Local Knowledge as Trapped Knowledge: Intellectual Property, Culture, Power and Politics

Discourses of local knowledge and categories of rights claimants thereto are embroiled in complex conceptual and analytical morass. The conceptual quandary around localknowledge is diversionary from the historically rooted hierarchies of culture, power andpolitics that have subjugated it. Claims to local knowledge are challenged from several dimensions, including arguments from cultural cosmopolitanism, intellectual property rights and aspects of liberal democratic principles. An interesting new site for this power play is the emergent bioprospecting framework of access and benefit sharing. In this context, sophisticated external intermediaries, who have asymmetrical power relationships with custodians of local knowledge, now constitute a new threat to the genuine aspirations of indigenous and local communities. Recently, local knowledge claims are conflated with propertization of culture raising concerns over the asphyxiation of the public domain. Making the claims or claimants to local knowledge the scapegoats of our troubled public domain undermines the source of the problem. In a way, the current anemic state of our public domain can be blamed on unwholesome expansion of intellectual property and unidirectional appropriation of local knowledge by external interests. The reality of cultural cosmopolitanism requires an intellectual property order that is responsive to the contributions of local knowledge.

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Oguamanam, Chidi, Local Knowledge as Trapped Knowledge: Intellectual Property, Culture, Power and Politics (2008). 11 Journal of World Intellectual Property 29-57, 2008.

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