Charis Boke Hawthorn Tree Logo

Charis
Boke

Anthropologist
Herbalist
Writer
Educator

Research

As an engaged anthropologist with deep roots in community organizing and activism, I see my research as a species of discovery not just about what the world contains, but about how to make it better. I don’t claim to know all of what “better” might entail, but I do know that the worlds of this moment–layered and multiple as they are–are riven with conflict, dissonance, and fear. They are also, according to my observations and those of others, full of hope, vision, and people working their butts off to see, together, what “better” could be.

This is one starting point for my scholarship.

In 2017, I’ll complete my doctoral work in Cultural Anthropology at Cornell University. My research is situated at the intersection of medical anthropology, political ecology, and material cultures studies in the context of the United States, drawing on 2 years of ethnographic fieldwork. Specifically, my dissertation examines herbal medicine education in Vermont: “Ecological Bodies: North American Practices of Care in a Changing Climate” explores herbalists’ efforts to envision new forms of care and the ethics they entail in the context of ecological health and this moment of climate change. Click here for the overarching story of the dissertation.

Prior to conducting my doctoral dissertation research under the auspices of Cornell University’s Department of Anthropology, I conducted extended ethnographic research in 2007-2008 during my time as a Fulbright Fellow in Nepal. The results of that research are detailed in a thesis written for the completion of an MA at the University of Chicago in 2009.

Future Research

Building on my engagement with holistic healers and plant-based medicine practitioners in the United States, this project examines the implications for ecological health of the multispecies entanglements of the tick-borne illness Lyme disease (borrelia burgdorferi) and its associated co-infections (e.g. babesia microti, mycoplasma pneumoniae). In “Tracing Symptoms: The Social Ecologies of Lyme borreliosis in the Global North,” I attend to ticks, medicinal plants, and humans as they interact and intersect in clinics, in forests and fields, in research laboratories across North America and western Europe.  I will build as well on other ethnographically informed scholarship that is considers cross-species entanglements and entailments (cf. Myers 2013, Kirksey 2015, Haraway 2007, Kohn 2013).

Lyme borreliosis offers a key site for examining the unevenly distributed connections between human community health and other-than-human ecologies, marked by disagreements over the geographical range in which ixodes spp. (tick) populations can carry it and contestations over the infection’s duration in the human body.The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Lyme case map” shows a preponderance of cases reported by residents of the Northeast of the United States, while Bayer Global’s “Companion Vector-Borne Diseases” mapping shows Lyme borreliosis vectors widespread across western and central Europe and in a range of locations across the Americas. Some herbalists and health care practitioners, however, describe a wider spread and suggest that global ecological disruptions (e.g. warming, shifts in precipitation) enable a rise of human borreliosis as tick habitats expand. Thus, Lyme is a key site for examining the uneven consequences of human interactions with other-than-human ecologies.

The question of who can contract Lyme disease, where, how long it lasts, and what sorts of treatment are appropriate are at the heart of this project.  People with active symptoms of borreliosis and no definitive diagnosis describe being “dismissed” by doctors, getting partial or no treatment, in part because the doctor did not believe the patient could have been exposed, geographically speaking. I address environmental studies questions about the impacts of humans on ecologies, environmental anthropological questions about natural-cultural intersections, and medical anthropological questions about the boundaries of the body.

Tracing Symptoms engages with ecologies—political, social, and cross-species—of Lyme across North America and western Europe. Starting work with herbalist practitioners in three sites—southern Vermont; central California; and eastern France—I will examine the ecological entanglements (Nading 2014) of this “emerging epidemic.” I will also partner with conventional medical practitioners and researchers to broaden the scope of the inquiry. The multi-sited nature of this project echoes the emergence of the disease and the treatments to which its sufferers turn, enabling me to examine diverse treatments for, and preventive public health strategies around Lyme. I attend not only to its disproportionate public health effects, and to the links between such illnesses and global climate change, but also to the ways that such multispecies entanglements open up rich opportunities to both think and, more importantly, act, with other species.

Write with questions.