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5.9.04

"Classical" vs. "Tradtional"

I'm reading about efforts to incorporate Aboriginal knowledge into fire management. Some of the authors have taken to talking about "classical" Aboriginal knowledge, rather than the more common phrasing of "traditional" Aboriginal knowledge. The intent is to evoke a parallel with the way we respect the heritage of "classical" Greece and Rome, and escape the connotation of "traditional" as suggesting old-fashionedness.

But to me, "classical" is even more problematic. It suggests that we're looking back to an idealized golden age. This devalues what came after -- the "Dark Ages" in Rome, or Aboriginal knowledge that has been compromised by colonialism. That's a common view with respect to Aboriginal culture -- that the Aborigines had a perfectly functioning system in 1787, and to truly take advantage of what they have to offer, we have to try to get back to the "real" pre-European version. This tempts some people to say that "classical" Aboriginal knowledge is useless today, as it pertained to a different environment and society.

"Tradition," on the other hand, is subject to constant reiteration. In good structurationist fashion, traditions are maintained by being re-enacted in the present. So while tradition looks to the past, it's constantly engaging with the present. It isn't frozen in time the way a "classical" situation is.

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