A plant-centric view of ayahuasca’s cosmopolitcal engagements with more-than-human economies

Authors: Laura Dev*, University of California Berkeley
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Indigenous Peoples, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: plants, cosmopolitics, ayahuasca, knowledges, Shipibo
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Harding, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The relationships among plants and humans in Ucayali, Peru have been changing over the entire history of the forest. The commoditization of ayahuasca’s two constituent plants may seem to be just two more in a long list of plants being harvested and extracted from the rich biodiversity of the Amazon basin. However, because of its strong psychoactive relationship with human bodies, as well as its embeddedness in distinct cultural forms, ayahuasca has unusual behaviors and resistances that are worth understanding when thinking about how plant beings as actors participate in human affairs and economies. I specifically focus on the entanglements of human and plant practices and how they relate with landscapes and livelihoods in Ucayali.
I view materialisms diffracted through multiple cosmovisions and cosmopolitical engagements, which also includes how I as a researcher relate and interact with plant worlds, knowledges, and indigenous practices. The Shipibo, indigenous to Ucayali, relate with many forest plants as teachers and healers, through specific practices used to communicate with plants and their spirits masters, and see plant materialities as empirical traces of an unchanging spirit world. Thus, I think of ayahuasca as a boundary being that forms articulations between multiple worlds. By exploring the particular dimensions of ayahuasca’s enrollment into various cultural value systems through a plant-centric analysis informed by indigenous ways of knowing and relating, we gain new insight into structural power imbalances that are evident in ayahuasca’s spread into more western contexts.

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