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Global conservation today is at a crossroads. Faced with accelerated biodiversity loss, rising sea levels, climate change and other forms of anthropogenic environmental change, conservationists are increasingly asking whether and how conservation should work with, rather than against, human development, growth and well-being. 

Such concerns are encapsulated in ongoing debates about whether and how conservation should respond to the challenges posed by ‘the Anthropocene’ – a term increasingly used to describe the overwhelming, transformative impact of human activities on the planet’s system, processes and formations. These are pushing conservationists to ask: What should conservation be and do? What is being conserved, and what from? With what baselines and thresholds should conservationists work? What, today, constitutes good or successful conservation? 

GLO fleshes out these questions by examining how they are formulated, played out and reworked in the context of one global conservation nexus – that of the critically endangered orangutan. Today, the fate of the orangutan is inextricably entwined with transnational capitalism, inter/national politics, socio-economic disparities, global climate and anthropogenic environmental change. Accordingly, more than a battle to save a species from extinction, orangutan conservation is a complex, manifold project of defining, managing and calibrating multispecies and environmental relations in an era of planetary crisis. 

Orangutan conservation can thus serve as a powerful lens through which to grasp the complex and still-evolving relationship between conservation and ‘the Anthropocene’. 

By grounding our research in thick ethnography, we aim to add much-needed empirical depth and nuance to emerging cross-disciplinary discussions about ‘the Anthropocene’. At the same time, we aim to think through our ethnography in order to develop novel theoretical and conceptual analytics through which to figure both conservation and ‘the Anthropocene’ in this volatile historical moment.