A ficus albipila (also known as an “abbey tree:) in Thamluang Khunnam Nangnon National Park, Mae Sai, Thailand. Photo by author.

Humanness is no longer a noun. Being human is a praxis.

– Sylvia Wynter

During my preliminary fieldwork, I immersed myself in “citizen science” and collaborated with a local social enterprise focused on mitigating negative human-primate interactions in Penang, Malaysia. Rather than encountering citizen science as a straightforward and unidirectional process of extracting behavioral data, I learned how it might be envisioned as a mediating platform for local parties to openly discuss visions of multispecies coexistence. Shuttling between two primary locations—a lush botanical garden in the north, and an urban neighborhood in Tanjung Tokong—I came to perceive my ethnographic interlocutors’ wide range of cultural perceptions and multispecies visions of care in relation to an endangered primate species of dusky langur monkeys.

The primatologist Anindya Sinha once said, “the process of coming together…is uneven, laden with asymmetries and power hierarchies” (Sinha 2021, 143). Sinha, who is also a professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) in India, proposes the convergence of affective studies and ethology in creating etho-geographies. Etho-geographies politicize animal lives and frame animals as ethnographic subjects who have agency and autonomy. Reflecting on his study of urban macaques and interspecies practices of commensality in Delhi, Sinha illustrates how macaques’ actions are agential in response to experiencing rapid habitat fragmentation. Sinha’s writing is a rumination on how bodies, beyond the individual level, are political units, and how affect, as a normative quality, flows between the bodies of ethnographic subjects. In turn, affective encounters—for example, practices of commensality such as banana vendors making a living from affective interactions on various temple grounds—reveal how human and animal cultural worlds co-shape each other. His research article reminds us of how social practices like “monkey gazing” reflect political tensions in discourses of development and cultural belonging in Malaysia.

With that in mind, I see the construction of anthropological genealogies, genres, and other bodies of knowledge as political choices that mediate the contemporary landscape of the ideas with which we engage. Reading lists are companion pieces. Rather than standing alone or taking a more instrumental “back seat” to “bigger” genres like film and the ethnographic monograph, reading lists create dialogical and polyphonic relations between ethnographic sites and interpretations. Ethnography as a specific genre emphasizes how storytellers are active learners, and how they tell stories as intermediaries. At times, ethnographic research articles may capture snapshots of fieldwork moments seemingly “frozen in time.” Anthropologists suspend these ethnographic moments in relation to their exploration of conceptual questions and holistically reflect on how their positionality mediates the stories they tell.

My preliminary fieldwork provided me with the opportunity to learn about the nuanced series of conversations that exist around human-animal conflicts in Malaysia. Broadly ranging from pig farmers to urban residents to citizen scientists, my ethnographic interlocutors complicated cultural perceptions of “pigness” and “monkeyness.” They based their interpretations of animality upon shifting ecological relations that intersected with their livelihoods and lifestyles. Ambivalent visions of multispecies care revealed underlying class and ethnic tensions that came to be materialized through these human-animal interactions. Often, I witnessed affluent Malaysian-Chinese residents expressing their skepticism at local conservationist efforts and providing justification for the spraying of disinfectant at dusky langurs, who they perceived as “troublemakers” for encroaching on their property. Other residents were proud of their cosmopolitan island identity in the face of gentrification; they perceived the conservation volunteers as “outsiders” who had come from Penang’s industrial mainland and who did not possess the same kind of local cultural belonging or understanding.

My AES reading list, entitled “Making More-Than-Human and Multispecies Theory as Praxis,” is an open-ended invitation to raise and discuss questions of species management and personhood in conjunction with other disciplines, solutions, and policies addressing anthropogenic destruction of the environment. Interspecies relations raise particular political stakes at different historical and contemporary moments. Pulling from the American Ethnologist’s digital archives, I put these articles in dialogue with each other as a means of reimagining and transcending western conceptions of personhood, agency, and subjectivity. This collection takes animals as agents whose impacts are material, political, and most importantly, real. Although humans and animals co-shape a shared reality, these ethnographic articles suggest this process of co-shaping is asymmetrical and marked by uneven differences. As these multispecies ethnographies illustrate, it is not the existence of difference that is the basis for conflict, but rather the configuration of particular social relations that affect local landscapes shaped by broader power dynamics. I break this list into three parts that address the scalability and multiplicity of the diverse voices that raise various conceptual interventions while doing multispecies ethnography as praxis.

The first part, entitled Tending to Multispecies Alliances and its Afterlives, is a curated series focusing on how everyday people make sense of environmental ecologies that contribute to agricultural, pastoral, and personal livelihoods in war-ridden landscapes. Firstly, Daniel Ruiz-Serna (author of When Forests Run Amok), explores how new forms of hybridization in warfare emerge in Bajo Atrato, a Colombian region predominantly inhabited by Indigenous Wounaan, Indigenous Emberá, and Afro-Colombian communities. Next, Munira Khayyat (author of A Landscape of War) looks at tobacco farmers and pastoralists who tend to their ecological practices in South Lebanon while transcending a simplified dichotomy between “green utopia and complete destruction in war” (2022, 181), and in which multispecies alliances flourish. Finally, Fadi Bardawil’s (2023) commentary praises Khayyat for conceptualizing dwelling as a local form of resistance, exploring the environmental assemblages crucial to farming and pastoral livelihoods, and refusing to normalize war as “an episode of extraordinary violence.” In fact, Bardawil (2023, 196) states, “[n]either a romanticization of resilience nor an extension of trauma’s domain, Khayyat’s refined ethnographic attunement to life amid devastation discloses without pathos how a multispecies alliance renders war a habitable place.”

The second part, entitled Reimagining Species Management, questions the colonial imaginaries demarcating nature and culture. What if the boundaries were always porous? We examine speciation as a process of becoming and co-living. Animals categorized as domesticated livestock, social companions, or objects of leisure suggest how these perceptual frames are materialized through touch, as well as through personal and professional activities. These pieces challenge the “naturalized” trope of nonhuman species that are static and amenable to human domination. From the industrial Midwest in the United States, to suburban Barcelona, and to case studies across India, this collection illustrates how ideas of animality are captured by laboring practices and disciplinary knowledge production. They facilitate a discussion in which the “remaking” of species under narratives of domestication is akin to exclusionary narratives of progress, capitalism, and colonialism. Alex Blanchette’s essay from the AES website, titled “Time after Taylorism,” is a thoughtful rumination on how discourses of capitalist animality are directly tied to interlocking systems of oppression. By tracing the micromanagement of porcine biologies in relation to Frederick Winslow Taylor’s legacy of industrial time, the adulthood of a species is rendered dispensable and the pig’s plasticity as a capitalist commodity relies on the exploitation of migrant and working-class laborers who suffer injuries. Nayanika Mathur’s article, entitled “Beastly Identification in India: The government of big cats in the Anthropocene,” discusses how bureaucratic processes and local ways of knowing are entangled in methods of multispecies care that emulate masculinist narratives of extinction in the Anthropocene. Ideas of big cats (also known as “man-eaters”) and tiger animality are performed under conservationist practices. Lastly, Aníbal Arregui’s “Reversible Pigs: An infraspecies ethnography of wild boars in Barcelona” perceives species as relational units, generative actors and bodies of scientific knowledge. For Arregui, the concept of infraspecies suggests paying attention to individual porcine subjects who facilitate shifting ecological relations and facilitate novel forms of human-animal interactions across porous landscapes, that pigs “can be simultaneously wild and time, rural and urban, pest and neighbor” (Arregui 2023, 119).

Finally, the third part of this collection is entitled Co-Constructing Relations. These articles focus on how anthropologists and their ethnographic interlocutors construct imaginaries of landscapes and seascapes by tracking particular social relations. Rather than depicting living organisms as literary representations and pushing back against disenchantment, these readings focus on how certain animals and landscapes have been widely utilized as nourishing sources of subsistence, narratives of cultural belonging, and material canvases to project the cultural hopes and identities of communities. These articles also reveal how interlocutors and their nonhuman collaborators co-shape each other’s shared reality and bodily interactions. Eric H. Thomas’s “Fishers who don’t Fish: Precarity and distributive labor on Chile’s coastal frontier” considers the cultivation of community solidarity around fishing as a precarious livelihood that pushes back against neoliberal narratives of commodifying fish as extractive value in Chile. In the article entitled “Only the Orangutans Get a Life Jacket: Uncommoning Responsibility in a Global Conservation Nexus,” authors Chua et al. point out how the framing of responsibility such as “uncommoning the Anthropocene” acknowledges the mutual constitution between orangutans as political actors and conservationist actors across Borneo and Sumatra. In “Ethnography after Anthropology: Becoming moles not mining corporations” Juno Salazar Parreñas suggests that by approaching ethnographic data or findings as “specks of soil brought up by field-working, field-digging moles,” anthropologists might reject extractivism and instead convey stories and experiences that are much bigger than themselves. Overall, the collection’s third part focuses on how humans, nonhuman animals, vegetal life forms, and other beings co-construct relations across different cultural landscapes through material interactions, rather than exclusively fulfilling symbolic representations.

Sylvia Wynter emphasizes the importance of strategic anti-essentialism in which all humans as a species are “deeply interconnected with one another and with the environment of which we are a part” (Nandita Sharma 2015, 169). Although Wynter’s call does not extend interconnectedness with other nonhuman beings, her praxis emphasizes paying attention to fields of power that constitute uneven social relations and mediate relations to other-than-human life. Ultimately, this collection is a testimony to paying empathetic attention to the rich multitudes of local and Indigenous ethnographic stories. Coming from different positionalities and perspectives, anthropologists have written and continue to write vibrant ethnographic accounts about how multispecies relations get mediated within the broader power dynamics of capitalism and colonialism and across a variety of cultural landscapes. These multispecies relations have never been uniform and are actively mediated, disrupted, or reaffirmed through a myriad of uneven interfaces.

Part 1: Tending to Multispecies Alliances and its Afterlives

War’s afterlives encompass harm not just to an environment that serves as a background to human and nonhuman lives but to the very conditions that make possible the kinds of associations through which large communities of life can flourish.

– Daniel Ruiz-Serna

How do we inhabit an aftermath of the Israeli wars on Lebanon, the articles nudge us to ask, and of the country’s own civil wars, if the water from the falling rain carries mines along with it, shifting their locations seasonally, and if the atmosphere is saturated with sectarian tensions?

– Munira Khayyat

Inside a Jaguar’s Jaws: On the hybrid afterlives of warfare,” by Daniel Ruiz-Serna

“Resistant Ecologies: The life of war in South Lebanon, by Munira Khayyat

“Dwelling as resistance, dwelling as repair,” by Fadi A. Bardawil

Part 2: Remaking Species Management

Time after Taylorism was not measured by lost seconds of human motion, but by thickening and expanding found moments of life time in homes, work, fields, forests, and streets.

– Alex Blanchette

“Time after Taylorism,” by Alex Blanchette

“Reversible Pigs: An infraspecies ethnography of wild boars in Barcelona,” by Aníbal G. Arregui

“Beastly Identification in India: The government of big cats in the Anthropocene,” by Nayanika Mathur

Part 3: Co-Constructing Relations

In an era of mass extinction, who gets a life jacket,

who is left to drown or swim – and on what basis?

Liana Chua, Hannah Fair, Viola Schreer, Anna Stępień, Paul Hasan Thung


“Only the orangutans get a life jacket: Uncommoning responsibility in a global conservation nexus,” by Liana Chua, Hannah Fair, Viola Schreer, Anna Stępień, and Paul Hasan Thung.

“Fishers who don’t fish: Precarity and distributive labor on Chile’s coastal frontier” by Eric H. Thomas

“Ethnography after Anthropology: Become moles, not mining corporations” by Juno Salazar Parreñas


Govindrajan, Radhika. 2018. Animal Intimacies: Interspecies Relatedness in India’s Central Himalayas. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Graeber, David & Wengrow, David. 2021. The Dawn of Everything. London: Penguin Random House.

Sinha, Anindya, Chowdhury, Anmol, Anchan, Nitesh S., & Barua, Maan. 2021. “Affective Ethnographies of Animal Lives.” A Research Agenda for Animal Geographies. Cheltenham, UK & Northampton, MA, USA: Edward Elgar Publishing: 129-146.

Swanson, Heather, Lien, Marianne Elisabeth, & Ween, Gro B. 2018. Domestication Gone Wild.

Wynter, Sylvia. 2003. Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation — An Argument. CR: The New Centennial Review. Michigan: Michigan State University Press.

Wynter, Sylvia & McKittrick, Katherine. 2015. “Unparalleled Catastrophe for our Species?: Or, to Give Humanness a Different Future: Conversations”. Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis. Durham: Duke University Press.


Kymberley Chu is a PhD student in Anthropology at Princeton University. Kymberley’s doctoral research looks at how different human communities in Malaysia perceive and co-construct cultural perceptions of animals.


Cite As: Chu, Kymberley. 2024. “Making More-than-Human and Multispecies Theory as Praxis: An AES Reading List” In “American Ethnologist Curated Collections”, American Ethnologist Website 18 March 2024 [https://americanethnologist.org/online-content/collections/the-ae-enchanted-utopia-collection/kymberley-chu/?fb-edit=1]