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Title: Medicinal plants in unfolding relations : a conversation with traditional and biomedical health practitioners, lay people, and scientists in the Bolivian Andes
Author: Falter, Alexandra
ISNI:       0000 0004 9355 7050
Awarding Body: University of Aberdeen
Current Institution: University of Aberdeen
Date of Award: 2019
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This project is an ethnography of medicinal plants in the Bolivian Andes, where I conducted fieldwork for eighteen months. I explore how people become knowledgeable about medicinal plants. I worked closely and learned from local and traditional health practitioners from rural and urban settings who use medicinal plants in their medical practices, and (ethno)botanists who work on plant conservation and medicinal plant knowledge preservation. My collaboration with different experts and their respective knowledge traditions revealed that diverse Bolivian stakeholders quite often work together to preserve and disseminate medicinal plant knowledge. This thesis explores the relations in which medicinal plants unfold and the ways in which these experts join these relations in their respective practices. Although the preservation of “traditional knowledge” in general and “traditional medicinal plant knowledge” in particular had been part of the political agenda in Bolivia for two decades already, these efforts were taken up with renewed vigour with the formation of the ViceMinistry of Traditional Medicine and Interculturality in 2006 under the administration of President Evo Morales. Thus, this thesis asks, what does “traditional” encompass in “traditional knowledge”, “traditional doctors”, and “traditional medicines”? The question is situated within Bolivia's current political climate and its identity politics. I explore the literature of medical anthropology of the Andes and show that the regional context of medical practices is heterogenous and dynamic due to the presence of different language groups (e.g., Aymara and Quechua speakers), historical events (such as the colonisation of the Americas and the introduction of plants and medical practices), political initiatives, the relationship of local people with other-than-humans (e.g., ancestors, mountain spirits, etc.), and diverse ecosystems (e.g., dry and humid valleys). Chapters 5 and 6 take the reader from the confines of Aucapata municipality, a dry valley in the Central Andes, where I learned to recognise and distinguish medicinal plants with a mestizo curandero, to the memories of a Kallawaya for whom becoming knowledgeable about medicinal plants demands not only corresponding with plants but also with other-than-humans. To examine what it means to impart medicinal plant knowledge in the twenty-first century, the last two chapters explore two different formal learning settings: the intercultural health station and the museum. Despite current political and academic attempts to quantify, formalise, and institutionalise medicinal plant knowledge, this thesis proposes a phenomenological approach to medicinal plant knowledge based on the practices of both traditional health practitioners and botanists.
Supervisor: Bolton, Maggie ; Árnason, Arnar Sponsor: Economic and Social Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Medicinal plants ; Medical anthropology