Tag Archives: multispecies ethnography

Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene [review]

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Cthulhu, Great Old One and Special Collections Librarian at Brown University.

When the puny mortals at Savage Minds invited me to review the latest work by Donna Haraway I was perplexed. After I had devoured the sanity of their pathetic messenger, I turned the book over in my tentacles. “Chthulucene,” eh? Was this meant to be a literary subversion of the Anthropocene, supplanting the implied anthropocentrism of that category with something alien and indifferent? And if so, was this really a wise move, politically speaking, when the purpose of the term was to draw attention to human actions that frequently remained hidden to those without the all seeing eyes of Yog-Sothoth? Needless to say, I was intrigued.


Full disclosure: Haraway and I are somewhat estranged. She never forgave me for guiding my cultists to infect Sumatran rat-monkies with a zombie virus (for more on this consult the 1992 documentary Dead Alive). Sure my methods are “controversial” but she and I have the same goal in mind: confronting our shared ecological crisis by addressing the problem of accelerating human population growth. Whereas she seeks to carve out the possibility that feminism can navigate the racist and eugenicist histories of limiting human reproduction, I advocate for a strategy of direction action, i.e. human sacrifice.

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Culture is for the birds…and the bees…and the dolphins, etc.

I guess I’m not surprised the idea of nonhuman cultures still generates disquiet for some cultural anthropologists. But I was a bit taken aback that this long-running argument seemed to be news. After all, there are recent ethnographic examples of what this looks like: Lisa Jean Moore and Mary Kosut characterize their book, Buzz, as “an api-ethnography that considers bees as cultured beings that traffic between worlds of the hive and of the urban landscape” (2013:36), taking “the subjective experience of bees” as one of their foci as they work to interpret bees’ behavior. Somewhat less boldly, Colin Jerolmack’s The Global Pigeon (2013) depicts these birds as part of the social interactional order of public space; though he maintains them at the center of his ethnographic analysis, arguing, by the way, that “pigeons partly domesticated themselves” (9) in colonizing urban space. And of course there’s Eduardo Kohn’s, How Forests Think, winner of the 2014 Gregory Bateson Prize.

But in response to the question about the theoretical foundations for all of this, I’m quite ready to go beyond anthropologist and primatologists like Raymond Corbey and Frans de Waal who’ve been making this case for years. I’m more interested in how nonhuman cultures are being documented and analyzed by natural scientists, because their work opens up new spaces for theorizing culture “beyond the human.” Continue reading

Domestication Now!

In the late 1990s, the study of kinship got zapped. A similar surge of new thinking is transforming another classic anthropological concept—domestication. In both cases, breaches in the fine lines between biology and culture open up generative possibilities. With kinship, ethnographies of the new reproductive technologies led the way (e.g. Sarah Franklin’s Embodied Progress, 1997). With domestication, multispecies ethnographies are provoking a reassessment of this mainstay of anthropological analysis. And, as with kinship, unsettling the human in relation to “nature” frees up domestication as a means to think differently about anthropology and culture.

Why domestication now? Let’s start with the Anthropocene: it’s not just our carbon based economy driving drastic climate change; the fact that we and our domesticated species comprise 90% vertebrate biomass on the planet matters greatly. Then there’s the giddy question of agency: who’s doing what to whom when it comes to species transformations? Continue reading

Follow the Species

[Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger John Hartigan]

I’m sitting in the auditorium of LANGEBIO, a national genomics biodiversity lab in Mexico. Perched towards the middle of a room that holds about 220 people, I’m listening to a day-long series of presentations by doctoral plant geneticists. The bare concrete walls bear streamers of sponsors, such as Illumina, Biosis, and Biosistemas Avanzados. Each speaker strides out onto an overly large stage that dwarfs them as much as the giant overhead screen, across which their presentations flash. The featured species are Zea mays and Arabidopsis thaliana (the first flowering plant to have its genome sequenced), along with varieties of yeast—all well-established model organisms upon and through which genetics steadily advances. Continue reading

“An anti-nominalist book”: Eduardo Kohn on How Forests Think

Earlier this month I sat down with Eduardo Kohn to talk about his amazing book How Forests Think. We started out discussing his intellectual influences and ended up ranging widely over his book, the status of Peirce as a thinker, what ‘politics’ means, and a variety of other topics. Thanks to the hard work of our intern Angela, I’m proud to post a copy of our interview here. I really enjoyed talking to Eduardo, so I hope you enjoy reading it!

Wisconsin and the Amazon

RG: Thanks so much for agreeing to talk. I really enjoyed How Forests Think. When I started it I was a little on the skeptical side, but I ended up thinking it was a mind-blowing book. I thought we could begin by discussing the background for the book and your training. I see the book as mixing biology, science studies (especially Donna Haraway and Bruno Latour), and then some sort of semiotics. It seems like there are a lot of influences there. You got your PhD at Wisconsin, so how did that work out? Can you tell me a little about your background?

EK: The way I got into anthropology was through research, by which I mean fieldwork.  And I was always trying to find ways to do more fieldwork. I saw Wisconsin as an extension of this. When I was in college I did some field research in the Ecuadorian Amazon, I had a Fulbright to go back and do research after college, and only then did I go to grad school.   Although How Forests Think aims to make a conceptual intervention in anthropology, I think of our field as a special vehicle for engaging intensely with a place in ways that make us over and help us think differently. Continue reading