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A Politics of Habitability: Plants, Healing, and Sovereignty in a Toxic World

By Stacey Ann Langwick

Cite As:
Langwick, Stacey Ann. 2018. “A Politics of Habitability: Plants, Healing, and Sovereignty in a Toxic World.” Cultural Anthropology 33, no. 3: 415–443.


For Tanzanians, modern bodies bear complicated toxic loads not only because of the dumping of capitalism’s harmful by-products but also because of the social-material effects of efforts designed to address insecurity, poverty, and disease. Dawa lishe(nutritious medicine) is forged in this double bind. Producers of dawa lisheproblematize toxicity as the condition under which life is attenuated, diminished, depleted, exhausted, or drained away. Therapies attend not only to individual bodies but also to relations among people, plants, and the soil. The efficacy of herbal remedies and of gardens full of therapeutic foods and nutritious herbs rests in the cultivation of the forms of strength that make places, times, and bodies livable again (and again). This essay examines how Tanzanians are laboring over, and reflecting on, the toxic and its relationship to remedy and memory through dawa lishe. In the process, it argues, they are redefining healing through a politics of habitability.


toxicity; healing; body; plants; gardens; sustainable agriculture; ontology; Africa