PhD Candidate: Shifting Perceptions of Ayahuasca in and from Latin America

Updated: 2 months ago
Job Type: Temporary
Deadline: 09 Jan 2023

An increasing number of scientists claim it's necessary to demythologize drugs and revise their perception as a threat to society. Latin America plays a key role, as psychoactive substances are part of its natural resources and Indigenous cultural history. Would you like to help analyse the changing perspectives of 'drugs' in Latin America? Then you have a part to play as a PhD candidate.

The Radboud Institute for Culture and History seeks a PhD candidate for the NWO-funded project 'Poison, Medicine or Magic Potion? Shifting Perceptions of Drugs in and from Latin America (1820-2020) '. The conception of drugs has differed greatly over time, and the distinction between 'illegal drugs' and 'legal medicines' continues to be contested. An increasing number of scientists claim that it is necessary to demythologise drugs and to revise the perception of drugs as a threat to society. Latin America plays a key role in this debate, as psychoactive substances are part of its natural resources and indigenous cultural history.

The main aim of this project is to analyse the changing perceptions of drugs in Latin America from the continent's independence to our present day (1820-2020). The project focuses on the representation of ayahuasca, peyote and coca/cocaine over time. The project uses a partially unexplored corpus of discourses on these plants, including literature, ethnography and travel writing. The project will nuance the complex yet often reductive link between drugs and violence by studying the multifaceted perceptions of drugs from a cross-cultural, diachronic and interdisciplinary perspective. Two workshops and a symposium with stakeholders will examine how cultural perceptions of drugs influence policy making and vice versa.

Your research will focus on the shifting perceptions of ayahuasca in the Amazonian basin (1820-2020). In studies on ayahuasca, perspectives from cultural and medical anthropology have been dominant so far, while the historical and cultural analytical perspectives are less developed as for peyote and coca/cocaine.

You will collect written and visual sources published by travellers and inhabitants from Latin America from 1820 till 2020 through archival research. Importantly, you will integrate indigenous perspectives through archival research and oral history. Your research will complement existing anthropological research from a cultural studies perspective. You will therefore use a solid theoretical framework in which you will integrate decolonial, indigenous perspectives on the environment and the life of plants, and bring it into dialogue with theories on posthumanism, material culture and affect theory. Important methods in your research will be discourse analysis, close reading and oral history.

You will write a PhD thesis and participate in the Graduate School for the Humanities, which includes taking courses for approximately six months and providing academic service to the Faculty of Arts at Radboud University, also for six months. Your research will be embedded in the Radboud Institute for Culture & History (RICH), which focuses on understanding the complexities of Europe in a changing world, and of the changing world of which Europe is a part. You will collaborate closely with the researchers in the project who focus on the shifting perspectives on peyote and coca, and on cultural heritage and tourism related to psychoactive plants. In addition, you will work with scientific and societal partners in Latin America, where part of your research will take place. You will organise several events in Nijmegen in collaboration with stakeholders and make a podcast together with the other members of the team.


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