Monkey Forest Tales: Some reflections about “colonialism in science” related to this project

Unamas Enero 2011 074

In today’s post, I want to talk about something that has been in my mind for a couple of days. Recently, an article talking about colonialism in science, makes me reflect on how this project has been conducted over the years. The article talked about how research projects in many countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America are leaded by people from developed countries who come to all these countries to do research and pay none or very poor attention to training local people to collect and lead research on their own wildlife.
Although in Colombia, our war history has stopped many foreign researchers to work in the country, my own professional and training history working with monkeys came from foreign researchers coming to Colombia to research and train Colombians to study monkeys.
However, although I am a national of the country where I do research, I came from a different region, and most of the students I had over the years came from different regions until recently, that I started to collaborate with a regional university. So despite being a national there is still some kind of colonialism thinking in the way we accept and train people to do a research between regions inside of Colombia.
The reasons why this happens don’t seem too clear for me, except that the students I trained are the ones who had shown an interest in monkeys even if they are not from the region where we were working. However, this can also be influenced by less interest or encouragement in regional universities to study the local wildlife.
In addition, although in the last years there is more interest in Colombia to study monkeys, especially the ones in a more critical situation, there is still a lot of emphasis in schools to talk about animals that are from other parts of the world such as tigers, or pandas, or elephants and lions, than talking about the animals we have in our country. Something I think it has to do with a colonialism way to teach science even at primary and high school levels.
So, even if we don’t want to admit it, I think we encourage in some way the colonialism thinking in the way we teach science and train our students. Probably we need to be more aware of this and encourage students from regional universities to be trained in the study of local fauna. As well as incentives the biology programs in regional universities.

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