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“Bridging Science and Amazonian Knowledge in Ecuador: A Role for the Environmental Humanities”

February 11 @ 12:30 pm - 1:30 pm

Tod Swanson

Presented by: Tod Dillon Swanson is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Senior Sustainability Scholar at Arizona State University’s Global Institute for Sustainability. He is a past director of the Title IV Center for Latin American Studies. Swanson’s research seeks to record and better understand the Amazonian social relation to nature. Frequently this work employs Anthropological Linguistics to explore fundamental ways in which Kichwa and other Amazonian languages construe the human relation nature differently than do European languages. Swanson grew up in the Ecuadorian Amazon where his father worked as a doctor in a mission hospital. After graduating from high school in Quito he received a B.A in Linguistics from the University of Minnesota and a PhD from the University of Chicago. Since 1999 he has directed the Andes and Amazon Field School in his wife’s home community on the Napo River. Each summer he brings together a top group of graduate students, academic, and indigenous experts for 8 weeks of learning and research. Together they seek to understand and preserve the culture, languages, and environment of the region and to find practical solutions for a sustainable future.

Description of the presentation: Using video clips this presentation will lay out fundamental ways in which native Amazonian knowledge differs from science. While science proceeds by controlling variables through emotional distanciation from the object, Native knowledge proceeds by intensifying emotional relationality to nature as a subject with agency. In the process native learners create analogies to animal experience evoked in art, narrative, and song. Although both forms are based on observation they accomplish different and complementary things. Both are necessary and neither supersedes the other. Because these differences are not well understood practitioners of western science engage native communities in an unequal collaboration that often undermines native knowledge contributing to its demise. I will argue that the Environmental Humanities can play a crucial role in preserving native knowledge as well as in bridging a more equal collaboration with scientists. Finally I present the Andes and Amazon Field School jointly sponsored by the Latin American, Caribbean, and Iberian Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a context for carrying out this collaboration and invite participation.


February 11
12:30 pm - 1:30 pm


Room 206 Ingraham Hall
1155 Observatory Drive
Madison, 53706 United States
(608) 262-2811