How Forests Think: toward an anthropology beyond the human by Eduardo Kohn
In sum, an anthropology beyond the human is perforce an ontological one. Th at is, taking nonhumans seriously makes it impossible to confi ne our anthropological inquiries to an epistemological concern for how it is that humans, at some particular time or in some particular place, go about making sense of them. As an ontological endeavor this kind of anthropology places us in a special position to rethink the sorts of concepts we use and to develop new ones. In Marilyn Strathern’s words, it aims “to create the conditions for new thoughts” (1988: 20).
In How Forests Think I seek to contribute to these posthuman critiques of the ways in which we have treated humans as exceptional—and thus as fundamentally separate from the rest of the world—by developing a more robust analytic for understanding human relations to nonhuman beings. I do so by refl ecting on what it might mean to say that forests think. I do so, that is, by working out the connection between representational processes (which form the basis for all thought) and living ones as this is revealed through ethnographic attention to that which lies beyond the human. I use the insights thus gained to rethink our assumptions about the nature of representation, and I then explore how this rethinking changes our anthropological concepts. I call this approach an “anthropology beyond the human.”
How Forests Think is a book, ultimately, about thought. It is, to quote Viveiros de Castro, a call to make anthropology a practice for “la décolonisation permanente de la pensée” (Viveiros de Castro 2009: 4). My argument is that we are colonized by certain ways of thinking about relationality. We can only imagine the ways in which selves and thoughts might form associations through our assumptions about the forms of associations that structure human language. And then, in ways that often go unnoticed, we project these assumptions onto nonhumans. Without realizing it we attribute to nonhumans properties that are our own, and then, to compound this, we narcissistically ask them to provide us with corrective reflections of ourselves.
Let this runa puma, this one who both is and is not us, be, like Dante’s Virgil, our guide as we wander this “dense and diffi cult” forest—this “selva selvaggia” where words so often fail us. Let this runa puma guide us with the hope that we too may learn another way to attend and respond to the many lives of those selves that people this sylvatic realm.
Read the Introduction here