It is very difficult to say with certainty how the knowledges about the ash soap and the orange wine were constituted or established. There are no written records and all we know is that they are legacies of past generations. Surely, they result from the human interaction with the natural phenomena involved in order to take advantage of their potentials to live better. Thereby, the ash soap allowed better conditions of hygiene and health for those who lived in Minas Gerais in the past and the orange wine brewing became a way to join a family to produce a beverage with an important gastronomic role in the celebrations and festive dates. These knowledges probably came from the simple observation of the phenomena and “natural experimentation”, followed by some interventions to control and dominate them for usufruct.
Each kind of local knowledge has its own social, natural and cultural context of origin and development. Antweiler (1998, p. 472) mentioned that they are not widely distributed within the same location or community, or that they are known by all, appearing more like a fragmented system of knowledge often associated with specific gender groups or within family relationships. In fact, the ash soap is produced by only a few people, mostly women, and the orange wine is made by a family. Another aspect is that it is possible to find some animosity between people and groups holding the same knowledge. Some producers of the ash soap showed distrust regarding the soap of others, for example. Another aspect is the fragmentation of knowledge between the older and the young people, as the case reported by Dona Rosa when “the boy” asked her to give them a soap and she denied saying that they did not know neither to learn how to make it.
A kind of local knowledge is the one related to specific procedures. The knowledges on the ash soap and on the orange wine fall into this type because they follow schemes/scripts previously determined in the form of a precise sequence of steps. In their social dimension and practice these knowledges also involve specific skills and abilities, such as peeling oranges until they are “very hurt”, prepare stoppers made of bamboo and adapt little hoses for the gas output from the demijohns, to know how to line the hamper with banana leaves to produce the dicuada, to compress the ashes using the hands or a socket and to perform tests to control the relative proportions between the dicuada and the fat. Although more rustic, these skills and capabilities are similar to know how to use a rubber pear and a pipette to suck and measure certain volumes of liquids, manipulate a burette and erlenmeyer to perform a titration, to make measurements using a caliper or prepare a blade to observe the cells of a tissue under the microscope. Other common aspect is the existence of “recipes”: the definition of the procedures for carrying out the experiments.
On ways of teaching and learning, the local knowledge is usually taught and learned through action, that is, they learn and teach doing. The verbalization can follow this process but the action predominates. This is different from teaching and learning science at school where verbal and written actions predominate. Other features of local cultural knowledge are: the materials are usually used in their raw form and the energy sources are those available locally; they tend to involve an intensive, independent and low cost work; they are geared to real-life needs (food, hygiene, cleanliness and clothing, for example); empiricism is based in observation, in trial and error process and “natural experimentation”; exhibit what is termed as “experiential saturation”, in which the experimental results are confirmed over time (Antweiler, 1998, p. 477).
In the case of ways of teaching and learning in the science field, they start in school and then continue in higher education. Overall, the school provides initial acquisition of knowledge and then in the universities we learn how to research. Usually, it is not learned or taught to do scientific research in school, neither it is taught or learned by doing, instead by listening, reading and writing. In training for inquiry the action is more present, but does not develop without writing and reading. Thus, the knowledges not only develop in different places but have different paths and ways of teaching and learning also. In local communities, people usually know each other since early; they are more familiar with each other, while in the school and in the university there is not always this proximity.
In the activity involving photographs of materials used in community’s spaces and scientific laboratories, the purpose was to draw attention to the materials and their different levels of sophistication. The images show that the resources used in the community tend to be more rustic and rough compared to those used in laboratories. As mentioned elsewhere, this is because the activities in these environments have different purposes, paths and histories. Any comparison must take into account their contexts of origin, development and goal. Thus, in the scientific laboratories they make use of purified water (distilled or deionized) whilst in the community the water is filtered or treated and is often natural. In laboratories the materials, reactants, chemicals or substances are purer, while in the community usually they are in the raw form. The heat sources also differ: the Bunsen burners and heating devices are more sophisticated and allow greater control of temperature, while in the wood, gas or improvised stoves this is more difficult to accomplish. The iron, aluminum or copper pans used in the community are replaced by specific heat resistant glassware in the laboratories: beaker glasses, erlenmeyers, round bottom flasks, etc.
The laboratory procedures typically involve small quantities of substances while in the community the measures are relatively larger. In preparing the dicuada they use a hamper lined with banana leaves or cloth bag to extract the potassium carbonate from the ashes, while Soxlet extractors have been developed with the specific purpose of extracting substances through the continuous circulation of small amount of solvente through materials. In the laboratories, they do not use banana leaves to retain insoluble substances, but filter papers. In scientific research the calibration of the instruments and measures are critical to the execution of the experiments, which use precision scales, graduated glassware and thermometers to measure mass, volume and temperature while, although important, the quantities control is not so rigorous in the ash soap and orange wine making. However, despite the differences in the materials and procedures sophistication and control, there are also similarities between the activities carried out in these two spaces: both extract substances, separate residues, dissolve materials, collect gases, perform quality tests, observe and control natural phenomena and there is creativity in the two ways.
Talking about the type of control in scientific experimentation, Cobern & Loving (2001) observed that traditional knowledge does not have the same characteristics. It does not mean that there is no control, but that is not the same type. The traditional practices do not intend to develop experiments in order to explain the phenomena involved or test a theoretical idea or another experiment. His empiricism has other purposes. The scientific experimentation involves a more controlled experimentation because it needs to establish precise conditions for data collection; they must be determined in well-known conditions. If a condition is indefinite, no one can say exactly how the data were obtained and the conclusions will be incomplete.
An important premise of scientific research is to build explanations for the data. This involves the precise collection of them (the evidences), the proposition of explanations for them and testing the proposed explanations. In scientific work, another requirement is to do it in an objective manner, without the interference of prior beliefs; the data must be collected fairly and accurately and using reliable methods. According to Lederman & Lederman (2012), the scientific research is not restricted to the use and development of observation, inference, classification, prediction, measures, questioning, collection, interpretation and analysis of data, because these skills are actually combined with knowledge, reasoning and critical scientific thinking.
Scientists do research systematically, methodically, but do so using the knowledge generated by other research, employ logical reasoning and submit their own results into question. A distorted view is that that considers the existence of a single scientific method, as many textbooks and the media in general. According to these researchers, the scientific method model presented in the books is consistent with the experimental research work in natural sciences and the problem is not this relationship, but the fact that experimental research is not representative of scientific research as a whole (Lederman & Lederman, 2012, p. 338). This means that there are other methods and types of scientific research.
For the philosopher of science Jean Ladrière the empirical sciences involve two key components: reason and experiment or experience. In Science, the word “experience” does not mean a mere contact with the real world (perception as a form of contact, for instance), but an intervention in the course of events. A scientific experiment is a procedure that consists on to produce a detectable and analyzable effect in circumstances that were prepared according to precise planning and taking into account the hypothesis of its possible effects. The experiment idea is often associated with that of a perturbation introduced in a system in a controlled manner, what contrasts to the simple observation of a fact or natural experimentation. To observe a system scientifically does not mean to register passively what occurs on it, but to establish an arrangement that makes possible to gather information of a certain kind, intentionally chosen. To observe the light spectrum of a star, for example, the researcher makes one star light fraction to interact with an optical apparatus which properties are known and in such a way that the results of the caused interaction can be interpreted unambiguously (Ladrière, 1977, p. 24).
What is important in a scientific experiment according to Ladrière is not its register, but everything that happens before and what comes after. Before producing any results, the researcher carry out what is called planning or preparation. This involves relating the development of the experiment with other experiments already done, to predict the outcomes, forms of control, registration and selection of instruments. He speaks in two modes of operation: material and intellectual. The first refers to the resources to be used and the second to the operations related to the treatment of data (elimination of errors, the fitting of curves to the results, statistical treatment, theoretical discussion of the experiment and others) (Ladriére, 1977, p. 27, 28). Due to the meticulous preliminary planning and the more careful driving, it becomes difficult to conceive the scientific experimentation as “natural” or based in “trial and error” processes.
After recording the data they are synthesized, an experimental analysis is done to eliminate errors of observation and the results are then translated into curves, statistical series, correlation tables, etc., in order to make statements that can be used in terms of theoretical ideas available to understand the phenomenon in question. These ideas are the research hypothesis or the expected results predicted by theory, which are compared with the results of the experiment. The scientific activity consists of a continuous intersection of theory with experiment. The theories lead to hypotheses that suggest performing experiments, which by itself confirm or deny the hypothesis. When confirmed, continue to be used to propose new experiments. If not, they are modified to a greater or lesser degree. This involves an ongoing dialogue with the theory, suggesting new ideas and formulating new hypotheses. However, in general, the confrontation between theory and experiment involves not only one theory but various theoretical ideas in the treatment of the results.
This method of doing scientific research is called hypothetical-deductive (Cobern & Loving, 2001). On it, the researcher seeks initially to obtain knowledge of a defined field of research, compares the research done with those from other fields, until to become more or less familiar with the “state of the art” of existing knowledge. This is usually achieved by what we call “literature review” or “critical review of the literature” and involves many sources: articles published in scientific journals, books, papers published at conferences, etc. This review, if done with criticism, will raise doubts, questions or problems, which will show possible ways in which the researcher can go on to expand the existing knowledge. A given knowledge is often valid for a limited number of situations and checking others is a possibility of expanding knowledge also.
Anyway, whatever is the problem or research question formulated/defined by the review of the research field, the researcher previses the answers or results through the hypothesis, which represent the expected regularities predicted by the knowledge available. Jean Ladrière (1977, p. 25) mentions that, as far as possible, the hypotheses are formulated through mathematical representations that allow to define the variables to be controlled. The solution of this equation allows determining the function sought and give a physical interpretation. The mathematical formulations in the form of hypotheses have clear advantages, he said, because the mathematics allows a wide variety of abstract structures which properties can be compared and known, enabling to derive a wide range of interpretations. They can predict the behavior of the phenomena in different situations and times and on this basis it is easier to interpret them physically.
The experimentation performed in science classes tends to resemble that made in scientific laboratories, however, in the latter the level of sophistication, planning and resources, knowledge and ideas mobilization are much more expressive. Scientists deal with experiments whose results are known, but also deal with experiments whose results are not known, while the school experiments usually tend to deal with what is known to give an example, to prove, illustrate or provide context and motivation for theoretical deepening. The experimentation involved in the ash soap and the orange wine making is far from those normally carried out in schools and science labs, but also represents a cultural heritage. However, its purpose is to produce material goods for usufruct, do not lend themselves to the construction of explanations, for learning promotion, to confirm/deny a hypotheses or to expand knowledge within a field of research. On them, the knowledge emerges more spontaneously and even though it matures over time, it does differently from the advances in science that also take time, as the elucidation of the steps involved in glycolysis that took more than 30 years of studies.
Back to: The knowledges and their languages
Antweiler, C. (1998). Local knowledge and local knowing: an anthropological analysis of contested “cultural products” in the context of development. Anthropos, 93, 469-494.
Cobern, W.W.; Loving, C.C. (2001). Defining “Science” in a multicultural world: implications for science education. Science Education, 85, 50-67.
Ladrière, J. (1977). The challenge presented to cultures by science and technology. Paris: UNESCO.
Lederman, N.G., Lederman, J.S. (2012). Nature of scientific knowledge and scientific inquiry: building instructional capacity through professional development. In: Fraser, B. J.; Tobin, K. G.; McRobbie, C. J. (Eds.) Second International Handbook of Science Education. New York: Springer Dordrecht Heidelberg, 335-359.