Zuzanna Sadowska
Social anthropologist

Força (power) and ayahuasca multiplicity

Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Brazil, I discuss the concept of “força” (power) and its entanglements with the ontological complexity of the Amazon-based herbal brew, most commonly known as ayahuasca. I focus on two dimensions of the meaning of “força” – one related to the agency of non-human others, and a second one associated with social relations of power. I suggest that both of these dimensions are crucial to understanding the relational becoming of the brew.

The brew is according to my observations, experienced and enacted as an unstable relational being in the local (indigenous, religious, and therapeutic) contexts, not as a singular, stable substance to which we may ascribe a certain essence (that might be associated, for example, with its material propensities). Nevertheless, diverse social practices, including ayahuasca medicalsation, aim to partially stabilise the brew, creating presumptive ontology. In this process, various relations through which the brew emerges, and that can arise around its use, are disrupted. My fieldwork among marginalised social groups allows a closer look at the ways in which power structures and social inequalities can shape the brew-related experiences and the human-human and human-non-human relations surrounding its consumption.

Zuzanna Sadowska is a social anthropologist and a PhD candidate at the Polish Academy of Sciences. Recently, she conducted 9-month multisided ethnographic fieldwork in Brazil regarding the herbal brew most commonly known as ayahuasca. Part of that fieldwork took place in a religious-therapeutic centre dedicated to addiction treatment of people mainly from marginalised social groups. Her research interests include substance use and addiction, post-humanism, and medical anthropology. Inspired by the methodological framework of the Ontological Turn Zuzanna is mostly dedicated to the study of how different concepts related to substance use and addiction (for example: medicine, narcotic, sobriety, disease, and a self) change depending on the social contexts within which they emerge.