Between utility and morphology: plant classification of Paraguayan migrants living in Misiones, Argentina
Monika Kujawska (University of Lodz)
David Jiménez-Escobar (Museo de Antropologia, Universidad Nacional de Cordoba)
Paper short abstract:
We studied plant classification among Paraguayan migrants from Argentina. These lay people classify plants according to utility features, which goes against an hypothesis proposed by American researchers. We relate our findings to overall importance of phytotherapy for Paraguayan mestizo people.
Paper long abstract:
In 2015 we studied plant classification among Paraguayan mestizo migrants living in Misiones, Argentina. These people moved from similar environments to the ones in Missions. Hence they were able to continue traditional practices related to plant use. We asked 45 interlocutors from three rural localities in Misiones to group 30 preselected plant species (pile sorting task), which had achieved the highest frequency of citations as medicinal and edible species. The plant species were chosen based on results from the preliminary research done in 2014 with the same pool of interlocutors. Our findings are opposite to the conclusions of American researchers who claim that experts categorize plants based on mainly utilitarian features, while lay people (novices) on morphological cues (Boster and Johnson 1989; Nolan 2002). In our case, lay people classify and group plants according to their utilitarian features: mostly medicinal and, to a lesser extent, edibles. In the data analysis we used Principal Component Analysis and Cluster analysis as the main analytical tools. Apart from presenting the results of our study, we would like to raise a few issues: 1) whether we were successful in transmitting the idea of "synonyms", "kin", "plants that go together", and how these concepts were understood by study participants; 2) how the reliance on utilitarian features can be related to local importance of medicinal plants, and to phytotherapy as a preferred form of health treatment; 3) how the scientific concept of morphology should be re-articulated in folk epistemology.
Cognitive anthropology and cultural transmission; legacies and futures