Article

Salvage and self‐loathing: Cultural primatology and the spiritual malaise of the Anthropocene

Authors:
To read the full-text of this research, you can request a copy directly from the author.

Abstract

We understand our time as one in which human culture remakes nature. But Japanese and Euro‐American primatologists have come to question whether humans are the only primates capable of culture. Chimpanzee ethnographers observe different chimpanzee communities which share much of their lives with different human communities. The resulting diversity of cultures has become the eye through which all scientific claims about chimpanzee nature must pass. The practices constituting cultural primatology, however, turn out to be as much about knowledge as about care. Wild chimpanzees and their cultures teeter on the brink of extinction as human cultural activities destroy their habitats. Cultural primatology reanimates anthropology's original 18th‐century question of human nature in the 21st‐century context of the Anthropocene: if it is not simply culture, then what has enabled modern humans to radically transform their environments and to outcompete other primate cultures and species? How should we evaluate and narrate the story of our savage success?

No full-text available

Request Full-text Paper PDF

To read the full-text of this research,
you can request a copy directly from the author.

... However, science Sociologus 71 (2021) 1 does so in an absolute sense -beings are persons or non-persons by default. Even debates about the cultural potentials of animals are concerned with their absolute, unchangeable nature (e. g., Despret 2014;Langlitz 2018). At the same time, science aims at reducing opacity. ...
Article
Full-text available
The term “animism” is at once a fantasy internal to modernity and a semiotic conduit enabling a serious inquiry into non-modern phenomena that radically call into question the modern distinction of nature and culture. Therefore, I suggest that the labelling of people, practices or ideas as “animist” is a strategic one. I also raise the question if animism can help to solve the modern ecological crisis that allegedly stems from the nature-culture divide. In particular, animism makes it possible to recognize personhood in non-humans, thus creating moral relationships with the non-human world. A number of scholars and activists identify animism as respect for all living beings and as intimate relationships with nature and its spirits. However, this argument still presupposes the fixity of the ontological status of beings as alive or persons. A different view of animism highlights concepts of fluid and unstable persons that emerge from ongoing communicative processes. I argue that the kind of attentiveness that drives fluid personhood may be supportive of a politics of life that sees relationships with non-humans in terms of moral commitment.
Article
Full-text available
This essay – Part II – reconceptualizes the past five centuries as the Capitalocene, the ‘age of capital’. The essay advances two interconnected arguments. First, the exploitation of labor-power depends on a more expansive process: the appropriation of unpaid work/energy delivered by ‘women, nature, and colonies’ (Mies). Second, accumulation by appropriation turns on the capacity of state–capital–science complexes to make nature legible. If the substance of abstract social labor is time, the substance of abstract social nature is space. While managerial procedures within commodity production aim to maximize productivity per quantum of labor-time, the geo-managerial capacities of states and empires identify and seek to maximize unpaid work/energy per ‘unit’ of abstract nature. Historically, successive state–capital–science complexes co-produce Cheap Natures that are located, or reproduce themselves, largely outside the cash nexus. Geo-managerialism’s preliminary forms emerged rapidly during the rise of capitalism. Its chief historical expressions comprise those processes through which capitalists and state-machineries map, identify, quantify and otherwise make natures legible to capital. A radical politics of sustainability must recognize – and seek to mobilize through – a tripartite division of work under capitalism: labor-power, unpaid human work and the work of nature as a whole.
Article
Full-text available
There is no question that anthropogenic processes have had planetary effects, in inter/intraaction with other processes and species, for as long as our species can be identified (a few tens of thousand years); and agriculture has been huge (a few thousand years). Of course, from the start the greatest planetary terraformers (and reformers) of all have been and still are bacteria and their kin, also in inter/intra-action of myriad kinds (including with people and their practices, technological and otherwise). 1 The spread of seed-dispersing plants millions of years before human agriculture was a planet-changing development, and so were many other revolutionary evolutionary ecological developmental historical events. People joined the bumptious fray early and dynamically, even before they/we were critters who were later named Homo sapiens. But I think the issues about naming relevant to the Anthropocene, Plantationocene, or Capitalocene have to do with scale, rate/speed, synchronicity, and complexity. The constant question when considering systemic phenomena has to be, when do changes in degree become changes in kind, and what are the effects of bioculturally, biotechnically, biopolitically, historically situated people (not Man) relative to, and combined with, the effects of other species assemblages and other biotic/abiotic forces? No species, not even our own arrogant one pretending to be good individuals in so-called modern Western scripts, acts alone; assemblages of organic species and of abiotic actors make history, the evolutionary kind and the other kinds too. But, is there an inflection point of consequence that changes the name of the “game” of life on earth for everybody and everything? It's more than climate change; it's also extraordinary burdens of toxic chemistry, mining, depletion of lakes and rivers under and above ground, ecosystem simplification, vast genocides of people and other critters, etc, etc, in systemically linked patterns that threaten major system collapse after major system collapse after major system collapse. Recursion can be a drag. Anna Tsing in a recent paper called “Feral Biologies” suggests that the inflection point between the Holocene and the Anthropocene might be the wiping out of most of the refugia from which diverse species assemblages (with or without people) can be reconstituted after major events (like desertification, or clear cutting, or, or, …). 2 This is kin to the World-Ecology
Chapter
Full-text available
Field biologists adopted the term habituation from physiology, as the relatively persistent waning of a response as a result of repeated stimulation that is not followed by any kind of reinforcement (Thorpe, 1963). Repeated neutral contacts between primates and humans can lead to a reduction in fear, and ultimately to the ignoring of an observer. Historically, the techniques and processes involved were rarely described, as habituation was generally viewed as a means to an end (Tutin & Fernandez, 1991). As we become increasingly aware of the potential effects of observer presence on primate behaviour, and especially the potential risks of close proximity with humans, it behoves us to measure as much about the habituation process as possible. However, most recent studies that have quantified primate behaviour in relation to habituators have focussed on great apes (see, for example, Ando et al., 2008; Bertolani & Boesch, 2008; Blom et al., 2004; Cipolletta, 2003; Doran-Sheehy et al., 2007; Sommer et al., 2004; Werdenich et al., 2003), with little information available for other primate taxa (but see Jack et al., 2008).
Article
Full-text available
This essay, in two parts, argues for the centrality of historical thinking in coming to grips with capitalism’s planetary crises of the twenty-first century. Against the Anthropocene’s shallow historicization, I argue for the Capitalocene, understood as a system of power, profit and re/production in the web of life. In Part I, I pursue two arguments. First, I situate the Anthropocene discourse within Green Thought’s uneasy relationship to the Human/Nature binary, and its reluctance to consider human organizations – like capitalism – as part of nature. Next, I highlight the Anthropocene’s dominant periodization, which meets up with a longstanding environmentalist argument about the Industrial Revolution as the origin of ecological crisis. This ignores early capitalism’s environment-making revolution, greater than any watershed since the rise of agriculture and the first cities. While there is no question that environmental change accelerated sharply after 1850, and especially after 1945, it seems equally fruitless to explain these transformations without identifying how they fit into patterns of power, capital and nature established four centuries earlier.
Article
Full-text available
Do cross-cultural differences exist between populations of wild chimpanzees? We attempt to answer this question by quantitatively comparing tool-use to obtain termites for food across three populations from western, central and eastern Africa. We Compare tools on a variety of features: dimensions, class of raw materials, species of prey, seasonality, distance to source, degree and type of modification, and other characteristics. Differences exist; most of them seem to result from environmental constraints, mainly in the accessibility of prey, which shape adaptively the techniques of tool-use. Other differences seem to be truly cultural ones, i.e. arbitrary and free of the demands of the environment. We examine some of the implications of these findings for the origins and diffusion of early technology in human evolution. Finally, we propose a testable hypothesis for future studies of this aspect of the ethnology of the chimpanzee.
Article
Full-text available
Can the concept of culture be applied validly to any of the natural behaviours exhibited by non-human primates? We compare aspects of social grooming shown by two separate populations of wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) in western Tanzania. We present as an example a behaviour pattern, the grooming-hand-clasp, which occurs commonly in the chimpanzees of Kasoge but is absent in the chimpanzees of Gombe. After discussing the problems of operationally defining culture, we present eight necessary criteria of culture which are capable of empirical verification: innovation, dissemination, standarisation, durability, diffusion, tradition, non-subsistence, and natural adaptiveness. These are applied to the behavior of wild chimpanzees and Japanese monkeys (Macaca Fuscata). We conclude that no single behaviour pattern yet reported satisfies all eight criteria but that the grooming-hand-clasp should qualify as a social custom.
Book
Full-text available
1. Introduction 2. Definition 3. Disciplines 4. Creatures other than primates 5. Primates 6. Chimpanzee ethnography 7. Chimpanzee material culture 8. Chimpanzee society 9. Lessons from cultural primatology 10. Does cultural primatology have a future?
Article
Full-text available
The question of whether animals possess 'cultures' or 'traditions' continues to generate widespread theoretical and empirical interest. Studies of wild chimpanzees have featured prominently in this discussion, as the dominant approach used to identify culture in wild animals was first applied to them. This procedure, the 'method of exclusion,' begins by documenting behavioural differences between groups and then infers the existence of culture by eliminating ecological explanations for their occurrence. The validity of this approach has been questioned because genetic differences between groups have not explicitly been ruled out as a factor contributing to between-group differences in behaviour. Here we investigate this issue directly by analysing genetic and behavioural data from nine groups of wild chimpanzees. We find that the overall levels of genetic and behavioural dissimilarity between groups are highly and statistically significantly correlated. Additional analyses show that only a very small number of behaviours vary between genetically similar groups, and that there is no obvious pattern as to which classes of behaviours (e.g. tool-use versus communicative) have a distribution that matches patterns of between-group genetic dissimilarity. These results indicate that genetic dissimilarity cannot be eliminated as playing a major role in generating group differences in chimpanzee behaviour.
Article
Full-text available
As an increasing number of field studies of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) have achieved long-term status across Africa, differences in the behavioural repertoires described have become apparent that suggest there is significant cultural variation. Here we present a systematic synthesis of this information from the seven most long-term studies, which together have accumulated 151 years of chimpanzee observation. This comprehensive analysis reveals patterns of variation that are far more extensive than have previously been documented for any animal species except humans. We find that 39 different behaviour patterns, including tool usage, grooming and courtship behaviours, are customary or habitual in some communities but are absent in others where ecological explanations have been discounted. Among mammalian and avian species, cultural variation has previously been identified only for single behaviour patterns, such as the local dialects of song-birds. The extensive, multiple variations now documented for chimpanzees are thus without parallel. Moreover, the combined repertoire of these behaviour patterns in each chimpanzee community is itself highly distinctive, a phenomenon characteristic of human cultures but previously unrecognised in non-human species.
Book
Cambridge Core - Texts in Political Thought - Rousseau: The Discourses and Other Early Political Writings - edited by Victor Gourevitch
Book
As recently as 11,000 years ago "near time" to geologists mammoths, mastodons, gomphotheres, ground sloths, giant armadillos, native camels and horses, the dire wolf, and many other large mammals roamed North America. In what has become one of science's greatest riddles, these large animals vanished in North and South America around the time humans arrived at the end of the last great ice age. Part paleontological adventure and part memoir, "Twilight of the Mammoths "presents in detail internationally renowned paleoecologist Paul Martin's widely discussed and debated "overkill" hypothesis to explain these mysterious megafauna extinctions. Taking us from Rampart Cave in the Grand Canyon, where he finds himself "chest deep in sloth dung," to other important fossil sites in Arizona and Chile, Martin's engaging book, written for a wide audience, uncovers our rich evolutionary legacy and shows why he has come to believe that the earliest Americans literally hunted these animals to death. As he discusses the discoveries that brought him to this hypothesis, Martin relates many colorful stories and gives a rich overview of the field of paleontology as well as his own fascinating career. He explores the ramifications of the overkill hypothesis for similar extinctions worldwide and examines other explanations for the extinctions, including climate change. Martin's visionary thinking about our missing megafauna offers inspiration and a challenge for today's conservation efforts as he speculates on what we might do to remedy this situation both in our thinking about what is "natural" and in the natural world itself."
Chapter
Primatology in Japan started with a small group of young scientists from Kyoto University (Imanishi, Itani, Kawai, and Kawamura) in 1948. Elucidating the social system of Japanese macaques to understand the origin of the human family was a strong impetus in the beginning, focusing on the social behavior of provisioned troops, enhanced over time by genealogies maintained for many decades. Many important discoveries about Japanese macaques of universal relevance came from this work: for example, cultural behavior, matrilineal inheritance of dominance rank, male dispersal, the role of kinship on troop fission, and intraspecific variations in behavioral ecology. Long-term research overseas also led to many ground-breaking discoveries, including infanticide in hanuman langurs, social organization of gelada and hamadryas baboons, genital–genital rubbing in bonobos, gorilla life history, and self-medication in chimpanzees, to name just a few. From the mid-1980s onward, primatologists in Japan began to address broader evolutionary questions, leading the discipline on many fronts as their international networks and focus expanded.
Article
Climate change. Finite fossil fuels. Fresh water depletion. Rising commodity prices. Ocean acidification. Overpopulation. Deforestation. Feeding the world's billions. We're beset by an array of natural resource and environmental challenges. They pose a tremendous risk to human prosperity, to world peace, and to the planet itself. Yet, if we act, these problems are addressable. Throughout history we've overcome similar problems, but only when we've focused our energies on innovation. For the most valuable resource we have isn't oil, water, gold, or land - it's our stockpile of useful ideas, and our continually growing capacity to expand them. In this remarkable book, Ramez Naam charts a course to supercharge innovation - by changing the rules of our economy - that can lead the whole world to greater wealth and human well-being, even as we dodge looming resource crunches and environmental disasters and reduce our impact on the planet. "Most books about the future are written by blinkered Pollyannas or hand-wringing Cassandras. Ramez Naam--Egypt-born, Illinois-raised, a major contributor to the computer revolution--is neither. Having thought about science, technology and the environment for decades, he has become that rarest of creatures: A clear-eyed optimist. Concise, informed and passionately argued, The Infinite Resource both acknowledges the very real dangers that lie ahead for the human enterprise and the equally real possibility that we might not only survive but thrive." --Charles Mann, New York Times bestselling author of 1491 and 1493 "An amazing book. Throughout history, the most important source of new wealth has been new ideas. Naam shows how we can tap into and steer that force to overcome our current problems and help create a world of abundance." --Peter H. Diamandis, MD, chairman and CEO, X PRIZE Foundation; chairman, Singularity University; and author, Abundance--The Future Is Better Than You Think.
Chapter
‘Historical ontology’ is not, at first sight, a happy phrase. It is too self-important by half. I have always disliked the word ‘ontology’. It was around, in Latin, in the seventeenth century, naming a branch of metaphysics, alongside cosmology and psychology. Christian Wolff (1729) helped confirm it in use. He thought of ontology as the study of being in general, as opposed to philosophical reflection on individual but ultimate entities such as the soul, the world, and God. If, like myself, you are hard pressed to explain what a study of being in general would be, you can hardly welcome talk of ontology. In the twentieth century the word attracted significant philosophers such as Quine and Heidegger, but their pronouncements, in its name, were bizarre Think of Quine’s ‘To be is to be the value of a variable’. And yet, and yet: suppose we want to talk in a quite general way about all manner of objects, and what makes it possible for them to come into being. It is convenient to group them together by talking about ‘What there is’, or ontology. And if we are concerned with the coming into being of possibilities, what is that if not historical?
Article
The Anthropocene narrative portrays humanity as a species ascending to power over the rest of the Earth System. In the crucial field of climate change, this entails the attribution of fossil fuel combustion to properties acquired during human evolution, notably the ability to manipulate fire. But the fossil economy was not created nor is it upheld by humankind in general. This intervention questions the use of the species category in the Anthropocene narrative and argues that it is analytically flawed, as well as inimical to action. Intra-species inequalities are part and parcel of the current ecological crisis and cannot be ignored in attempts to understand it.
Article
This article examines influential recent arguments in science studies which stress the interactive and mutually transformative nature of human-animal relations in scientific research, as part of a broader ontological proposal for science as material engagement with the world, rather than epistemic detachment from it. Such arguments are examined in the light of ethnography and interviews with field biologists who work with meerkats under conditions of habituation. Where philosophers of science stress the mutually modifying aspect of scientific interspecies relationality, these researchers present habituation as a way to study meerkats 'in the wild', and to access their putatively natural, undisturbed, behaviour. Building on this contrast, I will argue that the logic of scientific habituation remains difficult to grasp as long as we think of it exclusively in terms of human-animal relations. The seeming 'paradox' of habituation - the idea that it transforms precisely that which it aims to hold stable, namely the 'wildness' of animals - is an artefact of a frame of analysis which takes animals to be the object of the science of animal behaviour. Habituation ceases to look paradoxical, however, if we remain faithful to these researchers' own interests, for whom the scientific object does not coincide with the animal as a whole, but is rather only a selected subset of its behaviour. In conclusion I suggest that this account of habituation sheds a new light on the articulations and disjunctions between diverse practices and commitments in social anthropology, philosophy and biological science. © The Author(s) 2013 Reprints and permissions: sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav.
Article
The aim of the paper is to investigate, from the point of view of philosophy of science and philosophy of social science, the turn in the ape language project (ALP) as accomplished in the works of Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and her collaborators. In this project a highly interesting turn from the orientation of research on natural sciences to that on humanities took place. We shall analyze all the relevant works of Savage-Rumbaugh from the point of view of the three central levels of ALP: its scientific, metascientific and methodological levels.
Article
Habituation to human observers is an essential tool in animal behaviour research. Habituation occurs when repeated and inconsequential exposure to a human observer gradually reduces an animal's natural aversive response. Despite the importance of habituation, little is known about the psychological mechanisms facilitating it in wild animals. Although animal learning theory offers some account, the patterns are more complex in natural than in laboratory settings, especially in large social groups in which individual experiences vary and individuals influence each other. Here, we investigate the role of social learning during the habituation process of a wild chimpanzee group, the Waibira community of Budongo Forest, Uganda. Through post hoc hypothesis testing, we found that the immigration of two well-habituated, young females from the neighbouring Sonso community had a significant effect on the behaviour of non-habituated Waibira individuals towards human observers, suggesting that habituation is partially acquired via social learning.
Article
In the current resurgence of interest in the biological basis of animal behavior and social organization, the ideas and questions pursued by Charles Darwin remain fresh and insightful. This is especially true of The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, Darwin's second most important work. This edition is a facsimile reprint of the first printing of the first edition (1871), not previously available in paperback. The work is divided into two parts. Part One marshals behavioral and morphological evidence to argue that humans evolved from other animals. Darwin shoes that human mental and emotional capacities, far from making human beings unique, are evidence of an animal origin and evolutionary development. Part Two is an extended discussion of the differences between the sexes of many species and how they arose as a result of selection. Here Darwin lays the foundation for much contemporary research by arguing that many characteristics of animals have evolved not in response to the selective pressures exerted by their physical and biological environment, but rather to confer an advantage in sexual competition. These two themes are drawn together in two final chapters on the role of sexual selection in humans. In their Introduction, Professors Bonner and May discuss the place of The Descent in its own time and relation to current work in biology and other disciplines.
Article
This article questions traditional experimental approaches to the study of primate cognition. Because of a widespread assumption that cognition in non-human primates is genetically encoded and "natural," these approaches neglect how profoundly apes' cultural rearing experiences affect test results. We describe how three advanced cognitive abilities – imitation, theory of mind and language – emerged in bonobos maturing in a bi-species Pan/Homo culture, and how individual rearing differences led to individual forms of these abilities. These descriptions are taken from a rich ethnographic material, and we argue for the scientific su-periority of participant-based ethnographic studies of primate cognition in shared Pan/Homo cultures.
Article
This paper is an expanded version of one given as a part of a symposium entitled “The Vanishing Savage” at the meetings of the American Anthropological Association, Seattle, Washington, November 1968.
Chapter
First paragraph: Field biologists adopted the term habituation from physiology, as the relatively persistent waning of a response as a result of repeated stimulation that is not followed by any kind of reinforcement (Thorpe, 1963). Repeated neutral contacts between non-human primates (hereafter called primates in this chapter) and humans can lead to a reduction in fear, and ultimately to the ignoring of an observer. The techniques and processes involved have only rarely been described (e.g. Schaller, 1963; Kummer, 1995), as habituation has generally been viewed as a means to an end (Tutin & Fernandez, 1991). The few studies that have quantified primate behaviour in relation to habituators describe the process with African great apes (Grieser Johns, 1996; van Krunkelsven et al., 1999; Blom et al., 2001). As we become increasingly aware of the potential effects of observer presence on primate behaviour, and especially the potential risks of close proximity with humans, it behoves us to measure as much as possible about the habituation process.
Article
The great debates about human origins, cultural history, and human nature confront us with two opposing images of human beings. One view emphasizes biology, the other emphasizes culture as the foundation of human behavior. In The Chosen Primate , Adam Kuper reframes these debates and reconsiders the fundamental questions of anthropology. Balancing biological and cultural perspectives, Kuper reviews our beliefs about human origins, the history of human culture, genes and intelligence, the nature of the gender differences, and the foundations of human politics. Table of Contents: 1. All Darwinians Now? 2. To Begin at the Beginning 3. A Human Way of Life 4. The Evolution of Culture 5. Cultivating the Species 6. The Common Heritage 7. First Family 8. Male and Female 9. The Origin of Society 10. The Second Millennium Further Reading and Notes Index Reviews of this book: Few other anthropologists have a breadth of experience comparable to Adam Kuper's...But the edge that has made possible this much-needed introduction to general anthropology is a result of his also being a seasoned spare-time journalist...The book deserves to be read not only by newcomers to anthropology but by all who are concerned about its fragmentation. --Jonathan Benthall, New Statesman and Society Reviews of this book: [An] elegant and...wise book...Kuper treats the reader to concise and enlightening vignettes of those thinkers on culture, genetics, gender, and a host of other related topics whose fundamental intellectual dynamic has been a recognition of man's primate identity and its disputed implications. --Christopher Pinney, Times Higher Education Supplement Reviews of this book: It has been rather a while since a good integrative, synthetic work on the nature of human biological and cultural variation has appeared...Adam Kuper's new book is a welcome contribution--broad in scope, contemporary in ideas, knowledgeable and critical at all turns, opinionated, and eminently readable...Kuper's central theme is that anthropology has told us a lot about human behavior and human nature, and that by implication the casual dismissal of anthropology on the part of the hyperbiologically minded is unwise...A very fine book indeed...In these times when it is often hard to find the anthropology in physical anthropology, or to find biology discussed in the context of human behavior in any but the crudest of ways, The Chosen Primate is long overdue and very much needed. --Jon Marks, American Journal of Physical Anthropology Reviews of this book: Kuper's book is an excellent introduction to an eternally awkward, though fascinating area of anthropology. --Mark Ridley, Nature Reviews of this book: An extremely well-written, clear, and concise treatise on the debates surrounding the issues of human origins, human nature, and human diversity. Kuper provides a historical perspective for contemporary anthropological theory through an epigrammatic account of the major figures shaping the discipline. Beginning with the reluctant genius of Charles Darwin, discussion leads to such diverse topics as fossil evidence for recognizable human culture, primate ethology, ethnography, eugenics, cultural universals, the origins of human society, and the future of humankind...This book provides ample food for thought. --S. D. Stout, Choice
Article
For the past three centuries, the effects of humans on the global environment have escalated. Because of these anthro-pogenic emissions of carbon dioxide, global climate may depart significantly from natural behaviour for many millennia to come. It seems appropriate to assign the term ‘Anthropocene’ to the present, in many ways human-dominated, geological epoch, supplementing the Holocene—the warm period of the past 10–12 millennia.