge with scientists and conservation practitioners.

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Copyright © Foundation for Environmental Conservation 2017 

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