Science and Cultural Process:

Defining an Anthropological Approach to Science Education


Lorie Hammond, Associate Professor

California State University at Sacramento


Carol Brandt, Doctoral Candidate

University of New Mexico




The purpose of this article is to define, through discussion and example, the notion of an ‘anthropological approach’ to science education research, as well as to advocate the potential contribution of such an approach to several research domains and to questions of access and equity.   While many science education researchers in the last fifteen years have done work which one might describe as ‘anthropological,’ these writers come from a variety of camps and may or may not think of themselves principally in this light.  We hope that the value of this article lies in opening a dialogue about what an ‘anthropological’ approach to science research might be, as well as about how such an approach might redefine the role which science education research, and science itself, plays in the lives of teachers, students and communities which it affects. 

What elements define an ‘anthropological’ approach to science education research, and distinguish it from any other?  This article emerges from the field of Anthropology of Education.  As science education researchers, our main concern is not with the anthropology of science, but rather with how an ‘anthropological’ focus on culture and cultural process can illuminate the process of teaching and learning in science.  Since science has traditionally attempted to be objective and ‘a-cultural,’ a cultural look at science teaching and learning has important epistemological implications that can be addressed through research.  Furthermore, since a cultural approach to science posits that science learning is a cultural as well as a cognitive activity, then pedagogical questions of who teaches science, how it is taught, and what ends it serves take on new meanings that can also be addressed through research. Finally, an anthropological approach to science education has methodological implications for researchers who use ethnographic techniques as a way both to conduct qualitative explorations about teaching and learning in science, and, in some cases, to create a narrative place for the voices of community members and students generally left out of the academic discourse of science.  

This paper reviews a variety of research articles that address, in various ways and degrees, epistemological, pedagogical, and methodological explorations that might be termed ‘anthropological.’  One purpose of this review is to connect a large body of research focused on culture and science, to tease out the elements that might define this research as ‘anthropological,’ and to explore a few of the issues which this research challenges and illuminates.   A second and equally important purpose is to showcase culturally oriented research as an approach that can be used to forward equity in science education research, and through celebrating multiple perspectives, to challenge the hegemonic role that Western science plays in a rapidly globalizing world.           

Definitions of terms

            Before outlining our criteria for choosing articles to be reviewed, it is important to create some working definitions, for the purpose of this paper, for widely used terms which are defined in different ways in different settings.  The first of these is ‘anthropological,’ which we use to refer to the lens, developed in cultural anthropology, on human cultural process and on human ideas and activities as cultural in nature.   As stated above, our goal is not to create an anthropological study of science.   We are researchers in science and education, not in anthropology.  Rather, our goal is to build upon the approaches and methods developed in the field of anthropology of education, a field that focuses on how cultural process affects the teaching and learning of science or any other subject.  Webster’s definition of culture, ‘to grow (micro-organisms) in a specially prepared medium’ (Webster, 1979: 444), is strangely relevant, in that the focus of anthropology of education, and hence of science education, is upon the process of enculturation into science, rather than on the definition of the culture of science itself.  Of course, epistemological assumptions about the nature of science affect this process, and are hence considered, but with an emphasis on how they affect pedagogy in science and its effects on students and communities.

            A second and central term is ‘culture,’ a word whose definition is highly disputed in many fields.   Spindler (1982, 2004), who is widely considered the grandfather of Anthropology of Education, defines culture as ‘patterns for living, acquired through socialization and enculturation, and passed on and modified by each generation.’ Schooling is seen as cultural transmission, and any ‘material’ learned is a cultural artifact chosen to create meaning within a cultural system, taught through a pedagogical approach also inlaid with cultural meaning.  From this perspective, there are no ‘a-cultural’ bodies of knowledge, and certainly no ‘a-cultural’ schools.

            A third term requiring definition is ‘ethnography.’  While Webster (1979: 628) defines this term as ‘a branch of anthropology which deals descriptively with specific cultures,’ we use this term principally to refer to the complex of qualitative research methods that enable ‘descriptive’ research, and hence create an ‘ethnographic approach’ to science education research.  Such an approach generally focuses on rich description of cultural processes, gleaned through extensive and triangulated data collection including some mix of observation, interview, and examination of artifacts.  Ethnographic approaches require extensive time in the field, generally spent in ‘participant observation,’ and create challenges to science educators, who generally lack the time and resources associated with anthropological research.  Hence, ‘ethnographic’ science research often narrows its scope to the examination of bounded cultural settings, such as those in a classroom or school garden, and employs specific ethnographic methods, such as collecting narratives, creating case studies, memory banking, and the like (Arellano et al., 2001; Nichols & Tippins, in press), which are adapted from the work of anthropologists. 

            Another semantic problem that is approached differently by different writers and can lead to confusion is the definition of places and positions in the world today.  While some would refer to the ‘developing’ world, we reject this term because it defines a one-way trajectory of development toward ‘modern’ solutions.  We have chosen to use the term ‘first world’ to refer to high technology societies associated with European cultural influences (from which Western science evolved), and ‘third world’ to refer to countries with less technology and with non-Western traditions.  The terms ‘first’ and ‘third’ world, which evolved in response to the now defunct Cold War, are themselves problematic, since the ‘third’ world is marked not only by separate traditions, but also by a history of colonization. They are, however, the best terms we could find.  The authors use the term ‘fourth world’ to refer to indigenous, minority cultures within ‘third world’ countries, which have been less subject to colonization but are currently in danger of cultural and linguistic extinction, since they occupy few power positions in even ‘third world’ countries.  Another term used by some researchers is ‘First Nations’ people.  This refers to indigenous peoples in first world countries, such as Canada, where the term emerged (Aikenhead, 1997).

Outlining areas of research to consider

            As stated above, the three major areas of science education research affected by an anthropological approach are epistemology, pedagogy, and methodology. Each will be discussed briefly here, in an attempt to define the boundaries for research to be reviewed.  Generally, researchers concerned with an ‘anthropological’ approach to science education focus on one or on some combination of these three research domains.

Epistomology:  Erickson, a well-known anthropologist of education, comments:

The subject matter of science involves culturally learned presuppositions of ontology and epistemology that developed in Western Europe over the past three hundred years.  These presuppositions may or may not be shared by the teacher and the students.  (Erickson, 1986:117)


As an anthropologist, Erickson observes that science evolved in the cultural setting of Western Europe in a specific time period.  This being the case, bodies of scientific knowledge are based on assumptions that may not be universal.  This creates questions about what happens when this body of knowledge encounters other bodies of knowledge about the physical world, which evolved through other traditions.  Is there a way to negotiate between such bodies of knowledge?  This raises both epistemological and practical research questions.  As Erickson points out, the worldview upon which Western science is based may or may not be shared by teachers and students of today, who come from a variety of backgrounds.

Are teachers and researchers aware of the cultural nature of the science they teach? Aikenhead and Otsuji (2000) surveyed 59 teachers in Saskatchewan, Canada, many of whom work with aboriginal students, and 310 science teacher leaders in Japan.  They concluded that few teachers in either country view the enterprise of science or science teaching as a cultural phenomenon.  This is not surprising, since most science education research has also approached cognition in science as an internal developmental process, occurring in an individual, rather than as a socio-cultural process, occurring in an historical context.

Cobern (1996) calls attention to the predominance of research in science education aimed at achieving conceptual change in students’ understanding of science.  Cobern asserts that this research oversimplifies the ways in which people think and learn, and assumes that they will follow Western, Piagetian notions of development.  ‘Science needs to be joined with the other school disciplines in the common goal of developing student world-views of which science is one articulated component’ (Cobern, 1996: 580). 

Cobern points out that studies on conceptual change are based on:

…the constructivist notion that all learning is a process of personal construction and that students, given an opportunity, will construct a scientifically orthodox conception of physical phenomena if they see that the scientific conception is superior to their pre-instruction conception.  (Cobern, 1996: 581).


Cobern is critical of this approach because it assumes the superiority of one conception over another, and provides no vehicles for processing relativist perspectives.  In addition, the assumption that an individual learns alone, through participation in experiences that stimulate an internal developmental process, contradicts socio-cultural views of learning (Hansen, 1979), in which individuals are seen to learn in and through social contexts.  ‘Social constructivism’ has developed as an extension of the constructivist notion of teaching and learning.  This approach posits that learning occurs in a social context, both because of its socio-historical origins, and because of the way in which teachers and students construct knowledge dialogically.  In this approach, it is theoretically possible to negotiate multicultural knowledge perspectives through dialogue.  How to do so becomes the subject of pedagogical research.


The pedagogy of teaching science also involves presuppositions about what is proper in social relations between leaders and followers, experts and novices.  These presuppositions also may not be shared by the teacher and the students… (Erickson, 1986: 117)


One way in which culture affects pedagogy is through language and communication style.  As Heath (1983) and others pointed out in discussions of educating students from different cultural groups within Western society (Boggs et al., 1985; Philips, 1983), differences in language, dialect, and communication patterns can affect students’ ability to learn in a variety of complex ways.  Erickson points out that when students, their communities, and their teachers differ from each other in beliefs, social expectations, or language, then communication involves border crossing and may induce resistance.  Teachers may or may not be aware of adaptations needed to enable their students and their students’ families to cross the border into their way of thinking, and students and/or parents may or may not choose to do so.   Erickson suggests that:

… all teaching can be seen as involving intercultural communication of one sort of another.  The teacher can be seen as a translator and as an intercultural broker.  It is the teacher’s responsibility to operate in such a bridging role on behalf of all students, regardless of the range of cultural diversity among students in a given classroom.  That role of bridging, or intercultural mediation, is a complex one.  It is currently only beginning to be understood.  In that complexity appears to lie the roots of equity in pedagogy.  This seems as true for the teaching of science as it does for teaching in other subject fields. (Erickson, 1986: 123)


Unfortunately, researchers have often been often divided into camps, one of which studies constructivist learning, often with an eye to individual development, the other of which studies the cultural context of learning, often without consideration of how individuals learn differentially within that context.   Lately, the thinking of critical theorists, concerned with the ‘social reproduction’ of knowledge (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977), and of constructivists, concerned with how individuals make meaning of their environments, has been combined into new notions of how cultural processes occur in learning environments.   Levinson and Holland, in describing the ‘cultural production of the educated person,’ defines these cultural processes as follows.

Through the production of cultural forms, created within the structural constraints of sites such as schools, subjectivities form and agency develops… For while the educated person is culturally produced in definite sites, the educated person also culturally produces cultural forms. (emphasis in the original) (Levinson and Holland, 1996: 14.)


The work of Levinson, Foley, and Holland (1996) provides a window on how individual actions and socio-cultural forces interact in education, including science education.


            Most science education research has been quantitative, following the experimental model familiar to scientists.  However, since experimental approaches are central to the culture of science itself, many socio-cultural researchers of science education explore other research techniques that enable them to uncover the ‘hidden agendas’ upon which scientific research is based. 

Cultural anthropology evolved as a field devoted to understanding the ‘other,’ initially defined as a bounded group living ‘somewhere else.’  The research tools that evolved for understanding and transmitting the culture of exotic groups of people include a rich set of ethnographic strategies for accurately and systematically describing cultural patterns that were observed.  In the latter part of the twentieth century, ‘others’ within first world countries became the focus for some researchers, due to a concern for equity, prompted by the Civil Rights movement, and an interest in new immigrant populations.  The study of anthropology ‘at home’ began to emerge, and was in some cases focused on the familiar institution of the school.  The challenge of studying schools is the opposite of that faced by anthropologists who attempt to understand exotic places by ‘making the strange familiar.’  The challenge is that of ‘making the familiar strange,’ in order to see cultural patterns that are not initially visible in an institution as familiar as schools. (Spindler & Spindler, 2000)  Through considering the ‘hidden agendas’ of these institutions, it becomes possible to see how disenfranchised groups, such as girls, immigrants, and underrepresented minorities, might experience them.  Whereas a quantitative researcher might focus on concepts which a student knows before and after a science experience, a qualitative researcher will focus on what goes on during the teaching process itself, thus opening the ‘black box’ of the classroom and observing how learning is transmitted, transformed, and/or resisted by individual participants. 

For some researchers, qualitative methodologies can themselves become tools for equity and change.  Through tools such as narratives, interviews, collaborative case studies, and the like, participants’ voices can become heard in new ways.  In some cases, those who would have been the ‘subjects’ in prior research can collaborate in the research process itself.  In other cases, qualitative researchers explore new technologies, such as photography and video, to gather data and to express the richness of classroom interaction and the integrity of traditional environments. 

The significance of an ‘anthropological’ approach to science education

As stated earlier, this article has goals that extend beyond the definition of a new field.  Its purpose is to illustrate how anthropological research, occurring in very different international settings, has the potential to influence science education as a tool for equity, social and environmental justice, and counter-hegemony.  This is significant because education has become the primary definer of success and access to power in the modern world, hence what is taught, by whom, to whom, and for what purpose has become a question of paramount importance to researchers in any educational field.

Around the world, modern schools are central to the social and cultural shaping of the young…  Institutions of mass schooling often remove children from their families and local communities, encouraging mastery of knowledges and disciplines that have currency and ideological grounding in wider spheres…  Schools have served to inculcate the skills, subjectivities, and disciplines that undergird the modern nation-state.  No matter how the knowledgeable person is locally defined, regardless of the skills and sensibilities that count as indicators of ‘wisdom’ and intelligence in the home and immediate locale, schools interject an education mission of extra-local proportions…  School knowledges and disciplines may, while offering certain freedoms and opportunities, at the same time further draw students into dominant projects of nationalism and capitalist labor formation, or bind them even more tightly to systems of class, gender, and race inequality.  (Levinson & Holland, 1996: 1)


From suburban youth in the United States, to villagers in the third or fourth world, the education of the individual is inextricably linked to larger social orders: family, place, and community; the now multi-national state and its economy; and the work places defined by these entities.  Children born into villages in third and fourth worlds, whose parents learned through apprenticeship and oral stories rather than through schooling, now attend schools that employ international World Bank curricula.  Those who succeed in these schools may enter world-class universities, where they will be educated in English, and in Western science and other disciplines.  Simultaneously, suburban youth in the first world are experiencing an increasingly demanding regimen of standards and tests, which cause them to compete with each other and with their international counterparts for a limited number of desirable educational and career positions.  Minority students, immigrants, girls, and students of various classes also experience this competition and the sorting which it facilitates, in ways that ultimately determine the opportunities they will have as adults.  In short, twenty-first century schools, like the societies they mirror, are defined by dynamic and international forces.  Science, along with mathematics and technology, is a major definer and gatekeeper in this process.   Hence, science education has become inextricably bound to a variety of global forces that are interconnected, political and economic, and rapidly evolving.

How does this complex, internationalizing situation affect the role of science education research?   For the past forty years, beginning with the Civil Rights movement worldwide, many science education researchers, along with other educators, have been studying issues of equity.  In science education research, there has been an effort to create science opportunities that meet the needs of all students, rather than simply to create a scientific elite (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1989, 1993; UNESCO 1983).   Yet the movement toward ‘science for all’ has been strongly criticized by some researchers who suggest that providing the same opportunity for all students can lead to stratification and failure, rather than access and success, on the part of some populations (Barton, 2001; Lee & Fradd, 1998).  What kinds of research are most effective in sorting out science education approaches that work in the complex realities defined by country, class, gender, race, and other intersecting factors?  It is clear that we need research that not only sets standards and measures outcomes, but also opens the ‘black box’ of what happens inside of schools and classrooms during the teaching process itself.  In addition, we need research that can manage several levels of inquiry at once: that can look not only at the students in a classroom, but simultaneously include their families, their communities, their environments, and even the larger socio-historical context in which they are situated.  We suggest that one type of research that can effectively address this situation is an anthropological approach to science education, since it provides both lenses for focusing on the cultural processes upon which our epistemologies and pedagogies are based, and qualitative methodologies for describing complex cultural situations.

What research fits an ‘anthropological approach’ to science education?

In writing this article, we faced the daunting task of deciding what kinds of work in the field of science education might be considered ‘anthropological.’  After reviewing a variety of articles that self-defined themselves in this way, and considering conventions in Anthropology of Education, as found in the Anthropology of Education Quarterly, we came up with guidelines for demarcating the body of literature that might qualify as anthropology of science education over the past ten years (1993-2003).  It is important to note that while all of the authors discussed herein would consider themselves socio-cultural in their approach, few have defined themselves as participating in an anthropological approach to science education research, since this approach has not been previously demarcated.   Research articles and books were chosen as examples of an anthropological approach to science education if they fulfilled at least three of the criteria listed below.  In reviewing these works, emphasis was given to works that exemplified nearly all of the criteria. 

1)    The research uses ethnographic data collection methods, defined as follows:

a)     It employs inductive methods and is not experimental

b)    It uses interviewing or documentation of dialogue among participants

c)     It uses participant observation or observations

d)    It involves extensive contact with participants

2)    Narratives of or dialogues among key participants are included and thick description of context is developed.

3)    Emphasis is on understanding the culture of the science classroom: cognitive processes are situated within the context of school and classroom culture.

4)    The research offers a detailed discussion of the social and cultural context of the study, and often of its economic, political, and/or historical context, and does not stop at the classroom walls.

5)    The research includes some discussion of how race, ethnicity, gender, economic status, and language contribute to cultural processes of learning; and/or how diversity (or lack thereof) is important to understanding the socio-cultural structure of the classroom.

6)    The position of the researcher is revealed and his/her role in
interpreting or representing the data is offered (i.e., the stance is reflective).

7)    The research is holistic in nature.  It gives the reader a broad view of the people, context, and cultures that are involved in the social reproduction of an educational system and of knowledge within that system.

Research Survey Taxonomy

            In writing this article, we attempted to survey a variety of research sources, including books and articles, and to use as much international work as possible.  As active members of the National Association for Research on Science Education, and of the Equity Committee of this organization, we began by looking at the work of presenters we had encountered there.  We then reviewed ten years of articles in two major science education journals: the Journal of Research in Science Education (JRST) and Science Education, looking for articles which met the cultural criteria listed above.  We also considered ten years of the Anthropology of Education Quarterly (AEQ), looking for articles that related to science or mathematics education.  Finally, and importantly, we reviewed the six years of articles from the International Journal of Science Education (IJSE) that we could access (1997-2003).  While we had trouble accessing as many international journals as we would have preferred, we placed special attention on international articles that appeared in all of the above journals.  In addition, we did an extensive Internet search for work related to science and culture.  This search yielded many of the sources listed as ‘other’ on the chart below.  Most were international.

Through the journal review, three categories of articles which fit the above criteria emerged: 1) articles which deal with the culture of science in schools, 2) articles which deal with the impact of science education on disenfranchised groups ‘within’ American or ‘first world’ societies, such as minorities, women, or working class youths, and 3) articles which deal with international and indigenous issues as they affect science education outside of the first world and among indigenous people in any country.  These three categories provide the structure of our discussion and frame our presentation of ethnographic studies in science education.  The following table sums up the numbers of articles found in each journal that met the criteria mentioned above.


Taxonomy of Anthropological Articles by Journal (1993-2003)

Type of Article


Science Ed



Other sources

I. Culture of science/

In schools






II. Science and disenfranchised groups within first world society (women, minorities, immigrants, working class…)
















III. International/post colonial issues in third world countries and/or indigenous issues with Western science








Total articles per journal















Education today faces the perennial challenge of improving the quality of teaching and learning in schools…Yet most educational innovations have failed when used in ‘everyday’ classrooms.  One reason for this pattern of failure is that context and cognition are not being considered together in developing, researching, disseminating, or using educational innovations.  Mainstream educational developers and researchers, using positivist lenses, have primarily focused on cognitive issues, what Erickson (1986) has called ‘taught cognitive learning,’ and have largely ignored context.  They have had cognition without context.  Educational anthropologists, using interpretivist lenses, generally operating outside the mainstream, have focused primarily on the contexts of education, and usually have not addressed ‘taught cognitive learning.’  They have had context without cognition.  This historical separation of context and cognition has been a contributing factor to the less than successful approaches to educational innovation.  (Jacob, 1997: 3)


A central goal of an anthropological approach to science education is to eliminate the separation between cognition and context in educational research.  This is a major shift in thinking.  To reposition cognitive science knowledge and knowledge acquisition within a socio-historical context is a huge task, given the self-conscious history of science as an a-cultural field.  Yet not to do so, in the politicized, multi-cultural, and internationalized contexts in which science is taught and practiced, is to ignore the forest in order to study the trees.  On the other hand, as Jacob states, it is not enough to focus on the context of science education and to forget the importance of science as a rigorous and systematic field of study.  The purpose of this section is to look at the various approaches and theories that researchers attempting to consider the relationship between culture and context in science classrooms have developed.

Before we begin, it is important to note that great inconsistencies exist between the culture of science in classroom settings and that of science in the ‘real world,’ where scientists assume roles as different as basic researchers in labs, oil drilling engineers, or physicians, to name but a few.  While the constructivist movement in science teaching presents a case for teaching science ‘as it is done by scientists,’ school science creates an idealized and over-simplified view of scientific work, usually consisting of a formulaic ‘scientific method’ through which students solve problems.  This idealized view supports the notion of cognition out of context, as if scientists work separate from societal pressures, forwarding ‘theories’ of how the world works with no connection to or responsibility for their application.  To define the culture of science is a task beyond the confines of this paper.  However, to understand its complex and varied nature, in and out of school, is important in considering the culture of the science classroom, as it is or might become.

In this section, as in those that follow, we have two goals.  The first is to survey work that has been done in the last ten years in a particular area.  The second is to showcase work that provides examples, either theoretically or methodologically or both, that might guide others who would attempt to study culture and context in classrooms.

Using qualitative research techniques to study life in schools

Some ethnographic research in science classrooms has grown out of the ‘teacher belief’ research agenda, which, due to its focus on how teachers think and feel about their work, has naturally carried researchers into qualitative methodologies.  Examples of such research are Helms (1998), who looks qualitatively at high school science teachers’ identity and sense of self, and Squire et al. (2003) who considers the way in which teachers’ beliefs and goals, local constraints, and students’ goals affected four teachers’ use of an on-line science curriculum.  In these pieces of research, ethnographic techniques enable researchers interested in school reform to examine in detail the contexts in which it occurs, and hence to appreciate how complex it is to accomplish change.  The anthropological nature of their work is defined by the extensive use of qualitative methodologies, which enable the reader to see into the classroom, and experience what goes on.

Some studies extend this type of ethnographic work beyond the classroom into the general culture of the school.  In Munby et al. (2000), the researchers consider how a reform-minded ninth grade science teacher is constrained by school culture.  Similarly Vesilind & Jones (1998) look critically at science within the culture of school reform, where it is commonly assumed that ‘teacher leaders’ will bring reforms to the rest of their school community.  These authors provide an in-depth window into what it really means to expect teachers to ‘lead’ their colleagues.  Their research includes descriptions of innovations which two teacher leaders employed at their schools, such as involving parent volunteers in the science program, creating science kits, giving public science events, and working within administrative notions of reform.  The power of using ethnographic techniques, such as observation and interview, is exemplified in this article, in that one can see ‘close up’ how reforms become textured in local settings.  ‘For teachers to lead each other is a goal different from most management models of leadership,’ the authors state (Vesilind & Jones, 1998: 774).  This article produces a close-grained portrait of teacher-led reform that researchers who advocate ‘distributed leadership’ in science reform need to understand. Science education researchers have, like other educational researchers, long attempted to improve teaching in schools.  Cultural studies contribute a greater understanding of the complex ways in which institutions resist change, an understanding long held by anthropologists. 

For both Piburn & Baker (1993) and Bruce et al. (1997), ethnographic methods are employed as assessment tools.  Piburn & Baker gather rich data concerning young children’s attitudes toward science by interviewing kindergarten through second grade students.  Similarly, Bruce et al. demonstrate that an evaluation study of a large, federally funded project was enriched through the use of ethnographic techniques such as observations, interviews, and surveys.

One way to analyze the culture of science teaching is to study how people are initiated into the institution.  Abell & Roth (1994) describe the way in which a student teacher who is enthusiastic about science counters anti-science trends in her school and becomes a change agent while still a novice in the field.  Rodriguez (1998) uses a variety of ethnographic techniques - video, observations, participant observation, field notes, interviews, and dialogue - to examine resistance among pre-service science teachers.  The stance taken by Rodriguez is both ethnographic and critical and is part of a reform agenda, which he has named ‘Socio-Transformative Constructivism (STC).’ His reform combines a social justice political perspective with the pedagogy of constructivism.  In this study, he analyzes how mainstream pre-service teachers resist this reform agenda, in an effort to understand and overcome the challenges inherent in creating equity-oriented teachers.

            Two other reformers who assume a critical ethnographic stance toward science education are Costa (1993, 1995) and Hayes & Deyhle (2001).  Costa applies categories developed by anthropologists Phelan et al. (1991) to analyze patterns in secondary school student adjustment between similar or differing worlds of home and school.  Through a series of case studies, Costa provides rich descriptions of how students’ positionings in relation to school science correspond to the similarities or differences between the worlds of family and those of school.  Costa’s research is based on rich description, but is augmented by its implications for both local practice and broader policy concerns.  

Hayes & Deyhle observe ‘micro-level, moment to moment interactions’ (2001: 241) in four, fifth, and sixth grade classrooms in each of two schools, one with affluent, the other with low socioeconomic populations of students. Their ethnographic research contradicts common assumptions concerning both types of schools.  Hayes & Deyhle found that teachers in affluent schools did not follow the constructivist teaching practices most advocated in science education research, due to their preoccupation with educating students in academic skills in order to pass standardized tests.  Simultaneously, they found that teachers in low-income schools were more concerned in engaging their students through relevant curricula, but less concerned about test results.  The authors challenge their audience to consider whether the relevant, but less ‘academic’ curricula in the low-income schools were a good choice, since they increased engagement with science, or a bad thing, since they might perpetuate the social reproduction of poor academic achievement within low-income groups.  This study is an effective demonstration of ethnography’s ability to observe ‘what is’ in contrast to ‘what is supposed to be.’  It also reintroduces the theme of how difficult it is to balance context and cognition in teaching science.  The high-income school’s emphasis on cognition created a disembodied, non-constructivist curriculum, but accomplished the goal of transmitting cognitive information.  In contrast, the low-income school accomplished the short-term goal of active student engagement, while ignoring long-term test results. 

All of the above research is anthropological due to its ethnographic methodology.  It should be noted, however, that this methodology in itself carries researchers into arenas of school critique and reform.  Opening the ‘black box’ of daily life in schools and classrooms generally reveals ‘hidden agendas’ which illustrate why traditional interventions to improve schools are difficult to achieve and to sustain. 

Practice theory and other theoretical approaches

Qualitative research on classroom cultures, as an emerging field, has drawn on a variety of theoretical frameworks.  For example, Moje (1995) uses sociolinguistic analysis while Van Sickle & Spector (1996) use a symbolic interactionist framework.  One particularly promising theoretical base for studying the culture of schools is ‘practice theory’ (Lave, 1993).   Eisenhart (1995, 1996, 2000) is a well-recognized anthropologist of education who has applied this approach to science education.  This approach attempts ‘to consider together the insights of constructivists and sociologists of science’(Eisenhart, 2000: 43).  Generally, Eisenhart argues, ‘constructivists view science as a socially and experientially produced set of ideas about how the natural world works.’

In contrast, sociologists of science, along with some feminists and anthropologists of science view science as a set of historically and politically compelled ideas… As such, science is neither a fixed body of knowledge nor an empirically tested set of good ideas but a ‘technology’ that tends to advance the interests of the historically powerful… (Eisenhart, 2000: 44)


Eisenhart’s practice theory ‘focuses on the ways in which individuals and groups fashion (the social constructivist part) and are fashioned by (the sociology of science part) social, political, and cultural discourses and practices.’ (2000: 44)  Eisenhart’s work uses ethnographic techniques to describe both contexts within science education and science workplaces, and  individual stories experienced by players within these worlds.  She then illustrates how individual histories, attitudes, and identities of participants can enable them to rewrite what appear to be pre-determined stories.  Eisenhart states that: ‘Until recently, few educational anthropologists have given serious consideration to conceptualizing how individuals… inventively contribute to cultural continuity or change’ (1995: 3).  An ethnography of two individuals working in the same non-profit environmental organization is used to elucidate how each crafted his/her own story as a result of the previous experience they brought to the situation, their motivation, their orientation, and a complex of other factors.  Through practice theory, Eisenhart argues that each individual within a culture of science creates his/her own story within its boundaries. 

They are neither simply soaking up, like a fax, what is presented to them, nor are they simply playing whatever tunes comes to them for the pure enjoyment of it, like a jazz player.  The stories they use are mediational devices that enable certain kinds of newcomer experiences and disable others; they affect how the newcomers are treated by others, and they anticipate the kinds of identities available to them within the organization.  (1995: 20)


Several other researchers, like Eisenhart, use ‘practice theory’ to describe how individuals and cultural contexts interact in a variety of science settings.  Carlone (2003) looks at how students and teachers define achievement in an innovative physics curriculum at a high school, and concludes that meanings within the classroom are shaped by meanings outside the classroom.  Buxton (2001) analyzes the culture of science in a lab at a research university, and questions how accurately our portrayal of the culture of science in classrooms matches ‘real’ science as it occurs in the laboratory. Finally, Hepburn & Gaskell (1998) compare subject communities teaching high school science, and suggest that teachers’ approaches are an outgrowth of the communities of practice from which they emerged.

We argue that practice theory provides an important advance in creating an anthropological approach to science education research. This theory challenges the boundaries of traditional ethnography, in a manner parallel to current work in the field of anthropology, by focusing not only on cultural context, but also on specific and variable ways in which culture acts itself out through individuals, and is changed by them.  By looking at individual adaptations to and of cultural structures, practice theory illustrates how individuals achieve agency even in structured contexts, without losing sight of the complex of factors that determine these contexts.  ‘Practice theory explores how individual and group cultures are formed in practice, within and against larger societal forces and structures. These social structures provide the (tacitly understood) frameworks that govern the functioning of social institutions, including schools and other educational settings…’ (Buxton, 2001:389). 

Tobin et al. (1996, 1997), Roth (1995, 1997), and Roth et al. (2002) also cite Lave (1993), and her emphasis on practice as a starting point to research culture in science. However, Roth and Tobin theorize teaching and learning in science by focusing on the dynamics among the participants, tools, rules, and context in which the individual (or social group) is embedded, and how they each mediate human activity. In their use of ‘activity theory’ (Leont’ev, 1978), Tobin and Roth focus on the co-generative cognitive processes that are involved at the micro-level of student-teacher interactions: tasks, gestures, conversation, and movement. Tobin and Roth use extensive ethnographic methods in their research, and unlike other ethnographers, typically include interventions to launch reform initiatives in classrooms.  There are many parallels among the work of Tobin, Roth, and Eisenhart, since each researcher attempts to merge critical theory with ethnographic description.  A key difference is that Eisenhart’s ‘practice theory’ emphasizes the agency of the individual in redefining a set social sphere, whereas Tobin and Roth focus on the dialectical tensions between a person’s power to act (agency), and the human, material, and symbolic structures that mediate agency (Sewell, 1992). In contexts such as poor urban high schools, access to resources, cultural capital, divisions of labor, and institutional barriers act themselves out in complex, moment-to-moment settings.   

The evolution of practice and activity theories in science education parallels similar trends toward merging critical theory with participant observation in educational anthropology in general.  The anthology The Cultural Production of the Educated Person, edited by Levinson, Foley & Holland (1996) provides many examples of this approach in the teaching and learning of various subjects.  It is important for researchers who take an anthropological approach to science education to note the theoretical advances in critical anthropology, which enable researchers not only to describe what they see, but also to frame it in larger socio-historical and economic realities.  Both practice and activity theories recognize the forces that mediate against equity and change, but use detailed ethnographic techniques to tease out the ways in which individuals and groups can resist these forces to create liberated ‘lifespaces’ within complex societies.  Their work sets the stage for our next section, which focuses on science education for disenfranchised groups within modern societies.



            If practice theorists and other researchers of social interaction have helped us to see how science operates as a culture within classrooms, they have also set the stage for researchers whose focus is on how science education operates in classrooms with learners different from the mainstream and, in most cases, from their teachers.  Such classrooms are an obvious focus of an anthropological approach to science education, since the classrooms themselves are cross-cultural experiences.  In these classrooms, questions about the universality of accepted science pedagogy and curricula are raised, and a variety of adaptations proposed.

If education is about expanding upon the knowledge of life world experiences that learners bring to situations, then a universal image of science education is not possible.  Science education must be contextualized and must be linked to the life world experiences of learners.  (Kyle, 2001: xvi)


The importance of this statement cannot be overemphasized.  An overarching theme, which runs through studies in science education with various minority groups and is expanded in section III in our discussion of international science education, is that
‘science for all’ does not mean the same standardized treatment of science education in all settings.  Whereas mainstream reform agendas in the later 1990’s and early 2000’s have focused on standardization and improvement of test scores on standardized tests, anthropological research tends to focus on the local, on community ‘funds of knowledge’ (Moll
et al., 1992), and on links between science and social and environmental justice.

This section deals with anthropological approaches to science education research that focus on disenfranchised groups, which we are calling the ‘outsiders within.’   One might ask ‘Why outsiders?’  Western science as an academic institution emerged from a European philosophical tradition, and until the advent of the 20th century was the almost sole domain of white males in powerful positions in first world countries.  Despite an increase in diversity among participants in scientific research and teaching, science as a privileged and exclusive practice defines the context from which individuals and groups might feel alienated by various degrees of separation.   ‘Within’ refers to the positioning of these groups within first world countries.  In our next and final section, we will deal with research settings outside these countries, or in indigenous positions in any country.

Since anthropology has historically dealt with cross-cultural situations, the increasingly cross-cultural nature of life in first world countries, due to immigration and other factors, has caused many anthropologists to focus their attention on their own cities and hinterlands.  Much of the work in anthropology of education (Heath, 1983; Philips, 1983; Boggs et al., 1985) has focused on how diverse groups experience school.  Heath’s seminal book, Ways With Words, is at the forefront of a number of works that explore how linguistic, class, and cultural factors from students’ homes affect their abilities to learn.  These studies argue for a ‘relevant’ curriculum that employs both language patterns and content linked to students’ home experience.

            In science education research, qualitative and ethnographic methodologies, such as case studies and narratives, are becoming increasingly common in journals such as the Journal of Research in Science Teaching (JRST), which traditionally published quantitative, experimental studies.  One factor may be a growing concern on the part of researchers with how increasingly diverse populations relate their own lives to science.  This concern has led to both to the inclusion of more qualitative, ethnographic methods, and to a shift in research goals from cognitive development alone to more consideration of the context in which cognition occurs, a recurring theme in this paper.

            Many researchers have looked at girls and science, with an emphasis on the experience of minority girls.   Brickhouse, Lowery, & Schultz (2000), for example, present narrative research about how African American young women relate to science.  Similarly, Parsons (1997) contrasts how African American high school girls view African American and White scientists, whereas Seiler (2001) critically analyzes the culture within a group of African American students in an inner city high school science lunch group.  In all of these cases, the advantage of an anthropological approach to research, which focuses on individuals within a cultural process, is that it enables researchers and their readers to enter  ‘lifeworlds’ that may be foreign to their own, and to see how diverse students construct their notions of science.

Angela Calabrese Barton, an important researcher in advocating science education for disenfranchised groups, co-edited with Kenneth Tobin a special three issue volume of JRST devoted to urban science which was published in October through December, 2001.  These issues include many articles which are not only ‘urban’ but also ‘anthropological’ in their commitment to rich, ethnographic description and to an understanding of cross cultural processes. In another piece,  ‘Learning from Miguel,’ Barton & Yang (2000) provides a rich narrative description of a Puerto Rican homeless father in New York City, who is known in his neighborhood as a herpetologist, yet has never had access to school science.  Barton illustrates how school science seemed to have little to do with Miguel’s deep interest in the natural world.

He (Miguel) was drawn to a way of explaining the world around him that went beyond books.  The world- the turtles, rats, snakes, and other creatures he studies- was real life.  However, the science to which Miguel referred was always outside of schools, always a part of his own research into the world around him… When he met with his counselor at the beginning of his freshman year to discuss his high school curriculum, his counselor steered him toward the vocational track ‘None of my teachers ever suggested college, let least careers in the sciences to me or any of my classmates’…  In retrospect, Miguel believed these actions on the part of his teachers and his counselors only reinforced his belief that school science and scientific careers were not realistic options for youth ‘from the hood’. (Barton & Yang, 2000:879)


In Teaching Science in Diverse Settings (2001), Barton & Osborne create a theoretical position and share the research of colleagues concerned with finding effective ways to teach science to disenfranchised learners.  While much of the work in this book is ethnographic, Barton’s work uses descriptive narrative as a steppingstone for critical analysis of both access to and the purposes served by science in contemporary society.

(Marginalized discourses) are brought together because they combine a questioning of the foundational canons composing science as a discipline and science education as a practice with an understanding that the intersections of race, class, and gender, and other forms of identity labeling, frame access to knowledge and power. (Barton & Osborne, 2001: 1)


Science for All Americans, produced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1989, has served as a guideline for mainstream equity in science reform in the United States.  Barton and Osborne challenge three assumptions central to this document: 1) that schools are historically meritocratic, as opposed to reproductive of traditional race/ethnicity, class, and gender inequalities; 2) that minorities and women operate at a deficit, and need to gain important knowledge which is held by white, middle class males; and 3) that students will choose to adopt mainstream values and hierarchies when informed of their value.  They argue that in order to create meaningful science education for marginalized students, it is necessary to rethink these foundational assumptions and to entertain the notion that one standardized approach to science education does not fit all.  They then ask whether differences in perspective and knowledge base, which emerge from cultural differences, are ‘something to be fixed or changed,’ or are ‘fundamentally at the root of the democratic process in our society?’ (Barton & Osborne, 2001: 26)  If difference is to be celebrated and built upon, then science education reform can be described as follows.

It does not mean remaking those children into our own images.  It involves remaking schooling and science in their often multiple images. (Barton & Osborne, 2001: 13)


The notion of contextualizing and modifying science education in local settings to meet the needs of specific populations is a major departure from the standards-based notion of educational equity that is current in the United States.  If specific populations need specific interventions, then much research is needed to discern the type of instruction appropriate to these students or groups.  This requires ethnographic techniques, often applied not only by researchers, but also by practitioners, parents, community members, and students, who must understand the cultural processes occurring in their settings before they can engage in improving them.   For many critical or action researchers, ethnographic description is not an end in itself, but is rather a first step in action research focused on making science education better.  The work of Gilbert & Yerrick below is a case in point.

Socio-Transformative Constructivism (STC)

Gilbert & Yerrick (2001) used ethnographic techniques including observation, focus groups, and interviews to gather the story of life in a lower track earth science courses a working class community in the rural/suburban South.  Their research enables us to see lower track students through the eyes of their teacher, the teacher through the eyes of his students, and the institution of the school through the eyes of sensitive researchers.  These perspectives corroborate to create a picture of a self-perpetuating system, in which ‘the quality of science instruction was subverted through a process of negotiation between students and teachers in the context of low expectations and the school culture’ (Gilbert & Yerrick, 2001: 574). Although tracking was instrumental in the creation of a limited learning environment, the authors point out that ‘simply detracking schools will not bring positive results inasmuch as the artifacts and beliefs that keep such structures in place are still manifest’ (Gilbert & Yerrick, 2001: 574). It is striking to note that these artifacts and beliefs are held not only by administrators and teachers, but also by the students themselves.  By bringing us into the world of the lower track classroom, the authors effectively communicate the complex web of factors that create and recreate marginalized learning environments for some students within a school that provides success for others. 

Neither Gilbert nor Yerrick were content to remain descriptive ethnographers chronicling educational experiences that did not work.  Both transformed themselves into action researchers, determined to create a better experience for working class youths. Yerrick accepted the challenge of teaching a parallel earth science course himself the next semester, and Gilbert (2002) applied Rodriguez’ reform program, Socio-Transformative Constructivism (STC), to a similar setting.  STC is a socio-cultural approach to constructivist science teaching reform which applies four related elements, themselves highly cultural, to the teaching process.  These elements are 1) dialogic conversation, 2) authentic activity, 3) meta-cognition, and 4) reflexivity.  Gilbert worked with a high school teacher in a diverse, low income, desert community in the Southwestern United States, to create and teach a health and wellness class as a science elective. This class was designed to relate to health issues in students’ lives and to empower students through the reflective processes that make up STC.  He concluded that these strategies worked to engage and empower students, and that the STC approach was able to counteract the cycle of failure which he observed with similar populations in previous research.

Ethnography and action research in Hawaii

            Chinn’s work with Asian American women and Native Americans in Hawaii follows a similar pattern to Gilbert’s (2002), in that she engages in both ethnographic dialogue and action research.  Chinn (2002) uses narrative methodology to explore the perspective of Chinese and Japanese Asian American women in Hawaii, often stereotyped as ‘model minorities,’ in the process of becoming scientists and engineers.  Chinn focuses on the competing cultural narratives that emerge when these women describe their lives through in-depth interviews.  Chinn identifies traditional Confucian beliefs, which encourage women to be compliant and subservient to men, as a narrative which makes it difficult for Asian women to compete with men in individualistic, competitive science fields.  Chinn asserts that ‘contradictory ideologies interfered with the construction of unitary self-identities’ for these women  (Chinn, 2002: 316).              Chinn, like Gilbert, demonstrates through her interviews with Asian women that dialogue can be transformative in assisting students in negotiating complex identities, and initiated reforms in which teachers 1) learn about the cultural conflicts their students’ experience, and 2) learn to dialogue with them about these conflicts.

 Whether or not they realize it, teachers who shape the social worlds of students are cultural guides to the students and parents who enter their domains …  However, teachers familiar only with mainstream values and ideologies must be sensitized to their critical role as cultural guides to students and families from nonmainstream cultures. The narratives in this and earlier studies reveal that women modified their understandings of social phenomena as they reflected on past events in different social spheres… (Chinn, 2002: 318)


Incorporating community ‘funds of knowledge’ (Moll et al., 1992)


            In addition to working with Asian Hawaiians, Chinn (2003) initiated an in-depth professional development project that focuses on informing teachers about traditional Hawaiian knowledge about the physical world and developing science curricula that incorporate this knowledge. Teachers spend five days in a field-based, cultural-science immersion led by Native Hawaiian teachers, and set in a Native Hawaiian village.  Chinn’s project provides a model of using two forms of accommodation to assist Native Hawaiians in science:  1) the recognition that teachers must provide cultural dialogue for students caught between worlds, and must learn about students’ worlds as a first step in doing this effectively, and 2) the incorporation, through teachers as curriculum developers, of Native Hawaiian knowledge into science curricula as a way to honor its status and make science more relevant for Native Hawaiian students in k-12 schools.

            Hammond (2001) also created a school-community garden project and field house with Iu Mienh families in a California urban school as part of an action research project aimed at empowering minority families by incorporating their community ‘funds of knowledge’ into the school curriculum.  This project was part of a science centered school reform as part of the Bilingual Integrated Science Curriculum Project (called BICOMP) that had the goal of creating relevant science curricula for language minority students.  The Iu Mienh, who are members of a Southeast Asian hill tribe displaced from Laos by the aftermath of the War in Vietnam, are subsistence horticulturists who have no traditional secular written language or previous experience with school.  In the context of an urban school, their knowledge was considered irrelevant, and parent involvement impossible due to language and literacy barriers.  BICOMP enabled parents and grandparents to share their funds of knowledge about horticulture through creating a heritage garden and field house at the school site, in which science themes could be explored in the context of a Southeast Asian garden. 

            In this research, anthropological techniques are applied at several levels.  First, the project involves co-research with parents and elders to record ethno-botanical practices in community books for use with school children.   Second, teachers and researchers reflect on the cultural dialogue necessary to build a science curriculum that integrates Iu Mienh funds of knowledge with state science standards. Third, student teachers and teachers are involved in activities through which they learn strategies and challenges for working with language minority populations and build and test curricula appropriate to this cultural setting. 

            In this time of outcome-based education, one might question what can be gained from creating a traditional Southeast Asian garden at an urban school, given that immigrant students must learn English and adapt to life in the modern world of the United States.  Yet we argue that this garden provides a transformative function for displaced refugee families, a function which extends science education into domains of cultural preservation and reconciliation and bonds them in unique ways to their school.

The key elements in such situations are that the generally disempowered members …  are able to re-define that situation on their cultural terms, if only within a bounded space.  It was our hope that the Mienh house would become such a space, and for a few magic hours and days, it did.  At the end of one day, Kao and Yao (Southeast Asian student teachers) stood by the house, looking on the verdant Mienh demonstration garden, which now had knee high rice and waist high corn.  Yao said: ‘This is how a house should be.  This house makes you feel good.’  Everything visible from the door of the house looked like a Lao village: a pattern of garden plots, well-tended and green.  It was hard to believe that the freeway droned in the background, only fifty feet away, and that a small colony of homeless people lived in the ravine beneath it.  A visitor suggested that one could pretend the freeway was a distant waterfall.  (Hammond, 2001: 992)


Hammond and her team of teachers, parents, and children co-invented a ‘hybrid’ science curriculum in the intercultural space of the Mienh garden and field house.  This space made it possible for Mienh parents and children to access experiences in Western science.  It also enabled Western teachers and children to step into another world, learn Mienh gardening skills, and participate in a cultural exchange in which another body of knowledge was valued.  By teaching science as an ‘exchange’ between two or more bodies of knowledge rather than as assimilation process to Western science alone, this project gave a voice to Mienh families whose knowledge was previously disempowered.

Lessons learned from studies about disenfranchised learners and science

            While science education research with minority and disenfranchised groups is by definition local and specific, it has general implications that challenge conventional epistemological, pedagogical, and methodological perspectives. 

            From an epistemological perspective, the incorporation of knowledge about the natural world from both Western and non-mainstream sources reinforces Barton & Osborne’s (critical) perspective that ‘science is a social activity and involves understanding how human values and characteristics shape scientific knowledge and understanding’ (2001: 21).  Although the process of science must remain rigorous, and be as objective as possible, science must also be recognized as a cultural act reflective of the context in which it evolves.  This understanding is not acknowledged in national or international science standards, which treat scientific theories as ‘facts’ that need to be memorized, or even in constructivist reform agendas, which generally assume that students do inquiry in order to ‘correct’ their misconceptions and come to universal understandings (Cobern, 1996).

            Pedagogically, researchers are challenged by the notion that science should be taught in ways that engage local populations, including minorities, working class youth, women, and others not traditionally successful in science.  This implies that ‘science for all’ should not be a process of making diverse children fit our images, but of ‘making schooling and science in their multiple images’ (Barton & Osborne, 2001: 13).

            Methodologically, the diversity of populations in schools in virtually every country necessitates an understanding of cultural process, since teachers and researchers now experience different cultures on a daily basis in ways similar to anthropologists in the field.   Ethnographic techniques can enable researchers to see how students and teachers can unknowingly conspire to make learning impossible, as in the case of Yerrick & Gilbert’s working class youth; to understand how students’ cultural expectations of themselves might be discrepant with the culture of science, as in the case of Chinn’s Asian women; and to find ways of incorporating traditional knowledge about the natural world into science teaching, as in the case of Chinn’s Native Hawaiians and Hammond’s Iu Mienh families.  For most researchers concerned with equity, however, ethnography is only the first step in creating change.  A second and essential step is the design and testing of action research reforms that enable minority or disenfranchised populations to gain agency and power within science education contexts. 



A research story from South Africa


Here in the Midlands of KwaZulu Natai, South Africa, we are sitting beside the car in front of a High School we are working with.  Before us is a deep valley and green hills with sunlight slanting through the morning mist.  Tiny huts, some round, some square, are dotted on the slopes, the smoke of morning fires wafting upwards into the haze.  Beyond the valley are private White-owned farms, but the land here belongs to Zulu Tribal Authorities, and villagers live and build on it by arrangement with the Chief.  In the distance, small boys follow cattle down to the streams, and muffled drum beats sound dimly.  Goats lie in the middle of the dirt road next to us and young girls walk past carrying firewood on their heads.  Just down the hill, some other girls are filling plastic containers at a water pump.  Behind us the school is a rectangular block of concrete, surrounded by a high fence and a locked gate, through there is little in the school to steal… From the classroom nearest us, we can hear the children responding in unison to their teacher, chanting a definition she sees as important.  We can’t make out the words, but the music and rhythm are familiar.  (Keane & Malcolm, 2003: 4)


Keane & Malcolm, in their science teacher education work in South Africa, ask the question: ‘relevant science education, but relevant to what?’ (2003: 4). What meaning do familiar canons have in the context described above?  How are the roles of researcher and science educator changed in this context, which is situated simultaneously in colonialism, tradition, poverty, and environmental concerns?  What is the purpose of the curriculum, and whom does science serve?  In third world contexts, a plethora of questions face science educators.  The role of anthropology, seen as the art and practice of cross-cultural exploration, can be a tool for addressing these challenges. 

            Keane & Malcolm assume an ethnographic approach, and begin their work by exploring the community’s sense of the current curriculum and of what they would like science education to be.

The community was adamant that science education in the current system offered little of value for them and their children.  The curriculum needed to be strongly connected to the community and vice versa.  Indeed, the science curriculum should be embedded in a community development project, whereby students learned as a part of community development and contributed to it.  The curriculum (should be) life itself, and the learning that occurred a part of life within the community. (Keane & Malcolm, 2003: 6)


The researchers began to explore what this would mean.  They gave grade 10 students cameras, and asked them to take pictures of ‘science in my life.’  Students took pictures of farming, animals, fixing TV’s and cars, their community, and the beauty of cabbages.  They saw science and relevance everywhere.  However, these youths did not see broader contradictions which interviews with adults revealed:  the tension between ‘connectedness and isolation, optimism and hopelessness, participation and authority, equality and hierarchy, traditional and modern, young and old, local and immigrant- that work between people and within people’ (2003: 8). Keane & Malcolm pondered what to do, and decided that two things were needed to create a balanced science curriculum. The first was to explore useful science knowledge and skills that meet immediate community needs.  The second was to ‘to expose, explore and maybe explode some of the beliefs, tensions, structures, habits, ideas and ideals (including our own) that simmer in the community and within individuals, and seem to limit personal and social development.’  However, they also noted that such a critical and dialogic curriculum would be out of step with traditional schooling and with the existing skills of the teachers, and might even be unpopular with those parents who expect schools to teach from textbooks and prepare students for examinations. 

            The story told by Keane & Malcolm (2003) introduces elements found in many researchers’ work in science education in the third world and/or with indigenous peoples.  These issues include:

1)    differing worldviews: the gap between school knowledge, as defined by Western canons, and both traditional worldviews and the technologies and skills relevant to solving pressing community problems;

2)    social and environmental justice:  the abstract nature of school science as information acquisition in the face of poverty, inequality, and pressing environmental problems such as clean water or lack of food; 

3)    agency and power: the question of who should determine the curriculum, and for what purpose, which exists in all settings but is made more evident in third world settings;

4)     the role of the researcher, who is often transformed from educator and ethnographer to community developer and activist.

            In this section, we shall discuss how a variety of researchers have dealt with these questions.  This research will be discussed in relation to our ongoing themes of epistemology, pedagogy, and methodology.

Epistomology and science in the third world

            The inevitable meeting between Western (colonial and post-colonial) and non-Western (Eastern and traditional) ways of thinking in third world settings leads to epistemological questions about the nature of science.  For Ogawa (1995), science itself needs to be reconceptualized in a relativistic perspective.  He claims that ‘science for all’ is always Western science for all, rather than one of several approaches to science.  To remedy this situation, he proposes an approach that he calls ‘multiscience.’  This approach defines science as a rational explanation of the physical world, which is ‘relative to the community of scientists who produced its knowledge’ (Ogawa, 1995: 585). Such an approach has been created within every society. Whereas Western science is one approach, which is situated in the community that created it, indigenous science is another approach, which exists in multiple forms.  ‘Indigenous science is held by a specific cultural group, not by a specific individual’ (1995: 585). Ogawa argues that each culture’s approach to science carries with it not only a body of information, but a particular process, or definition of rationalism.  At the same time, individuals experience ‘personal science,’ which is their own particular worldview, affected by their own indigenous background, religion, level of development, and many other factors.  These three types of science - Western, indigenous, and personal - together constitute a ‘multiscience perspective.’ 

            Ogawa states that Western modern science is not the same as an indigenous science for which Westerners have a particular affinity, ‘but a theoretically materialistic science, which is, so to speak, a kind of game open to anybody who will obey its rules’  (1995: 589).  This game is foreign to everyone, including Westerners, who have their own ‘indigenous’ and personal experiences as do members of any other group.  Western science must be learned, and it can be learned by anyone who wants to play. 

            Ogawa’s notion of ‘multiscience’ provides important perspective, yet raises new questions.  If ‘Western modern science’ is a game open to all, separate from any culture, then how did it evolve?  What is its relationship to Western culture?  And if every system of local knowledge has a ‘particular process, or definition of rationalism’ within it, then what is the relationship between this process and the ‘game’ of Western science?  Ogawa implies that the two, or multiple, systems co-exist side by side.  Is this a dilemma for individuals who espouse both systems, and ‘live in two worlds?’ Can discrepancies between these systems be resolved, and if so, how?

            George (1999, 2001) studied traditional practices and beliefs about health and marine-related activities in the daily lives of a village in Trinidad and Tobago.  George participated in village life over a five-year period and constructed a textured description of how villagers view self, other, classification, relationship, causality, space and time. From her data, she drew the conclusion that while similarities exist between traditional wisdom and Western science, each knowledge tradition assumes a different approach.  In general, ‘(Western) science seeks to recognize a set of intrinsic, automatic, neurological, and physiological mechanisms, (while) the traditional system proposes a voluntarily managed set of physical behaviors and dietary prescriptions, guided by knowledge’ (George, 1999: 92). This difference seems to fit Ogawa’s view of indigenous and personal versus Western science.  George argues that students in Trinidad and Tobago are ‘living in two worlds,’ much like minority students Costa (1995) describes in the United States. 

            Waldrip & Taylor (1999) use interview and case study methodologies to study the worldviews of village elders and high school students in a developing South Pacific island, which they call Kantri.  Two important points frame this research.  The first is that it is common for people to juggle more than one worldview, even among ‘modern’ educated people.  Waldrip & Taylor describe a colleague who states that he believes in evolution at work and creationism at church.  This perspective matches Ogawa’s view that Western science is only one of many modes in which people think.  Waldrip & Taylor’s second point is that science education research concerned with conceptual change, such as the work of Gilbert, Watts, & Osborne (1982), argues that exploring students’ prior knowledge is central to teaching science.   In indigenous contexts, this means exploring traditional community knowledge as well as students’ personal knowledge.

            If traditional forms of knowledge are respected along-side Western science, as parts of a complex ‘multiscience,’ then what is the power relationship between these two forms of knowledge, and how are they passed on?  In the past, traditional knowledge was passed from elders to children through daily life and storytelling, without need for formal schooling.  However, as children all over the world begin to attend schools, they learn Western science there and have little time to learn from elders.  In many cases, they are even physically separated from their villages while they go to school.  The problem of language and cultural loss among such children is particularly intense when they come from fourth world tribal groups who speak an oral language that is not represented in school.  In such a case, Thomson (2003) suggests that children learn about everybody but themselves, while traditional bodies of knowledge about the physical world, along with their language and culture, die with their elders.

            To remedy this problem, Thomson engaged in a community study of snakes in Kenya’s Rift Valley, which is ‘well known by scientists for its fauna, flora and notable as the cradle for human origins’ (Thomson, 2003: 92). It is his suggestion that science educators ‘become active participants with regard to real global concerns for extinctions: cultural, language and biological’ (2003: 112). Thomson suggests that educators in third world countries not only help their students to learn Western science, but actively work to record and preserve local knowledge and to integrate it into science curricula.  He also suggests that local knowledge be preserved through local language, which is itself endangered.  Such a process involves collaborative research with local people, including tribal elders, who are traditional keepers of this knowledge.

            Another perspective is provided by Turnbull (1997), who suggests that we need to ‘decentre’ Western science so that it becomes another set of ‘local’ practices like any other.  This view differs from Ogawa’s notion of science as an a-cultural ‘game,’ and suggests that Western science and other systems of knowledge be mediated and negotiated as socio-historically created artifacts and processes.  Turnbull argues that: ‘Science in the general sense of systematic knowledge was never uniquely Western, having its origins in a wide variety of cultures including Islam, India, and China’ (Turnbull. 1997: 552). If one accepts that several systems of science have developed, then Turnbull suggests that two positions can be assumed.  The first is an ‘imperialist’ position, which asserts that Western science is superior in its rationality and methodology.  According to this position, ‘any non-Western knowledge can only achieve full status … by being absorbed into the Western canon, otherwise it must remain mere tradition or belief’ (1997: 552). A second position is a ‘localist’ position, in which multiple knowledge systems, all considered local, might learn to coexist. 

            Turnbull suggests that in order to make this happen, we need to rethink what knowledge is.  Rather than treating it as a fixed representation, we need to look at knowledge as performative.  For knowledge to develop, Turnbull argues, requires a space in which people, skills, local understandings, and resources are gathered to create it.  Turnbull describes several historical examples, including the building of Chartres Cathedral and the Polynesian colonization of the Pacific, in which a body of knowledge grew and prospered in a particular space.  In the present situation, when globalization is causing human cultural knowledge of science and other subjects to come together, Turnbull suggests that we need to create ‘tertiary spaces’ in which two bodies of knowledge, which collide in a given setting, can negotiate and create a new and unprecedented ‘performance.’ 

The future for local knowledge traditions is… dependent on the creation of a third space… in which local knowledge traditions can be reframed, decentred and the social organization of trust can be negotiated… Knowledge… will tend towards universal homogenous information at the expense of local knowledge traditions… (unless) it is recognized as both representational and performative… There is a future for other knowledge traditions because, as the myth of science and progress collapses, so we become more aware that diversity is the key to survival. (Turnbull, 1997: 561)


Can Turnbull’s ‘third space’ be created through alternative pedagogies that encourage performative knowledge creation?  Zembylas (2002), building on Turnbull’s approach, describes the development of science education in Cyprus as an ongoing story of struggle between local and colonial, turned global forces.  He states:

One clear lesson that can be learned… is the need to create spaces in which the local can be performed together with the global. (Zembylas, 2002: 516)


Operationalizing ‘multiscience’ and other cross-cultural exchanges of knowledge

            How have researchers created pedagogies that reflect the relativistic approaches to science described above?  Ogawa suggests that courses of study be created which enable dialogue between the indigenous and personal perspectives on issues studied and the Western perspectives on the same topics.  Brandt (2004) created such an ethnobotany class at the University of New Mexico, in which students studied a nearby community, and received lectures and guided tours from local residents, as well as from university scientists.  Brandt describes how ethnobotany, the study of plants used in human cultures for food, medicine, and material culture, is one way for students to explore the epistemology of Western science and traditional ecological knowledge. In this course, she encourages students to ask: What counts as ‘science?’ Whose knowledge is valued? What knowledge can sustain our communities? Anthropological in its approach, this course might be said to define a ‘multiscience perspective’ in that students gain a perspective from the combined understandings of personal, indigenous, and Western science.

            Aikenhead (1996, 1997, 2000) suggests that when indigenous worldviews conflict with the assumptions of Western science, that science education be modified to accommodate these views, and, in particular, that teachers must understand First Nation students’ experience with science as a kind of ‘border crossing’ which must be acknowledged, understood, and assisted. Aikenhead, who has done extensive work with First Nations people in Canada, proposes a cross-cultural approach to teaching science and technology (Science Technology and Society [STS]) which is:

1)    founded on empirical studies in educational anthropology

2)    directed by the goals of the First Nations people themselves

3)    illuminated by a reconceptualization of science teaching as cultural transmission

4)    guided by a cross-cultural STS science and technology curriculum, and

grounded in various types of content knowledge (common sense, technology, and science) for the purpose of practical action such as economic development, environmental responsibility and cultural survival. (1999: 217)


George comes to a similar conclusion, based on her work in Seablast, Trinidad.


I join with Aikenhead (1996) and Cobern (1996) in advocating that education in science should be viewed as a process of crossing the boundary between the subculture of the students and the subculture of science… For example, if it is discovered that students in Seablast use their personal experiences extensively in their explanations, then one of the aids that should be provided is an extensive description of the differences between how they argue and how scientists argue…  Implicit in these recommendations is the notion that science teachers in contexts such as Seablast would need to be equipped, through preservice and in-service programs, to present science to their students in this way. (George, 1999: 94)


Practical science vs. theoretical science

            In addition to considerations of world view, an important theme which continually emerges in relation to third world or indigenous science pedagogy is that of practical, day to day knowledge, which can help people to solve problems, versus school science knowledge, which is often abstract and lacking in applications.  Masingila (1994) concluded from her in-depth ethnography of the mathematics used by carpet layers, that different mathematical skills were needed for problem solving in context than those taught in school.  Her work debunks the premise that school teaches a basic set of de-contextualized skills which can easily be applied in practical situations.  Whereas Masingila’s work occurred in the United States, the issue which she addresses is even more relevant in third world settings, where day to day problems of public health, nutrition, and the like are pervasive, yet science education addresses standardized, abstract concepts rather than connecting science to the solution of these problems.  Whereas many third world educators believe that the function of schooling is to provide opportunities beyond the village, the reality for most students is that they will return to the village after they complete school, as Waldrip & Taylor document in the case of Kantri (1999).  

Because of the limited employment prospects on the island, most students would resume village life on completion of high school… We were disappointed to learn, however, that schooling currently disconnects young people from their own cultural beliefs and practices, and attempts to enculturate them into a largely irrelevant Western school view…  Generally speaking, the village elders and high school students did not perceive the school view as useful for improving the knowledge and skills for survival in the village.  School science was regarded as providing methods of agriculture that were either inferior to or no better than traditional agricultural practices. (Waldrip & Taylor, 1999: 301)


Waldrip & Taylor intend to conduct further research on villager’s funds of knowledge so that school science might be ‘adapted so that the power of Western science can be harnessed in their interests’ (1999: 302).  Similarly, in the Northern Territory of Australia, government involvement in creating curricula that combine Aboriginal and Western science is well under way.  In a paper presented at the Australasian Science Education Research Association in 2000, Michie & Linkson describe a new handbook, ‘Intercultural understandings in teaching science: A handbook for teachers,’ which includes both understanding of indigenous knowledge and ways to teach in an intercultural fashion, combining Western with indigenous science.  Central to this work is ‘the belief that Indigenous students could learn in both domains and hold both as valid worldviews’  (Michie & Linkson, 2000: 2). The authors describe a shift in perspective in the Northern Territory, from thinking of the inclusion of Aboriginal ideas as a means to an end, with outcomes measured in Western science only, to creating an ‘Arrente curriculum whose learning outcomes arise from both Western and indigenous knowledge systems’ (Michie & Linkson, 2000: 2).

Re-evaluating the purposes of pedagogy in situations of poverty or war

When science education occurs in extreme situations of poverty or even war, the question of how what is studied relates to students lives takes on great importance. Zahur, Barton, & Upadhay explore the question: ‘What should be the purpose of science education for children of the very poor class in a caste-oriented developing country such as Pakistan?’ (2002: 899). Through a case study of Haleema (pseudonym), a teacher educator and reformer, these researchers suggest that among children who are unlikely to go beyond elementary school, science education must take on a new emancipatory role. 

Science education must help children in poverty to gain voice and space in the current social and political climate.  Science education must also provide a path to enhancing the quality of life for both the children in school and the communities where they live.  (Zahur, Barton, & Upadhyay, 2002: 899)


The research done by this international team of science educators is striking in its emphasis on issues of social justice.  ‘Pakistan’s social structure and economy have been supported by socioeconomic and gender caste systems’ (2002: 900). Lahore, the city where they do their research, presents an acute contrast of wealth and poverty.  In addition, the local culture asserts that women’s contribution is in the home, and that the limited resources available for schooling should go to boys.  Currently, science education in Lahore uses the British school system syllabus, testing is done through British-style end-of-course exams, and science is treated as a body of knowledge to be memorized.  This approach precludes the use of local, relevant curricula and ignores an exploration of access and equity issues for girls. 

Haleema argues that schools are failing poor children in Pakistan, and that ‘the primary goal of urban science education ought to shift from the acquisition of the state curriculum to empowerment (individual and community) and social change’ (Zahur, Barton & Upadhyay, 2002: 906). She argues that education should focus on issues in children’s lives, such as water and air quality, as well as creating gardens where people can grow food, beautify the community, and study science.  Central to Haleema’s argument is that children in poverty need to use science as a way to gain agency in their lives. 

[It is important to create a] sense of accepting children as agents of change for future and accept their right to get education and try out their competencies and contribute to the society, as well as to empower students to have a sense of belonging and readiness to contribute to their surroundings, parents and brothers and sisters. (Zahur, Barton & Upadhyay, 2002: 911)


            Bajracharya & Brouwer (1997) study science education in the impoverished country of Nepal.  The schools they study cannot afford even basic equipment such as microscopes and balances, and teachers generally feel compelled to use a lecture method of teaching.  As in Pakistan, school fails to address people’s basic needs.

Most of the problems of Nepal are very basic in nature, such as poor sanitary conditions, the lack of healthy drinking water, acute shortages of energy, a lack of transportation, and a lack of adequate healthy food.  However, education in general, and science education in particular, seem to have remained indifferent to these problems; they neither reflected these problems in their curriculum content nor provided a way to address them in other forms. (Bajracharya & Brouwer, 1997: 430)


The rationale for this gap between local perspectives and science investigations is that spiritually-oriented traditional views are dismissed by science educators.   Nepalese people are influenced by stories of Ramayana, Mahabharata, and Swasthani as well as Buddhist writings.  Many of these stories engender respect for the environment, and might provide a perfect point of dialogue between Western science and traditional culture.   Bajracharya & Brouwer argue that these stories, which are generally dismissed as ‘myths’ by scientists, add a dimension of spirituality and beauty to the discussion of science themes.

The task of a science teacher in Nepal, as well as in the world at large, is never to reduce a natural object such as the rainbow to an object ‘in the dull catalogue of common things, where science clips an angel’s wings and conquers all mysteries by rule and line’ (John Keats) but to retain the sense of wonder and mystery that these objects possess. (1997: 433)


            Perrier & Nsengiyumva (2003) describe a science inquiry program in Rwanda instituted informally in an orphanage for survivors of war and violence as a kind of therapy.  The researchers, a psychologist and a science educator, noted that children who were otherwise passive became engaged with engineering challenges.  One child commented: ‘ I just want to make things, ‘ (Perrier & Nsengiyumva, 2003:1120) which struck the researchers as significant because these children ‘are in the process of rebuilding their whole internal psychological structure’  (2003: 1120).  The researchers described the children as moving from a state of not being able to play, to one of being able to play.

The most spectacular observation during the pilot sequence is the joy experienced by some participants… That such positive experiences are possible during the practice of active science is an indication that these activities can indeed provide a therapy in some cases, and at least some sense of re-establishing an internal locus of control.  This also leads to the conjecture that the personal experience of joy is a driving factor in the natural resolution of conflicts associated with the learning process.  (Perrier & Nsengiyumva, 2003: 1124)


While the pedagogical solutions described above are as diverse as the settings in they occur, all of them integrate the teaching of local traditions and/or the addressing of local needs.  They also present ways in which science education, led by inspired teachers and researchers, can become truly meaningful, expressive and even joyful in the most challenging of circumstances, and suggest that the justifications for particular pedagogies might go far beyond the teaching of cognitive skills. 

Creating new methodologies for science education research in the third world

            In the Philippines, where Nichols & Tippins (2003, in press) have done extensive work with a team of Filipino colleagues (Arellano, Morano, Bilbao, & Barcenal, 2001) to explore appropriate ways to educate science teachers to work in the village culture of Casay.  This research team has focused in part on methodologies, all highly ethnographic, which enable groups of researchers and teachers in the field to explore the complex contradictions between traditional and Western scientific beliefs, abstract knowledge and everyday skills, and questions of power, colonialism, and globalization which affect all third world settings.  Several useful qualitative approaches to research have resulted from these explorations.

            The Filipino-American research team explored the notion of ‘caselets,’ a diminutive form of case study that can be written not only by researchers but also by teachers and student teachers.  The subject of these caselets is situations that occur in the context of science education and evoke contradictions between traditional and Western knowledge.  For example, a student teacher asked to teach sex education may be concerned how this curriculum will be received in a traditional village.  Caselets are not only treated as data for researchers.  They are reviewed by co-researchers and teachers, who respond in writing, and thus create an ongoing dialogue about how to negotiate conflictive cultural situations.

            This research team has also explored photo essays as ways to express dilemmas in science education.  For example, a teacher photographed three locations, all visible in the same photo, which represent alternative ways to get health care in her village.  These locations are the Western medicine clinic, the herbal remedy garden, and the Catholic Church, where people pray for good health.  As in other research we have mentioned, the research team noted that people are able to use all three resources without apparent contradiction, stating that they did so ‘just in case.’        

            Currently, Nichols et al. (2003, in press) have been using a tool called ‘Memory Banking,’ which was invented by an agricultural anthropologist named Nazarea (1998) for native seed preservation.  Memory banking honors traditional knowledge by creating taxonomies of what people know about a certain procedure in daily life, such as shell fishing.  These taxonomies emerge from interviews with a variety of people, and are charted under categories such as ‘environment, health, economic, religious, political, and socio-cultural’ issues.  From these taxonomies emerge broader themes, such as ‘place’ or ‘out of balance.’  In considering ‘place,’ residents of Casay describe the spiritual and physical connections they feel to their land.  In ‘out of balance,’ they note that a variety of species of shellfish or plants are decreasing in comparison to the past.  This enables villagers and science educators to consider the causes of this in-balance, and what can be done.  Spiritual, cultural, economic, political and scientific perspectives enter this process.

            The work of Nichols, Tippins, Arellano, Morano, Bilbao, & Barcenal, done in conjunction with a larger team of teachers, student teachers, and community members, is an attempt to ‘de-colonize’ science education in a variety of ways.  First, research is done as a narrative, collaborative process that involves Western scientists, Filipino science educators, and local teachers and citizens working together.  Second, local issues and reflections on issues are taken as first steps in understanding what should be studied.

Third, methodologies are developed to express community life, through a variety of narrative, photographic, and memory banking techniques.  And fourth, science education is taken beyond ‘community relevant’ and into the realm of community centered, ultimately becoming one part in the process through which a community can address its problems and come to understandings about the physical world in which it lives.  We feel that in work like that of Tippins, Nichols and their Filipino colleagues, methodologies which emerged from anthropology play an important role in expressing the richness of local knowledge, and in redefining power relationships between researchers, teachers, and communities.

Lessons learned from science education research in the third and fourth worlds

            Doing science education research in the third and fourth worlds challenges basic assumptions about epistemology, pedagogy, and methodology in profound ways.  While questions of science relativity and whose science we should study are relevant in minority settings in first world countries, they become magnified and multiplied in third world settings that are characterized by polyvocality, where colonial, post-colonial, traditional, and indigenous voices blend.  In addition to contesting the nature of science, third and fourth world settings also challenge pedagogical purposes.  Questions of relevance, while important in any setting, become dramatic when basic material needs for food, clean water, and safe environments dominate everyday life.  In these settings, does science serve as a vehicle which to move an elite students beyond their communities, or a tool to address the problems the community faces, or both?  Is it the role of science to preserve traditional knowledge of natural world, and traditional languages, or to participate in destroying heritage through replacing traditional knowledge with ‘global’ perspectives and local languages with international ones?  What role does the researcher play in balancing the potentially contradictory directions which science education might take?  There are no simple or easy answers.  What is clear, however, is that the issues which are important in the first world, such as the cultural nature of science; access and equity; multiple perspectives; and the relationship between context and cognition, are clarified by being considered in the context of third and fourth world challenges.  To know the ‘other’ may lead us to understand ourselves.


Central to an anthropological approach to science education is the notion that science is a cultural activity, which developed as a subset of Western culture and is socio-historically situated. This contradicts positivist interpretations, in which science is seen as rational and culturally neutral.   As a human endeavor, science education is communicated through cultural transmission, through a complex process that cannot be reduced solely to cognitive strategies.  Even for Western children in first world societies, science is not a natural activity, but is specific and technical, and must be formally learned; children are officially socialized into the process of scientific inquiry through educational systems.  As with other forms of knowledge, individuals differ in their relationships to scientific knowledge, which can compete with spiritual views, ethnic identity, folk culture, or personal beliefs.

            Some reformers have challenged the nature and boundaries of science itself.  Ogawa and others have suggested that science should be seen as not only Western science, but also as ‘multiscience,’ which would encompass indigenous understandings of the natural world, as well as personal ways that people envision science.  Turnbull has suggested that science be redefined as performative rather than representational, and that it should include a ‘third space’ in which multiple perspectives can be negotiated.  Others such as Aikenhead have focused on ‘border crossings’ between various cultures of science, and on how individuals integrate seemingly contradictory perspectives in order to reconcile multiple realities.

Whereas science has been traditionally the domain of white males, the barriers that it presents to ‘others’- be they females, minorities, or indigenous peoples- have become a major research focus.  Much research has looked at different ways to overcome these barriers, generally through altering science pedagogy in order to deconstruct, and hence make accessible, the hidden agendas which define the culture of science.

For some researchers, science is viewed as a culture of power and privilege that is tied to dominant, mostly Western, political, environmental, and economic agendas.  In this light, the question of who is served by science education is crucially connected to access to and control of knowledge, resources, and power.  Some researchers, concerned with these issues, would refocus science education away from the learning of traditional canons, and toward community knowledge or empowerment and/or the remediation of social and environmental injustices.

For some researchers, the power of an anthropological approach to science education is in method as much as in substance.  Ethnographic methods that developed in anthropology have proved useful in seeing through insider’s eyes, a skill which was not the strong point of traditional quantitative research, which tended to view subjects from a distance.  Observation, interviews, video-taping, socio-linguistic analysis, narrative research, case studies, and other methodologies which emerged from ethnography enable kinds of research not previously considered in science education.  In the process of applying these tools, some researchers are transformed into members of teams, co-researching, reflecting, and becoming engaged with the communities they would study.  Action research involves not only researchers, but also a range of stakeholders (teachers, local officials, parents, and students) in solving problems, using ethnographic techniques to evaluate conditions in their own communities.

Although an anthropological approach to science education is no panacea, and raises many questions, we suggest that it is an important and natural outgrowth of an increasingly interconnected world.  The intercultural encounters that were once the privilege of a few anthropologists or adventurers, traveling in remote lands, have become normal occurrences in modern cities and hinterlands, in first and third world countries alike.  Whereas this is cause for celebration, it is also cause for concern, in that science can no longer be separated from the massive globalization process that it facilitates.  Equity issues in science education now extend beyond access to schooling into an assessment of the impact of modern society on its environment and on indigenous people.  The research reviewed in this article has implications that go beyond the improvement of science teaching and learning in classrooms.   An anthropological approach to science education illustrates the deep commitment of many contemporary researchers to transforming science into a tool that can give agency to all people, including those who are indigenous or disenfranchised, and that can enable them both to preserve their funds of knowledge, and to improve the lives of their communities.





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