In This Article Multispecies Ethnography

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Foundational Texts
  • Anthologies
  • Monographs
  • Reference Resources
  • Methodology

Anthropology Multispecies Ethnography
by
Piers Locke, Ursula Muenster
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 November 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0130

Introduction

Multispecies ethnography is a rubric for a more-than-human approach to ethnographic research and writing rapidly gaining discursive traction in anthropology and cognate fields. The term is deployed for work that acknowledges the interconnectedness and inseparability of humans and other life forms, and thus seeks to extend ethnography beyond the solely human realm. Multispecies investigations of social and cultural phenomena are attentive to the agency of other-than-human species, whether they are plants, animals, fungi, bacteria, or even viruses, which confound the species concept. This entails a challenge to the humanist epistemology upon which conventional ethnography is predicated, specifically its ontological distinctions between nature and culture, human and nonhuman, subject and object. Multispecies ethnography must thus be seen as a part of a larger quest in the social sciences and humanities to replace dualist ontologies by relational perspectives, to overcome anthropocentrism by pointing to the meaningful agency of nonhuman others, and to highlight the intersections between ecological relations, political economy, and cultural representations. Multispecies ethnography however, not only acknowledges that humans dwell in a world necessarily comprising other life forms but also contends that their entanglements with human lives, landscapes, and technologies must be theoretically integrated into any account of existence. The authors of this article wish to thank Eben Kirksey, Thom van Dooren, and two anonymous reviewers.

General Overviews

A concern with the constitutive significance of other-than-human species and with new approaches to understanding cross-species intersections characterizes a recent “multispecies turn” in anthropology and related disciplines. A number of journal special issues have emerged that are establishing this emerging subfield. Kirksey and Helmreich 2010 defines the term “multispecies ethnography,” outlines its theoretical and methodological characteristics, and assembles a selection of foundational articles. Livingston and Puar 2011 introduces a selection of scholarly reflections framed around the rubric of “interspecies,” which explores the involvement of nonhuman species in multiple aspects of human life. Latimer and Miele 2013 focuses on the affective dimension of interspecies relations in science and society, assembling articles that problematize conceptual distinctions between human and animal, nature, and culture. Lestel and Taylor 2013 reminds us that human life is constituted not in opposition to but through interdependence with other life forms, featuring articles that encourage us to think differently about life, death, and animality. Feinberg, et al. 2013 challenges human exceptionalism through new ways of thinking about human-animal relations, while in the same issue Ogden, et al. 2013 charts the formative influences upon and recent developments in multispecies ethnography. Finally, Pouliot and Ryan 2013 directs our attention to the complex intersections between humans and fungi, in an issue that demonstrates the application of the multispecies approach with regard to a particular category of life forms.

  • Feinberg, Rebecca, Patrick Nason, and Hamsini Sridharan. 2013. Introduction: Human-animal relations. Environment and Society: Advances in Research 4.1: 1–4.

    E-mail Citation »

    The authors note that social theory has expanded to include nonhuman beings as the anthropogenic power of humanity becomes increasingly evident. They consider the implications of challenging human exceptionalism and the consequences of exercising power over life and death.

  • Kirksey, S. Eben, and Stefan Helmreich. 2010. The emergence of multispecies ethnography. Cultural Anthropology 25.4: 545–576.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1360.2010.01069.xE-mail Citation »

    This is the first text to name an approach to ethnography seeking to epistemologically recontextualize the human in relation to other life forms. Introducing work combining posthumanist and actor-network perspectives, it reveals an emerging sensibility rather than outlining a programmatic agenda.

  • Latimer, Joanna, and Mara Miele. 2013. Naturecultures? Science, affect and the non-human. Theory, Culture & Society 30.7: 5–31.

    DOI: 10.1177/0263276413502088E-mail Citation »

    This special issue is concerned with overcoming the constructed discontinuities between humans and other animals, focusing on the affective dimensions of interspecies relations. Articles in the collection variously track intersections through history and animal welfare science, knowledges of “nature,” and the choreographies of everyday life involving horses, meerkats, mice, and wolves.

  • Lestel, Dominique, and Hollis Taylor. 2013. Shared life: An introduction. Social Science Information 52.2: 183–186.

    DOI: 10.1177/0539018413477335E-mail Citation »

    An issue that theoretically and empirically deals with the “shared life” of humans and other animals. Reminding us of our own animality as humans, the authors point to human convergence with animals at an existential and metabolic level, through “modes of consumption” and “interspecies hospitality.”

  • Livingston, Julie, and Jasbir K. Puar 2011. Interspecies. Social Text 29.1: 3–14.

    DOI: 10.1215/01642472-1210237E-mail Citation »

    This introduction presents “interspecies” scholarship drawing primarily on animal studies and posthumanism to analyze relationships between various forms of biosocial life and their political outcomes. The authors highlight the insights that critical race studies and postcolonial studies add to the study of human-nonhuman relations.

  • Ogden, Laura, Billy Hall, and Kimiko Tanita. 2013. Animals, plants, people, and things: A review of multispecies ethnography. Environment and Society: Advances in Research 4.1: 5–24.

    E-mail Citation »

    Explores influences from philosophy, social theory, biosciences, political ecology, and animal rights activism upon multispecies thinking. Concerned with de-centering the human, and attentive to the “asymmetrical becomings” of human-nonhuman assemblages, the authors suggest multispecies ethnography brings about “speculative wonder.”

  • Pouliot, Alison, and John Charles Ryan. 2013. Fungi: An entangled exploration. PAN: Philosophy Activism Nature 10:1–5.

    E-mail Citation »

    This introduction to human-fungi intersections surveys articles spanning a remarkable diversity of disciplines from the arts, humanities, as well as the social and natural sciences. Articles consider the full range of fungal forms in relation to human attitudes, practices, and literary works, ecological entanglement, cohabitation and connectivity, citizen science, and more.

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