The Role of Plants in Knowledge Production: Collaborators or Objects of Study?
Laura Dev, M.S., Ph.D. Candidate
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 about 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.