Who owns what? Indigenous knowledge and struggles over representation

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Ownership of field research records involving informants and subject communities is discussed with regard to doing research amongst indigenous populations. Intellectual property rights (IPR) law often assumes, for example, that an age-old mythical story retold by a contemporary informant is owned by the legal entity that facilitated its being captured in writing. The implication is that if the story-teller now wants to tell the same story to someone else, written legal permission from the legal entity would be required. IPR contracts freeze the dynamism of knowledge, killing its lived relation, and the process owned by others (our research partners/hosts/subjects) is transformed into commodities that the original storytellers no longer own or control. For our Khomani Bushman hosts, this constitutes information theft. A third party, in our case the academy, claims ownership of ideas our subjects thought were theirs. This article examines ensuing issues of IPR and ethics in relation to doing research amongst indigenous communities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)631-647
Number of pages17
JournalCritical Arts
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jul 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Bushmen
  • Khomani
  • copyright
  • indigenous knowledge
  • information theft
  • intellectual property rights
  • research ethics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Communication
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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