The Western notion of “the human” as we know it is unraveling. From fields as diverse as developmental biology, epigenetics, environmental history, science and technology studies, and anthropology, we are learning new ways that the histories and trajectories of humans are bound up with those of other species. We once imagined discrete, autonomous individuals, each programmed with a unique genetic blueprint and interacting with the “natural environment.” Today, the boundaries between distinct realms of (human) culture and (non-human) nature are dissipating. From the cereals we grow to the aphids that feed upon them; from the stomach bacteria we require for digestion to the bubonic plague; from the invasive plants we work tirelessly to uproot to the livestock we breed – non-human species have forever been interrupting and enabling human life. Accounting the conditions and particularities of human social worlds seems increasingly to require a multi-species lens.
At such a time, when ideas about the relationship between nature and culture are in flux, environmental anthropologists must reckon with this transformation and what it might mean for anthropology – the study of the human. What implications, if any, might it have for anthropology’s key concepts, assumptions, and practices? How might it change the ways that anthropologists engage with environmental issues? What can specific examples of how people “become human with others” teach us about this emergent object of study? This thematic series of blog posts will present a set of multi-species stories in response to these questions.
Three potential directions include:
- Methods: How to study the more-than-human? What new methods, concepts, or forms of collaboration will be needed? What kinds of scales – whether spatial or temporal – might be necessary to see and understand multi-species worlds?
- Narrative: How do we represent this emergent human? What new narrative forms or modes of description may be required? What visual, auditory, and other media can help describe more-than-human worlds?
- Race, class, gender: What kinds of human and for whom? If the nature-culture binary has been fundamental to racial, gender, and class distinctions, as much as it has for species distinctions, then what implications might a new concept of the human have for concepts of race/class/gender? What are the perils and possibilities of these emergent race/class/gender formations?
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Chitra Venkataramani: email@example.com