How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human

Eduardo Kohn

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  • University of California Press
  • 2013
  • ISBN 9780520276116
  • Paperback

Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human

Can forests think? Do dogs dream? In this astonishing book, Eduardo Kohn challenges the very foundations of anthropology, calling into question our central assumptions about what it means to be human—and thus distinct from all other life forms. Based on four years of fieldwork among the Runa of Ecuador’s Upper Amazon, Eduardo Kohn draws on his rich ethnography to explore how Amazonians interact with the many creatures that inhabit one of the world’s most complex ecosystems. Whether or not we recognize it, our anthropological tools hinge on those capacities that make us distinctly human. However, when we turn our ethnographic attention to how we relate to other kinds of beings, these tools (which have the effect of divorcing us from the rest of the world) break down. How Forests Think seizes on this breakdown as an opportunity. Avoiding reductionistic solutions, and without losing sight of how our lives and those of others are caught up in the moral webs we humans spin, this book skillfully fashions new kinds of conceptual tools from the strange and unexpected properties of the living world itself. In this groundbreaking work, Kohn takes anthropology in a new and exciting direction–one that offers a more capacious way to think about the world we share with other kinds of beings.

Eduardo Kohn is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at McGill University.

Reviews

„What’s so welcome about Kohn’s approach is that he walks a tightrope with perfect balance: never losing sight of the unique aspects of being human, while refusing to force those aspects into separating us from the rest of the abundantly thinking world.“—The Times Literary Supplement

„How Forests Think” is an important book that provides a viable way for people educated in Western philosophy to approach indigenous animism without being credulous or inauthentic. It is refreshing to read a book of this intellectual caliber that takes Runa stories seriously and enters into dialogue with their claims using the tools of Western philosophy.“—Anthropos

“A thinking forest is not a metaphor. Rooted in richly composted, other-than-symbolic semiotic worldings, this book teaches the reader how other-than-human encounters open possibilities for the emergent realization of worlds, not just worldviews. The semiotics in this well-wrought book are technical, worked, demanding, tuned to form and modality, alert to emergent properties, multinaturally and ethnographically precise. Thinking with the other-than-human world shows that what humans share with all living beings is the fact that we all live with and through signs. Life is constitutively semiotic. Besides all that, this book is a powerfully good read, one that changed my dreams and reworked my settled habits of interpretation, even the multispecies ones.” — Donna Haraway, UC Santa Cruz

Table of Contents
AcknowledgmentsIntroduction: Runa Puma
1 The Open Whole
2 The Living Thought
3 Soul Blindness
4 Trans-Species Pidgins
5 Form’s Effortless Efficacy
6 The Living Future (and the Imponderable Weight of the Dead)
Epilogue: BeyondNotes
Bibliography
Index