Global Challenges: Plant Biodiversity and Human Flourishing


How might we begin to understand biodiversity as the condition for human flourishing? What is the relationship between our desire to use natural products, as consumers, and the long-term sustainability of these natural resources themselves? What is the place of traditional and indigenous knowledge within both the global and public health agenda and pharmaceutical medicine? 

This course brings together a range of insights from diverse disciplinary and industry vantage points, to consider the relationship between human flourishing and plant biodiversity. Engaging with the medical sciences, medical anthropology, ethnobotany and the anthropology of nature and the environment, this school uses case studies to consider macro and micro perspectives that reflect on both individual responsibility and that of institutions, within the global political economy. 

Thinking in the spaces between disciplinary scholarship, we attempt to define the notion of human flourishing. We invite participants to dynamically engage with the global challenges of our time, be stimulated by scholars with research-led insights and reflect on the questions posed, in interactive discussion and exchange.  

Programme details

Saturday 26th

2.00pm  Introduction to Human Flourishing and Plant Biodiversity, Elizabeth Rahman, Director of Global Campus, Oxford University spinout

2.15pm  Ecosystem: habitat, the human biome and affordable and accessible natural medicines, Colin Bennett, Centre of Medicines Discovery, University of Oxford

Exploring the internal and external microcosm of the human biome, as a phenomenon and lens through which to witness our complex entanglement, Colin Bennett invites us to consider our place within the eco-system of the living Planet. He considers our appetite and preparedness to engage with natural products and traditional remedies and the conditions necessary for affordable and accessible medicines. 

3.00pm  Q&A, Discussion, breakout and chat

3.30pm  BREAK

3.35pm  Plants as Medicine in the Anthropocene: Scientific & Indigenous Ontological Perspectives, Sarah E. Edwards, University of Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum

Habitat loss within the Anthropocene frames Sarah Edwards talk to explore the global demand in raw – but wild harvested – natural products. Exploring the ethical, moral and legal challenges surrounding the commodification of medicinal plants, she considers both classical pharmaceutical drugs, based on semi-synthetic or synthetic derivatives of the naturally occurring molecules found in plants, as well as drawing insights from indigenous Australian communities and highlighting people-plant interrelationships and the vital concept of “caring for country”. 

4.20pm  Q&A, Discussion, breakout, chat

4.50-5pm  Final discussion and close of day

Sunday 27 March

2.00pm  Introduction to day two, Elizabeth Rahman

2.05pm  Indigenous Knowledge Going National: How Wayusa (Ecuador) and Guarana (Brazil) became the main ingredients of popular drinks, Laura Rival, Oxford University Department for International Development

Laura Rival takes us to Ecuador and Brazil to investigate the national commodification of Wayusa and Guarana, products also seeping into international markets, contrasting the means of processing and consumption, and the ontologies used to frame their use in local, national and global contexts.

2.50pm  Q&A, Discussion, breakout, chat

3.20pm  BREAK

3.25pm  Potency-boosting ‘natural’ ‘herbs’ on the global health market, Elisabeth Hsu, School of Anthropology and Museum Anthropology, University of Oxford

What drives middle class citizens to buy natural herbs from far away places? Based on fieldwork among migrant medical experts, Elisabeth Hsu reflects on desire, leisure and sex in the city and the chemical, cultural and multifaceted challenges posed by tonics and potency boosters, that currently flourish on the high street - north and south, east and west. 

4.10pm  Q&A, Discussion, breakout, chat

4.40-5pm  Final discussion and closing of course


Description Costs
Standard course fee £80.00


If you are in receipt of a state benefit you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees.

If you do not qualify for the concessionary fee but are experiencing financial hardship, you may still be eligible for financial assistance.

Concessionary fees for short courses


Dr Elizabeth Ann Rahman


Elizabeth Rahman is a social and medical anthropologist based at the University of Oxford. Elizabeth specialises in growth, caring techniques, learning, the environment and home-grown mindfulness techniques, in Amazonia and Spain.

Prof Elisabeth Hsu


Elisabeth Hsu is Professor in Anthropology at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology of the University of Oxford, and Governing Body Fellow at Green Templeton College.  Her research interests lie within the fields of medical anthropology and ethnobotany, language and textual studies. They concern Chinese medicine; the transmission of knowledge and practice; pulse diagnosis; body and personhood; touch, pain, feelings, emotions, and sensory experience ... more

Professor Laura Rival


Laura Rival, Professor of Anthropology of Development at the University of Oxford, works on a number of interrelated projects that together illustrate her distinctive approach to the Anthropology of Nature, Society and Development.

Her current research builds on this expertise to address burning issues of development in the face of severe environmental degradation and accelerating climate change... more

Dr Sarah Edwards


Sarah Edwards is Plant Records Officer at the University of Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum, and teaches Ethnobiology and Biological Conservation at the Institute of Human Sciences, University of Oxford. She is also an Honorary Research Fellow at UCL School of Pharmacy and a Board member of the British Herbal Medicine Association.

Her research interests include understanding sociocultural aspects of medicinal plant use within different societies and biocultural diversity conservation in northern Australia. Her latest work collaborating with farmers and artists in S. Wales has focused on using a multispecies ethnographic approach to re-evaluate human-plant interrelationships.

Mr Colin Bennett


  • Centre for Medicines Discovery, Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford.
  • Alan Tayler Advisory Fellow, Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford.
  • Oxford Martin Visiting Fellow, Affordable Medicines Programme, University of Oxford.

Colin Bennett is also a board advisor to the joint EPSRC & MRC Centres for Doctoral Training Programmes of Industrially Focused Mathematical Modelling (InFoMM CDT) at the Mathematical Institute and also at the Sustainable Approaches to Biomedical Science (SABS CDT), University of Oxford.

IT requirements

The University of Oxford uses Microsoft Teams for our learning environment, where students and tutors will discuss and interact in real time. Joining instructions will be sent out prior to the start date. We recommend that you join the session at least 10-15 minutes prior to the start time – just as you might arrive a bit early at our lecture theatre for an in-person event.

If you have not used the Microsoft Teams app before, once you click the joining link you will be invited to download it (this is free). Once you have downloaded the app, please test before the start of your course. If you are using a laptop or desktop computer, you will also be offered the option of connecting using a web browser. If you connect via a web browser, Chrome is recommended.