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The political battlefield: negotiating space to protect indigenous and traditional knowledge under capitalism

Abstract : Knowledge has increasingly become an essential resource in the global economy, hence the capitalist tendency to regard it as a form of capital and as a motor for innovation and profit. Like any other capitalist commodity, conflicts over the ownership and use of various types of knowledge have arisen, thereby calling for legal protection. Nation-states as well as inter-state organisations are developing these legal frameworks in order to regulate the conflicts between different social actors. Consequently, thinking on knowledge and power has evolved to include the protection of knowledge from those who seek to gain control of it through the acquisition of legal rights, for instance, intellectual property (IP) rights. In many commercialised industrialised countries, legal frameworks have already been developed to protect IP. These include patents and copyrights as well as other trademarks, database rights and so on. However, in many developing countries with a weak technological base and less commercialisation IP protection mechanisms have not yet become firmly established. This is happening even though they have genetic resources and traditional knowledge that are of value to them and to the world at large. The protection of indigenous knowledge has existed as long as the knowledge itself, but the recognition of such mechanisms has been tightly controlled by stronger powers. In this article we argue that, whatever local communities choose to do to protect their indigenous knowledge, in the context of the current IP regime and the power of commercially driven global actors, the concept of traditional or indigenous knowledge itself becomes political. If the traditionality of knowledge can be reasonably questioned from an epistemological point of view, it would seem possible to claim rights and recognition for local communities in a highly controversial and economically relevant international arena.
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Contributor : Wiebke Keim <>
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Janice Busingye, Wiebke Keim. The political battlefield: negotiating space to protect indigenous and traditional knowledge under capitalism. International Social Science Journal, Wiley, 2009, 159, pp.37 - 54. ⟨halshs-01076968⟩



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