Jeffery Snodgrass

Shamans, Herbalists, and State Discourses of Indigenous Development in North India: Theory and Method in the Anthropology of Environmentality


This talk discusses the environmental thought and practice of indigenous peoples living in and around a wildlife sanctuary in North India. Analysis reveals fewer than expected differences between the beliefs and practices of shamans and non-shamans; however, herbalists are markedly more committed than non-herbalists to preventing or mitigating over-harvesting of natural resources. To explain these results, reference is made to particular juncture of native traditions and modern conditions. Locally, shamanic healers first and foremost serve human, as opposed to plant or animal, communities; by contrast, herbalist healers’ greater social and economic dependence on the jungle leads them to pursue a practical conservation of the poor. Globally, shamans, perceived to be superstitious “witch-hunters,” have been the target of centuries of outsider reform, leading to a shamanic suspicion in this context of state-sponsored conservation; however, herbalists are favorably positioned to take advantage of government interest in documenting and preserving local biodiversity, thus leading to less suspicion of bodies such as the Rajasthan Forest Department. Drawing on methods and theories from political ecology and cultural psychology, as well as on both humanistic and scientific perspectives, a framework is presented for the testing of hypotheses related to “environmentality” – the manner that state regulatory structures form fields of power and meaning that differentially impact local communities’ relationships to nature.