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Issue 25.4, November 2010


FROM THE EDITORS' INTRODUCTION - A new genre of writing and mode of research has arrived on the anthropological stage: multispecies ethnography. Creatures previously appearing on the margins of anthropology—as part of the landscape, as food for humans, as symbols—have been pressed into the foreground in recent ethnographies. Animals, plants, fungi, and microbes once confined in anthropological accounts to the realm of zoe or “bare life”—that which is killable—have started to appear alongside humans in the realm of bios, with legibly biographical and political lives (cf. Agamben 1998). Amid apocalyptic tales about environmental destruction (Harding 2010), anthropologists are beginning to find modest examples of biocultural hope—writing of insect love (Raffles 2010), of delectable mushrooms that flourish in the aftermath of ecological destruction (Tsing, for the Matsutake Worlds Research Group 2009), and of microbial cultures enlivening the politics and value of food (Paxson 2008).

Multispecies ethnographers are studying the host of organisms whose lives and deaths are linked to human social worlds. A project allied with Eduardo Kohn's “anthropology of life”—“an anthropology that is not just confined to the human but is concerned with the effects of our entanglements with other kinds of living selves” (2007:4)—multispecies ethnography centers on how a multitude of organisms’ livelihoods shape and are shaped by political, economic, and cultural forces. Such ethnography also follows Susan Leigh Star, who suggests “it is both more analytically interesting and more politically just to begin with the question, cui bono? than to begin with a celebration of the fact of human/non-human mingling” (1991:43).