I Graduated!

I finally finished my dissertation and completed my PhD! My degree is in the department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM) at UC Berkeley. My dissertation was titled: “Plants & Pathways: More-than-Human Worlds of Power, Knowledge, and Healing.” Because of COVID, my department put together a graduation website in lieu of a finishing talk this year.

This is what my advisor, Nancy Lee Peluso had to say about my work:

Laura Lee Dev has zigzagged along a series of paths rarely taken (in succession) through ESPM. She started her doctoral studies in Ecosystems Sciences, moved into an Environmental History slot,  and then shifted into Political Ecology when her EH prof Carolyn Merchant retired. Laura excelled in all of these fields, and won a panoply of grants to prove it. Laura also applied components of her interdisciplinary training to conducting reflexive and participatory research among Shipibo forest dwellers and shamans in Peru. She has situated the major changes in shamanic healing practices and in shamans’ communications with plants not only within the contexts of degrading forest ecosystems, but also in the changing contexts and commercialization of ceremonial healing practices. Laura is investigating the powerful rainforest plants brewed together to produce ayahuasca, used for centuries in the Peruvian Amazon. Laura analyses the establishment, development, and deterioration of practices and relationships between humans as well as between humans and plants. Laura’s work illuminates the ways ideas, plants, and power relations imbued in healing relationships between plants and humans have changed in response to both increased “ayahuasca tourism” and the encroachment of extractive practices on forested Shipibo environments. She is looking at cross-sectional change as well as historical changes in the local and broader markets for Shipibo shamans’ services as guides and mediators of the knowledge generated by brewing ayahuasca. In Laura’s fieldwork, she works with a range of differently positioned Shipibo healers – from those living in the encroached-upon forest settlements to those who have either urbanized or become cosmopolitan (and often rich). Thus new socio-natural networks have emerged and changed as the production and consumption of ayahuasca have become global commodities.

Laura’s commitment to understanding and telling these stories has been unwavering despite the difficulties of living and moving through the Amazon in the rainy season, of learning languages,  and of devoting precious time in the field to give back to her teachers and other community members. In addition to delving into the complexities of multispecies analysis, Laura has engaged in action research through a multi-dimensional collaborative project with several communities. She is helping Shipibo create a local forest preserve for medicinal plants, seeking markets for the intricate weavings and embroideries of local women, and serves as research coordinator for a Peruvian nonprofit organization, Alianza Arkana. She shows a similar commitment when she teaches ESPM undergraduates or gives talks: her delivery and her interdisciplinarity made her a favorite when she taught Political Ecology with me. As part of her engagement with the burgeoning “Left Coast Political Ecology Network,” Laura also worked with new assistant professors, post-doctoral scholars, graduate students, and senior scholars to establish a new institutional collaboration across California-based and other universities.  

On track to file in late May or June, Laura has already begun work on a post-doctoral project for which she was recruited by ERG graduate, UC Merced professor, and well known Political Ecologist, Dr. Tracey Osborne. Her persistence in realizing her dissertation project has been excellent training for this new project—which will also enable Laura to get back to the Amazon. I have learned a lot from Laura, and hope to continue learning if she and Tracey and others at Merced have time to engage with the Left Coast Political Ecology LandLab, located on the forested shores of Strawberry Creek in our soon to be reoccupied Giannini Hall.

– Nancy PelusoProfessor, Society & Environment, Department of ESPM

Me and Nancy celebrating after filing my dissertation.