Transgressing Earth’s planetary boundaries will result in responses that make human life on Earth increasingly difficult. We have gotten a taste of this possibility over the past few weeks. It is time to pay attention to the unequivocal messages we are receiving about our impacts on Earth. The mechanistic paradigm no longer serves us. We must stop imagining Earth as an insentient machine, and start perceiving her as a partner to whom obligations of care and respect are owed.
I’m excited and humbled to be speaking as part of the Plant Medicine track at the Psychedelic Science conference in Oakland, CA.
I present at 11:30am on Sunday, April 23 in the Jr. Ballroom.
The Role of Plants in Knowledge Production: Collaborators or Objects of Study?
When producing knowledge about ayahuasca and other medicinal plants, it can be important to assess what the role of plants themselves are in our practices, and how we interact with plant agencies. My talk will explore the epistemological assumptions that are required for different types of knowledge-making practices, and how these practices create different types of relationships between knower and known. Scientific practices, classically, rely on a subject-object relationship between researcher and researched; but, is this a necessary condition for science? Among Shipibo healers, learning is one of the main reasons to drink ayahuasca. Accordingly, ayahuasca is not only useful for revealing diagnoses of illnesses and the proper way to heal them, but it also can facilitate communication with other plants, which in turn generate learning and botanical knowledge. Plant dietas are the primary practice by which Shipibo healers produce botanical knowledge, in which plants are seen as teachers and active co-participants in the production of knowledge. I examine the entanglements and tensions that exist among various knowledge-making practices, and discuss how these relationships can determine the types of knowledge that can be produced. I take a multispecies perspective to investigate how plants and humans both contribute to producing botanical knowledge, and the dynamic relationships that are formed through these practices. This talk draws on ethnographic work conducted both through interviews with Shipibo healers in the Ucayali region of Peru, and from presentations at the II World Ayahuasca Conference, 2016 in Rio Branco, Brazil.
Laura Dev, M.S., is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Berkeley, in environmental science, policy, and management. Her studies are focused at the intersection of political ecology, science studies, and ethnobotany. Using a multi-species ethnography approach to investigate relationships among medicinal plants and humans, she hopes her work may help to inform how Shipibo communities can better manage their cultural and botanical resources in order to receive greater benefits from the commoditization of their plants and rituals. Her field research is based between Ucayali, Peru and California. Laura holds an M.S. in ecology from Colorado State University.
This is the seventh (and final post) in a series of posts in response to weekly readings from a seminar I am participating in called “The Fate of Nature in the Anthropocene,” a critical and interdisciplinary seminar exploring ideas about being human on a changing planet.
“The Fate of Nature in the Anthropocene Collaborative Research Seminar brings together faculty and graduate students from the humanities and environmental sciences to develop a theoretical framework for the environmental humanities and to examine possibilities for an integrated approach to the recent environmental turn in the humanities.”
Thinking beyond the human and the mattering of other worlds and of “others” is something that may be necessary to truly understand what it means to be human during the Anthropocene. Cohen, Colebrook, and Miller suggest that it is perhaps in the denial of humanity that we are able to assert our own existence. There is a sense that we need to escape ourselves in order to understand what we truly are. Is this not a reflection of our desire for objectivity, for what Haraway calls, the “God Trick”? This is also what Clark refers to as the “overview effect” in which, from a supposed “afar”, one is able to see the violence that “humanity” has waged on the world. However, as Cohen et al assert, there is not necessarily some reality that we can grasp if we can only somehow get outside of it.
This desire to grasp reality from an external perspective is precisely what Merchant speaks of when she refers to Francis Bacon’s desire to extract the secrets of nature through control and force. It is this desire for control and for forceful knowledge that gave rise to the myth of objectivity as attainable within science. The knowledge produced by science has been universalized to the point in which other ways of knowing (including the very ways that were perhaps practiced by the pagans and the witches, which the progenitors of the scientific method wished to extract secrets from), are denied as having any valid truth. This universalizing occurred with the help of European colonial expansion, which Lightfoot et al claim was the truer beginning of the Anthropocene. This European-based, imperialized, and violent way of gaining knowledge became the universal standard for knowledge production. As Haraway says, “it matters what knowledges know knowledges”. Arvin, Tuck, and Morrill elaborate a decolonial feminism, which allows native feminist theories to stand on their own, without need for validation or inclusion from what they call “whitestream feminisms”.
In Haraway’s chapter on tentacular thinking, she opposes this desire for transcendence and any sort of outside knowing, in an imploration to move more deeply into the multi-species muddle, communing and communicating with the life that exists. This offers up a different type of knowing, and calls for collaborative ways of thinking, as well as a recognition of the humanity in other creatures, and the hybrid nature of ourselves as humans. With collaborative thinking that moves into the morass, instead of trying to escape it, we are able to partake in multiple worlds that are coming into being, coexisting, and interpenetrating each other, without ever attempting to grasp or control them. Knowledge becomes something personal, rather than objective. Perhaps the gift of being alive in the Anthropocene is the urgency that Haraway speaks of, allowing us to move more deeply into our own experiences, rather than trying to escape some future that we were never entitled to, and never had any control over in the first place.
Lightfoot, Kent, et al. “European Colonialism and the Anthropocene.” Anthropocene 4 (2013): 101-115.
Merchant, Carolyn. “The Scientific Revolution and the Death of Nature.” Special Focus Section, Isis 97, no. 3 (2006): 513-533.
Arvin, Maile, Eve Tuck, and Angie Morrill. “Decolonizing Feminism: Challenging Connections Between Settler Colonialism and Heteropatriarchy.” Feminist Formations 25, no. 1 (Spring 2013): 8-34.
Haraway, Donna. Anthropocene or Capitalocene, Ch 2. “Tentacular Thinking: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene” book in progress.
Cohen, Tom, Clair Colebrook, and J. Hillis Miller. Twilight of the Anthropocene Idols. London: Open Humanities Press, 2016, “Preface,” pp. 7-19; Ch. 2, “What is the Anthropo- political?” pp. 81-89.
Lorimer, Jamie. Wildlife in the Anthropocene: Conservation After Nature. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2015, “Introduction,” pp. 1-18.
Clark, Nigel. Inhuman Nature: Sociable Life on a Dynamic Planet. Los Angeles: Sage Publications, 2011, “Introduction, pp. x-xxii; Ch. 6, “Hurricane Katrina and the Origins of Community,” pp. 136-162.
Clark, Timothy. Ecocriticism on the Edge: The Anthropocene as a Threshold Concept. Bloomsbury: AbeBooks, 2015, “Preface,” pp. x-xi; Ch. 1, “The Anthropocene: Questions of Definition,” pp. 1-28.