Of Cosmological Visions and Creativity: Shaping Animism, Indigenous Science, and Forestry in Southwest China

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How do cosmological visions unsettle animistic and scientific ways of approaching the world? Whereas ‘cosmovisions’ have the narrow meaning of ‘worldviews’, people unleash new ‘cosmological visions’ through the creative act of relating to—and simultaneously dismantling—their constructs of the world at large. Drawing on my ethnography of the Nuosu, a Tibeto-Burman group of Southwest China, I show how an ethnohistorian and a priest set out, at the request of a local official, to address deforestation with a cosmological vision built upon animistic, indigenous scientific, social scientific, and natural scientific sensibilities. Holding sacrifices to land spirits across the Liangshan mountains of Yunnan province in the mid-2000s, they urged Nuosu to refrain from cutting down trees. Many Nuosu in the lumber trade responded with a counter vision that showed respect for land spirits but an unprecedented detachment from the world in animistic-cum-scientific terms. Cosmological visions like these proliferate among Nuosu, encouraging them to experiment with everything from testing the patience of land spirits to undercutting the science behind China’s forest protection policies. Here, creativity opens up new ways of envisioning indigenous autonomy and what it means to be alive to the world as an animist, a scientist, or both.

Original languageEnglish
Article number449
Pages (from-to)1-20
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 27 Mar 2023

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