Whose Knowledge is it Anyway?

Cat Kutay, Elyssebeth Leigh

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference Paper published in Proceedingspeer-review


Integrating First Nations knowledge into the engineering curriculum involves a partnership between people and knowledges. To share and collaborate on any integration process involves cross-cultural thinking and collaboration. This can place a strain on collaborators and create conflicts over whose knowledge is being shared and who has the right to speak about specific topics. In traditional contexts the authority to speak is generally clearly defined, so paying appropriate respect to Aboriginal knowledge we consider how to translate this process.

The aim of this work is to develop guidelines for non-First Nations academics working in engineering contexts and who are seeking to establish or extend knowledge-sharing practices with traditional Aboriginal communities; and, conversely, for First Nations to feel confident that boundaries are clearly defined, and provide for the authenticity of the knowledge sharing. Processes of knowledge sharing are usually guided by protocols designed to protect the integrity of knowledge, which have not been developed well across cultures or in the engineering discipline. Entry of non-First Nations into this space can create a perception of threat to extant conditions of knowledge and community identity. Retaining traditional methods of authentication of knowledge can be achieved through emphasising the external visitor’s standpoint as mediator, interpreter and partner at all stages through the knowledge sharing process, and accrediting the source of any material. This helps retain traditional methods of accreditation and allows academics, students and listeners to appreciate the level of authority of the speaker.

The initial research has covered knowledge sharing practices in traditional societies in Australia and their relation to western methods of knowledge sharing and knowledge valuing. A curriculum design is proposed that retains this approach in the modern setting of university teaching. This was presented to academics and community members in NT and Sydney for discussion on its value and validity. Academics were asked for feedback on the concept and responses as to whether they would implement the method. Their input has been collated for consideration of its effectiveness the likelihood of its wider acceptance.

Previous workshops which proposed parallels between western teaching and First Nations’ knowledge sharing protocols have been greeted with interest. Cross-cultural processes frequently provide insight into why things occur in specific ways and illuminate different approaches to work and life. Providing a clear narrative and framework for when and how to share material, including clarification of where the boundaries are in knowledge possession will enhance the process of incorporating more First Nations knowledge into curriculums.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication31st Annual Conference of the Australasian Association for Engineering Education (AAEE 2020)
Subtitle of host publication Disrupting Business as Usual in Engineering Education
PublisherEngineers Australia
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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