Methods for Multispecies Anthropology

Thinking with Salmon Otoliths and Scales

in Social Analysis
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  • 1 Aarhus University ikshswanson@cas.au.dk
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Abstract

This article proposes that multispecies anthropology and its curiosities about non-humans constitute a ‘minor anthropology’ that poses challenges not only to anthropological categories, but also to anthropological methods. Through attention to Pacific salmon, I probe why and how anthropologists might explore the ways non-humans know and enact worlds via collaborations with natural scientists. Working with biologists, I examine salmon scales and otoliths, or ear bones, whose crystallization patterns act as a kind of fish diary, recording a fish’s migrations and relations. I take up these methods with an anthropological eye, asking how one might use such practices to learn about multispecies encounters that classical ethnography often misses. Lastly, I demonstrate how anthropologists can engage natural science tools while remaining alert to the politics of knowing.

Contributor Notes

Heather Anne Swanson is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Aarhus University. Her interests include environmental anthropology, cultural geography, environmental history, animal studies, and science and technology studies. She is a co-editor (with Anna Tsing, Elaine Gan, and Nils Bubandt) of Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet: Ghosts and Monsters of the Anthropocene (2017), which brings insights of natural and social scientists together to address questions of environmental change. Her forthcoming volume on Pacific salmon, titled “Caught in Comparisons,” examines how relations of political economy and histories of nation making shape the bodies of fish.

Social Analysis

The International Journal of Anthropology

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