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Explorations in Ethnoelephantology: Social, Historical, and Ecological Intersections between Asian Elephants and Humans

Piers Locke

Keywords: captive elephant management; elephant conservation; elephant welfare; ethnoelephantology; ethnoprimatology; human-elephant relations; more-than-human geography; multispecies ethnography

Abstract

Humans and elephants have lived together and shared space together in diverse ways for millennia. The intersections between these thinking and feeling species have been differently explored, for different reasons, by disciplines across the sciences, humanities, and social sciences. Such disciplinary divisions, predicated on oppositions of human-animal and nature-culture, are integral to the configuration of modernist thought. However, posthumanist and biocultural thinking questions the underlying epistemological conventions, thereby opening up interdisciplinary possibilities for human-animal studies. In relation to issues of conflict and coexistence, this article charts the emergence of an interdisciplinary research program and discursive space for human-elephant intersections under the rubric of ethnoelephantology. Recognizing continuities between the sentient and affective lifeworlds of humans and elephants, the mutual entanglements of their social, historical, and ecological relations, and the relevance of combining social and natural science methodologies, the article surveys recent research from anthropology, history, and geography that exemplifies this new approach.

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