A Brief Summary of a Proposed MA Thesis

I’m toying around with this as a potential MA thesis topic.  I’m posting it here for possible feedback and thoughts…  I’m excited about the ideas, whether they go forward in exactly this form or not!


Update – 2011/10/08 – Minor rewording


The Trees are Human: Psychoactive Plants, the Subjectivity of Nature, and an Engagement with Modernity in the Napo Runa Kichwa Culture of Ecuador

This thesis is an exploration of the intersection of three distinct areas of inquiry: the experience – shamanic, religious, mystical, or ecstatic – of psychoactive plants; worldviews that recognize and affirm subjectivity and agency in the other-than-human-persons of plants, animals, and places; and how such worldviews engage with, resist, integrate, and transform forces of globalization, in terms of neoliberal economic policy, cultural integration of technological change, and democratic forms of government and self-government. In following a set of concepts put forward by Ralph Metzner among others, this work suggests that unique responses to the ecological and psycho-social devastation currently facing the techno-scientific, capitalist-industrialist “modern” world may very well be found in the link between worldviews affirming the subjectivity of nature, and the phenomenology of the experience of psychoactive plants.  This is to say that it is possible that affirming the subjectivity of aspects of the “natural” world can act as a means by which ecological factors cease to be understood only as resources for human exploitation.  This thesis presents an effort to understand how Napo Runa people are able to engage with the seemingly inherent tensions between the forces of globalization and more traditional ways of understanding the world, without forcing a false dialectical synthesis. By focusing on specific ethnographic research, an effort is made to see these worldviews in context with one another as they are being actively lived and negotiated. This research focuses on understanding and communicating the complexity of lived worldviews through stories, histories, and the relating of experiences of the Napo Runa Kichwa people near Tena, Ecuador. This ethnographic research is done in an attempt to ascertain how psychoactive plants and worldviews that affirm the subjectivity of the other-than-human “natural” world are in dialogue with one another, and thereby mutually informing. Embedded within such an effort is a questioning of whether or not the “tensions” that might be perceived between these worldviews and techno-scientific ones present themselves as such for Runa people, or if such tensions are a product of putatively Western and, perhaps more explicitly, academic, categories. Shaping the aims of this research is the question of how people, both shamans and non-shamans, characterize their experience with psychoactive plants, what they draw from these experiences as personally meaningful, and how these experiences have translated into action in, and understanding of, the world. An effort is made to ensure that the immediate and personal experiences of people stand side by side with discussions of urbanization, neoliberal economic policy, and techno-scientific modernity, such that categorical contrasts are neither ignored nor erected without immediate grounding in lived experience.