Cornell University

"A Politics of Habitability: Plants, Healing, and Sovereignty in a Toxic World"

Tuesday, April 11, 2017 at 4:45pm

Toboggan Lodge 38 Forest Home Drive

ICM New Conversations Series

Stacey Langwick
Associate Professor, Anthropology, Cornell University

These are toxic times. Perhaps nowhere are the stakes in the problematization of toxicity clearer than in Africa. The story of colonialism and postcolonialism might also be told as a story of the struggle over how to articulate and engage that which harms (Kiswahili, uchawi) and that which heals (uganga)—or more precisely, the relations that constitute remedy and those that facilitate toxin. These layered histories shape the question of what it means to live through toxicity. What is required to sustain, to endure, if not also to thrive? For Tanzanians, modern bodies bear complicated toxic loads not only because of the dumping of capitalism’s harmful byproducts, but also because of the very products that facilitate modern living (e.g., plastics, kerosene), agriculture (e.g., pesticides, chemical fertilizers), and health (e.g., antiretroviral, contraceptives). This double-bind has forged a new configuration of plant-based healing in Tanzania that includes both therapeutic foods and herbs. It is a re-imagining of the cosmopolitics of the pharmakon. This contemporary herbalism navigates the relations between remedy, poison, memory, and scapegoat through a commitment to return (rather than the logic of dosage). This is a form of therapy that belongs to the current moment: of AIDS, of industrial agriculture, of the epidemiological transition and the rise of noncommunicable diseases, of the pharmacologicalization of therapies, and of the transnationalization of health and health interventions. Tanzanian herbal producers and users are exploring what it means to create spaces of nourishment and to work across temporalities of healing today. What makes a place, a time, a body habitable? Following Tanzanian herbal producers as they align with food sovereignty movements, this talk will turn to gardens. These gardens are dense areas, thick with vital forces, where habitability arises as a space of potential and as an intimacy with the very forces that structure return and transformation. Tanzanian strivings for a habitable future rest in such ontologically complex relationships between plants and people.

If you need accommodations to participate in this event, please contact as soon as possible.

Stacey Langwick, MPH, PhD, is an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at Cornell University. She is author of Bodies, Politics and African Healing: The Matter of Maladies in Tanzania (2011) and co-editor of Medicine, Mobility and Power in Global Africa (2012). She is currently working on two projects. The first—Thriving: Plants, Sovereignty and Healing in a Toxic World—examines the emerging herbals industry in Tanzania. She argues that this contemporary herbalism (mis)translates and (re)configures notions of medicine, property, chronicity, and crisis that are fundamental to global health. The second—(Un)ethical Substances: The Power of Skin in East Africa—strives to account for the vitality and power of the body in Africa and the ways that mediating this vitality and power come to be at the heart of ethical life. At Cornell, she serves in the graduate fields for anthropology, science and technology studies, and the Africana Studies and Research Center and is an active member of the Global Health program.

Event Type



Institute for Comparative Modernities (ICM), Sustainability






Contact E-Mail

Contact Name

Alexis Boyce

Contact Phone


Disability Access Information

If you need accommodations to participate in this event, please contact as soon as possible.

Open To

the public

Google Calendar iCal Outlook

Recent Activity