Accepted Paper:

Nonhuman agency in health and knowledge production: human/nonhuman (a)symmetries in Brazilian Amazonia  


Pirjo Kristiina Virtanen (University of Helsinki)

Paper short abstract:

This paper discusses how certain nonhuman entities regarded as crucial actors redirect daily activities and produce healthy bodies in the Amazonian forest environment. I show how interactions with them have contributed to human well-being, especially through knowledge-production, for generations.

Paper long abstract:

For several Amazonian indigenous groups, plant, animal, and ancestor subjectivities are considered to contribute to the well-being of humans. In this paper, I discuss how these entities are crucial actors in redirecting daily activities and producing healthy bodies for the Apurinã people in Brazilian Amazonia. I focus on knowledge that is transmitted through the sounds made by animals, especially of birds, that predict the arrival of people and the presence of game. Among other things, they may also warn of a forthcoming storm or other changing weather conditions, thereby redirecting the work and future acts in the community. Nonhumans also interact with humans in dreams, regarded as a vital source of knowledge. To increase their capacity to dream, the Apurinã use specific plants, and various plant substances produce and construct peoples' bodies more generally. The paper argues that knowledge-production generated by certain nonhuman entities has contributed to the construction of healthy bodies and wellbeing among the Apurinã for generations. However, although human history comprises interrelations with nonhumans, the ethnographic material discussed underlines both symmetries and asymmetries between humans and nonhumans, rather than simply balanced continuity. Nonhumans also have their individual histories, and the recent environmental degradation has harshly shaped their lives.

Panel P122
Living well together: considering connections of health, wellbeing and work in the lives of humans and other living beings [Humans and Other Living Beings]