2011 Culture@Large Session: The Human is More than Human

This year’s Culture@Large session grappled with the pressing importance of the nonhuman for the work of anthropologists. The featured speaker, Dorion Sagan, is an independent scholar and a fascinating thinker, who has written and co-authored a range of books, including, The Sciences of Avatar: from Anthropology to Xenology (2010); Notes from the Holocene: A Brief History of the Future(2007); Dazzle Gradually: Reflections on the Nature of Nature (2007); and Acquiring Genomes: A Theory of the Origins of Species (2003). These latter two books were written with his mother, biologist Lynn Margulis, a professor at the University of Massachusetts. Just before Dorion presented his talk, he was informed that Margulis had suffered a stroke. She passed away five days later. This page is dedicated to her work and memory.

Dorion Sagan, "Lyons Mat." April 20, 2011.

In this forum, Sagan offers himself as a vector bringing the new biology to cultural anthropologists. As Earth's population doubled over the last 50 years, we are forced into ecological confrontation with the reality that "we" are more than human. Delving into the thermodynamic facts of ecology and the still too-little known, deep evolutionary drama that got us here, Sagan sketches some road markers for acquiring the biological literacy necessary to understand the ecological realities that are forcing themselves onto human consciousness. Sagan’s talk, “The Human is More Than Human: Interspecies Communities and the New ‘Facts of Life’,” was then followed by discussant commentary from Myra Hird, Stefan Helmreich, Kim TallBear, and Agustin Fuentes. Discussant commentary is available in video and/or text format below.

Myra Hird is a professor at Queen’s University, in the Department of Sociology and in the School of Environmental Studies. She authored The Origins of Sociable Life: Evolution After Science Studies(2009), and numerous articles on feminist and queer theory, on sexuality and hybridity, and on science studies. Her research interests also include health science, the philosophy of science, as well as ethics and social justice.

Stefan Helmreich is a professor of anthropology at MIT and is author of Silicon Second Nature: Culturing Life in a Digital World (1998) and Alien Ocean: Anthropological Voyages in Mircorbial Seas(2009). The latter work received the 2010 Gregory Bateson Book Prize, awarded by the Society of Cultural Anthropology.

Kim TallBear is a graduate of the History of Consciousness program and is an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, at the University of California, Berkeley. She has written extensively on DNA testing and Native American identity, and her forthcoming book (from University of Minnesota Press) is titled, Native American DNA: Origins, Race, and Governance. She is co-authoring an article with Jenny Reardon that is under review with Current Anthropology, titled, “Your DNA is Our History”: Genomics, Anthropology, and the Construction of Whiteness as Property.

Agustin Fuentes is a primatologist and a biological anthropologist, further expanding the disciplinary breadth represented by the discussants. He is a professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame and is director of the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts. He studies human and non-human primate interactions, as well as human social evolution. His single-authored books are The Evolution of Human Behavior (2008, Oxford) and Core Concepts in Biological Anthropology; and his co-authored volumes include The Nonhuman Primate(2010), Health, Risk, and Adversity (2008), as well Primates Face to Face: The Conservation Implications of Human-Nonhuman Primate Interconnections.

Panel Papers

The Human is More Than Human: Interspecies Communities and the New "Facts of Life," Dorion Sagan, Sciencewriters

The Whole is More Than the Sum of the Parts: Extended Mind, Extended Selves, Agustin Fuentes, University of Notre Dame

Homo microbis and the Figure of the Literal, Stefan Helmreich, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Why Interspecies Thinking Needs Indigenous Standpoints, Kim TallBear, UC Berkeley

Videos From the Session

Dorion Sagan, Part One

Dorion Sagan, Part Two

Dorion Sagan, Part Three

Myra Hird, Queen's University

Stefan Helmreich, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Agustin Fuentes, University of Notre Dame

Kim Tallbear, UC Berkeley

Posts in This Series

The Human is More than Human: Interspecies Communities and the New “Facts of Life”

Homo microbis and the Figure of the Literal

Why Interspecies Thinking Needs Indigenous Standpoints

The Whole Is More Than the Sum of the Parts: Extended Minds and Extended Selves

Commemorating Lynn Margulis