Tracking Knowledge: Science, Tracking and Technology

by Pierre du Plessis

Knowledges are not distinct entities. They cannot be held in isolation as if bounded, discrete, or systematic. They are far too dynamic and complex to be thought of in this way. 'Scientific' and 'Indigenous' knowledge, however, are often discussed polemically and held in dialogical tension against one another. They are part of a set of dualisms that work under certain universal assumptions critical to Western epistemology. These dualisms include modernity/tradition; nature/culture; and subject/object. This study examines the multiple perspectives, including both scientists and local trackers, involved in the Western Kgalagadi Conservation Corridor Project (WKCC) in an attempt to resolve some of these dualisms.

It focuses on the dimensions of tracking animals and data collection with a GPS technology known as 'Cybertracker'. Involving both scientists and people from the Kalahari with knowledge of tracking animals, the dynamics of knowledge production and the movement of knowledge are explored. Their work together demonstrates ways that movement and embodiment are central to the production of knowledge. Knowledge production and the relationship between diverse knowledges and approaches in the WKCC project are investigated without reducing them to the same epistemological foundation or holding them in dualistic opposition. Knowledges become part of networks and engage with one another through their movement, embodiment, and interaction with various non-human subject-objects. The use of the Cybertracker databasing technology shows that an engagement of multiple perspectives, the significance of movement, performance, historical connections, and subject-object relations in a variety of contexts are key to understanding the production of knowledge. The movement, agency, and relatedness demonstrated in various 'knowledge objects', including data, shows that the complexities involve a continual exchange of influence in which knowledges are always changing. The presence of diverse knowledges, expressed in both their relatedness and their tensions, are evident in their very movement in these networks as actors and the interwoven trails they leave behind. In the process, the boundaries between the dualisms become blurred, if not irrelevant.

Editorial Note by Louis Liebenberg: While this thesis includes valuable observations and data, we do not share the author's enthusiasm for the ideas of Bruno Latour.