The Anthropology of Extinction
Essays on Culture and Species Death
Publication Year: 2011
We live in an era marked by an accelerating rate of species death, but since the early days of the discipline, anthropology has contemplated the death of languages, cultural groups, and ways of life. The essays in this collection examine processes of—and our understanding of—extinction across various domains. The contributors argue that extinction events can be catalysts for new cultural, social, environmental, and technological developments—that extinction processes can, paradoxically, be productive as well as destructive. The essays consider a number of widely publicized cases: island species in the Galápagos and Madagascar; the death of Native American languages; ethnic minorities under pressure to assimilate in China; cloning as a form of species regeneration; and the tiny hominid Homo floresiensis fossils ("hobbits') recently identified in Indonesia. The Anthropology of Extinction offers compelling explorations of issues of widespread concern.
Published by: Indiana University Press
Title Page, Copyright
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This book finally came to fruition thanks to everyone’s steadfast dedication and to the people who have supported this project along the way. I thank Alex Hinton for having the good instinct to connect me with Fran Mascia-Lees about the possibility of the Anthropology Department of Rutgers-New Brunswick hosting a symposium on extinction that would draw on the strengths...
INTRODUCTION. ACCUMULATING ABSENCE
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In a book published at the cusp of the new millennium entitled Conversations about the End of Time, screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière observes that the future anterior—the tense used to describe an action that will be finished in the future— is fading from everyday speech. He does not comment on the irony that this grammatical form should fall into disuse at this particular time, when projections about
PART 1. THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF BIOTIC EXTINCTION
1. A SPECIES APART
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In recent decades science has reached a critical juncture that calls our attention to its fundamental character and the contradictions within it. The crisis was brought about by the observation, by some scientists, that the Earth is facing a massive sixth extinction, one that may have been provoked by human activity. Reaction to this revelation has been complex; it points to some of the ways in which science is influenced by and inextricably integrated into the social fabric....
2. FROM ECOCIDE TO GENETIC RESCUE
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A few years ago, the late Stephen M. Meyer announced “the End of the Wild” in the Boston Review. A distinguished MIT professor and passionate advocate for environmental policy, Meyer told us we had already lost all chance of saving “the composition, structure and organization of biodiversity” in nature (2004:1). His grim assessment was supported by the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007)...
3. TOTEM AND TABOO RECONSIDERED
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It is midday, hot, and we are squeezed haunch to haunch on wooden benches in the open flatbed pickup. Our bush taxi nears the bustling roadside village of Sandrakatsy, lying along the Mananara River of northeast Madagascar. We spy something in the ditch beside the road: a white owl bound to a cross made of tree branches, wings extended and downy head slung forward on its breast. I wonder what it means, but since no one in the taxi speaks, I dare not ask...
PART 2. ENDANGERED SPECIES AND EMERGENT IDENTITIES
4. TORTOISE SOUP FOR THE SOUL
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When we swat flies, eat dolphin-safe tuna, use bug spray, or give money to protect pandas we are deciding which nonhuman beings belong in particular places and which do not. When we fill our universities, issue travel visas, consider the land rights of indigenous people, or prohibit the passage of immigration laws, we are making decisions about human belonging. What are the factors that influence “belonging”? How long must a being exist in one place...
5. GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTALISM AND THE EMERGENCEOF INDIGENEITY
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During the 1990s, some scholars and activists invented a new position, bridging what used to be fairly separate realms of indigenous rights and environmentalism. They argued that biological diversity and cultural diversity were vitally important, threatened, and connected. Although the link between the protection of the environment and of the rights of indigenous peoples might now seem obvious, alliances between environmental and indigenous rights...
PART 3. RED-LISTED LANGUAGES
6. LAST WORDS, FINAL THOUGHTS
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In the summer of 1994 a meeting was organized to gather support for a Maliseet language immersion program for the Tobique First Nation community in New Brunswick, Canada. The meeting took place in the native language classroom at the reservation elementary school. In attendance were the native language teacher, the organizer of the meeting, the Head Start teachers, several...
7. DYING YOUNG
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The fact that a large and steadily growing number of the world’s languages are “endangered” has received increasing attention in recent years, in academic and professional forums as well as in the mass media. In general treatments of the topic, both scholarly and popular, a few case studies or anecdotes are typically used to lend an element of human interest and local color to the global statistics, which, though striking in and...
PART 4. PREHISTORIES OF AN APEX PREDATOR
8. DEMISE OF THE BET HEDGERS
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This chapter results from the collaborative efforts of Laurie Godfrey, a primate paleontologist, and Emilienne Rasoazanabary, a specialist on the behavior of living nonhuman primates. Both of us study the primates that live or once lived on the island of Madagascar—lemurs. In this chapter, we examine extinction, taking as our example recent extinctions on Madagascar (including the extinction of giant lemurs) and threats...
9. DISAPPEARING WILDMEN
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The evolutionary path is almost by definition littered with extinctions. New species arise as others cease to exist, either entirely or by changing sufficiently to count as new species. This is as true of the evolution of Homo and other hominid genera as to any other animal kinds. This chapter concerns the figure of the “wildman,” a name employed, somewhat arbitrarily, to refer to images of coarse-featured, usually hairy...
EPILOGUE: Prolegomenon for a New Totemism
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Nature, natural species, as Lévi-Strauss taught, are bonnes à penser, good to think. It is through conceptualizations of nature and their usage as metaphors that we have imagined ourselves as humans, in our groupings, in our actions, and in terms of our social reproduction. Among the Hopi, a Native people of northern Arizona, for example, the imagination of social difference is predicated upon observation of and participation in the differentiated...
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Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2011