STS Colloquium Nov. 22: How Forests Think

Tuesday Nov 22

Discussion: Stefano Pantaleone leads readings from Eduardo Kohn’s work: How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human.




Dr. Eduardo Kohn

Associate Professor of Anthropology at McGill University

Anthropology of life, semiotics, human-animal relations, “nature” and ecological and environmental anthropology, self and personhood; Amazonia, Ecuador, Quichua.

His research is concerned with human-animal relations and the implications that the ethnographic study of these can have for rethinking anthropology. The empirical context for this work is his ongoing long-term research on how the Quichua (Quechua) speaking Runa of Ecuador’s Upper Amazon inhabit the tropical forest and engage with its beings. Analytical frameworks that fashion their tools from what is unique to humans (language, culture, society, and history) or, alternatively, what humans are commonly supposed to share with animals are inadequate to the task of understanding these sorts of engagements in a way that is both faithful to the multiple species involved and to the historical context of their interaction. By contrast, he turns to an embodied and emergentist understanding of semiosis—one that treats sign processes as inherent to life and not just restricted to humans—as well as to an appreciation for the many sorts of pattern-generating processes that mediate our relations to the world and to the other beings that inhabit it. In the process, Dr. Eduardo Kohn hopes to move anthropology beyond “the human,” both as analytic and as bounded object of study.

His attempts to come to terms with these multi-species interactions have led him to develop what he calls an “anthropology of life.” That is, he wishes to encourage the practice of a kind of anthropology that situates all-too-human worlds within a larger series of processes and relationships that exceed the human, and he feels that this can be done in a way that is analytically precise.