Different Species, One Theory

Reflections on Anthropomorphism and Anthropological Comparison

in The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology
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  • 1 Durham University matei.candea@durham.ac.uk
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This article compares recent anthropological accounts of animist and perspectivist ontologies with evolutionary explanations of animal behaviour in contemporary behavioural ecology. It argues that some unexpected echoes between these two very different ways of encountering non-humans raise a set of fascinating issues both ethnographic and theoretical. On the ethnographic side, thinking of behavioural ecology as akin to a 'naturalist perspectivism' illuminates some of the complex ways in which the discipline deals with worries about anthropomorphic projection. On the theoretical side, the comparison raises some questions about the ease with which us/them contrasts associated with the recent 'ontological turn' in anthropology find themselves echoing contrasts internal to Western philosophical and scientific debate. The resulting problem of mirroring (the concern that 'others' may be called upon to play the role of an anti-'us', rather than encountered on their own terms) is in turn considered as an analogue of the scientific problem of 'anthropomorphism', and some potential responses to both are considered.

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