Plants, people and health: Three disciplines at work in Namaqualand

  • Lesley Green Environmental Humanities South, School of African and Gender Studies, Anthropology and Linguistics, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
  • David W. Gammon Department of Chemistry, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
  • Michael T. Hoffman Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
  • Joshua Cohen School of African and Gender Studies, Anthropology and Linguistics, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
  • Amelia Hilgart Department of Chemistry, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
  • Robert G. Morrell Office of the Vice-Chancellor, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
  • Helen Verran History and Philosophy of Science, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
  • Nicola Wheat Open Box Software, Cape Town, South Africa
Keywords: interdisciplinarity, scientific knowledge, medicinal plants, natural products chemistry, phenology, indigenous knowledge

Abstract

In Paulshoek, Namaqualand, three research projects focusing on medicinal plants were developed concurrently. The projects were based in the disciplines of anthropology, botany and chemistry. In this paper, we explore how these projects related to one another and describe the conversations that occurred in the process of searching for transdisciplinary knowledge. The projects ostensibly shared a common object of knowledge, but it was through working together that the medicinal plants constituted us as a community of scholars. As our insight into our respective disciplinary relationships with the plants grew, so did our understanding of the limitations of our respective disciplinary positions. The process made possible a ‘reimagination’ of both the object of study and our relationships to it and to one another. The research project, conceptualised in 2009, engaged current debates on indigenous knowledge and its historical erasures, and offered an approach that has potential to produce new knowledges while respecting the integrity of the disciplines. This approach requires a non-competitive attitude to research and one that acknowledges the contributions that can be made by multiple approaches.

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Published
2015-09-25