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What if there is a cure somewhere in the jungle? Seeking and plant medicine becomings

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Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
This thesis is a critical ethnographic exploration of meanings emerging at the plant-health nexus and the in-between spaces when seekers and healers meet in efforts to heal across epistemological borderlands. In both British Columbia, Canada and Talamanca, Costa Rica I investigated the motivations underpinning seeking trajectories structured around plant medicine and the experiences and critical reflections on these encounters made by healers and people who work with plant medicines. In this dissertation, I expose the contested space around understandings of efficacy and highlight the epistemological politics emphasized by participants who seek to de-center plants in popular therapeutic imaginaries, to bring out these tensions and the way they interpolate ideas about sustainability and traditional knowledge conservation. Field research was carried out in 2013 during a period of one year with the support of an SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship. Over fifty participants who work with plant medicines were consulted for this research, including healers, apprentices, herbalists, ethnobotanists, forestry specialists, and anthropologists of varying backgrounds- Afro-Caribbean, Bribri, Cabécar, Tican, American, Canadian, Hawaiian, and Anishinaabe. Their concerns around the sustainability of traditional healing practices are juxtaposed to the various ways plant medicinal identities are being constituted and instrumentalized, as subjective beings, actants, causal agents, material objects, alkaloids, teachers, relatives, or parts of “nature on the move” (Igoe, 2014). I discuss the way the burgeoning popularity of plant medicine today in some ways challenges the mainstream biomedical paradigm for thinking about medicine, as plants are re-animated with identities adopted from their cultural origins, exemplified with the popularity of ayahuasca in British Columbia. However, there is a proviso in that emerging anthropomorphisms in some instances repeat colonizing gestures even as they reflect agency and counter-hegemonic challenges, by upholding dualisms in understandings of efficacy that separate plants and healing practices from their local contexts. I argue the impactful ways thinking about plant medicine as becoming, as a verb rather than a noun, can support the sustainability of traditional healing practices and economic opportunities for the cottage industry production of plant medicine by de-centering plants in constructions of medicine.
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Scholarly level
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Ignace, Marianne
Thesis advisor: Culhane, Dara
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