Our research will be built around four key analytics, which also serve as the project’s main comparative axes: planetary perspectives, thresholds, proximities and in/commensurability. All four are designed to bridge the large-scale ‘Anthropocenic’ phenomena and the cultural, political and affective particularities that shape orangutan conservation today, thereby enabling the project team to undertake research and comparison on multiple scales and registers. Looking further ahead, the project will aim to develop these analytics into the conceptual pillars of a new, highly topical field of study on conservation in/for ‘the Anthropocene’.
Comparative questions that they will elicit include:
How is conservation becoming planetary in its scale, scope and outlook? What new relations, subjectivities and politics are being fashioned by a growing planetary awareness in conservation? More ambitiously, how might a planetary perspective on conservation reshape understandings of the traditional subject of anthropology and its disciplinary cognates—the human?
Thresholds often lie at the heart of discussions of both conservation and ‘the Anthropocene’, particularly those surrounding extinction or the ‘safe’ planetary boundaries (Steffen et al. 2015) that humans Chua Part B1 GLO 5 are at risk of breaching. Further critical research is needed, however, on how they are calibrated, defined and utilized in various settings. Through what technologies are they produced? What stakes, temporalities and moralities do they mediate? What are the effects of their deployment on the ground?
Orangutan conservation is structured around various forms and notions of proximity—from how ‘close’ orangutans are to extinction to how ‘similar’ they are to humans. But in a field that revolves around saving orangutans from humans, are proximities always desirable? Building on recent anthropological theorizations of proximity (e.g. Brown and Kelly 2015; Fontein 2011), this project will use ‘proximities’ as a non-encompassing concept that can account for nearness, similarity and interaction without necessarily implying intimacy, affection or convergence. It will also explore how relations and senses of difference/similarity are ordered in conservation and ‘Anthropocenic’ discourses and politics.
Orangutan conservation is in many ways an exercise in managing in/commensurable values, assumptions and politico-economic regimes. This project asks: what practices of commensuration, encompassment or alignment are involved in orangutan conservation across multiple contexts? What happens when these fail or engender new inequalities and differences? On another level, the project also seeks to add an ethnographic edge to recent reflexive conservation debates about ‘trade-offs’ (Hirsch et al. 2010), ‘ethical pluralism’ (Robinson 2011) and ‘ecumenical conservation’ (Marvier 2014).