Producing a critique : writing about indigenous knowledge, intellectual property and cultural heritage

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Indigenous knowledge as a subject for discussion and analysis has become more prominent in academic literature and in public policy debates in the past decade or more. In my own published works, one of my main themes has been to review and critique Western legislative regimes’ attempts to define, protect, and regulate Indigenous knowledge, especially in terms of what is often called ‘indigenous intellectual property’. As a consequence of this interest in critique of legislation, I have also explored questions around the intersection between Indigenous knowledge and other kinds of knowledge, particularly that sometimes termed ‘Western science’. This latter interest has led me to consider the ways in which Indigenous knowledge and other forms of Indigenous heritage have been represented in ‘Western’ texts, language and discourses, including legislative and administrative developments and discussions, and in anthropological and historical writings. This Essay presents a critical review of my published works, discussed within the context of the particular circumstances (political, bureaucratic/administrative and legislative) in which they were written. I explore the ways in which the sum of my writings have contributed to, and at the same time have formed a critique of, prevailing State authorised discourses relating to Indigenous knowledge that are entrenched primarily in intellectual property rights law. In this Essay I suggest that, as a consistent body of critique, my writings taken as a whole are positioned outside, or between the borders of several discourses and bodies of knowledge. This ‘cross-border’ position of my writings has, I argue, created the possibility for a critique of Western discourses centred on intellectual property rights. I discuss these aspects within a theoretical framework of colonial discourse studies and postcolonial criticism.
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