Davies (2000b) claims that "we have many modes of speaking and writing, many possible ways of knowing. It is amongst and within this complex web that one form of knowing can be used to trouble another" (p. 169).
Yet where are the limits of where knowledge comes from, what knowledge is acceptable, and what remains excluded or illegitimate?
At a recent conference, I attended a presentation on human relationships with sacred trees (Pike, Haberman, Taylor, 2008). During the panel presentation, several stories were told illustrating different peoples' close relationships with trees. In one of the accounts (see Lyons, 2005), a white man, Dana Lyons had an experience which completely shifted his understanding of trees – and where music comes from.
Lyons had been recovering from a back injury and spent four days sitting under a large Douglas fir tree in a park in Washington State, reading and playing his guitar while he healed. While there, a song come into his head. He called it the 'tree song,' and in a light-hearted way, he thought that it belonged to the tree. He recorded that song and a few years later, was visiting the Lummi Indians, an Aboriginal community on Orcas Island, off the coast from Washington State. They wanted him to play the 'tree song'. As he started singing, the Lummi "were riveted, holding on to every note, every word" (Lyons, 2005). The chief confirmed that it was indeed the "tree song," given to them by a tree in that region. He explained:
"'In Lummi tradition, and for many of the peoples of this region, we get our music from trees. Each tree has its own song. We go out and spend three or four days next to a tree where we fast and pray and listen for that tree's song. We take the song and sing it or play it on the flute....." (p. 1656).
At the end of the conference session, I asked: Has anyone ever included, in peer-reviewed journal article, a reference that suggests their insights came from communication with a tree? I could imagine it looking like this: (Spruce tree, personal communication, May, 2006). The answer was no.
Where are the limits of where knowledge comes from, what knowledge is acceptable, and what remains excluded, illegitimate?
How is it that it is completely appropriate – as it was in this conference forum– for academics to write and speak of Others who communicate with and gain insights from trees or other non-human entities, but not comfortable nor encouraged* for academics to acknowledge this possibility for their own research? Who is doing the policing here? What technologies of power, and self, (Foucault, 1988) are in operation? Can naming these policing discourses help dissipate their power? ∞
*Although research anthropologists are writing more frequently about their 'extraordinary' experiences in the field, it is often still an uncomfortable and sometimes risky practice (Young & Goulet, 1994; Wallis, 2000). Furthermore, those areas of psychology (e.g. transpersonal psychology and studies in psychical research) which study these kinds of phenomenon remain largely marginalized within mainstream academic institutions.