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Refiguring conservation in/for “the Anthropocene”: the global lives of the orangutan’ (GLO) is a five-year research project (Jan 2018-Dec 2022) funded by the European Research Council (Starting Grant #758494). It is led by Dr Liana Chua (Principal Investigator), Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at Brunel University London, who works together with postdocs Dr Viola Schreer and Hannah Fair, and PhD student Anna Stępień.

GLO is a project that puts socio-cultural anthropology to work in increasingly interdisciplinary conversations about multispecies entanglements and ‘the Anthropocene’. It draws on two distinctive anthropological strengths – in-depth ethnography and multiply-scaled comparison – to flesh out the big, sometimes abstract, questions raised by global conservation debates and policies.  Using multi-sited ethnography, it explores how contemporary conservation is responding to the challenges posed by what is widely known as ‘the Anthropocene’ – a term that encapsulates the overwhelming, transformative impact of human activity on the planet.

Taking the global nexus of orangutan conservation as its ethnographic focus, GLO has two main objectives:

  1. To examine if and how contemporary conservation is being ‘scaled up’ and re(con)figured in and for ‘the Anthropocene’; and
  2. To cut ‘the Anthropocene’ down to size by exploring how it is experienced, conceptualized, contested or indeed refused across multiple conservation settings.

Combining in-depth ethnography and large-scale comparison, our project approaches orangutan conservation as a sprawling, uneven terrain across which the rapidly-evolving relationship between conservation and ‘the Anthropocene’ is being played out. We aim to formulate new theoretical and conceptual analytics for grasping the relationship between conservation and ‘the Anthropocene’, revitalize social scientific understandings of conservation, and add much-needed empirical depth and nuance to emerging cross-disciplinary discussions about planetary change and crisis.

Impact statement

This project is geared towards opening new cross-sector conversations with a range of stakeholders, including conservation organizations (see our partners), natural scientists and the general public. We aim to use ethnographic insights to inform our conservation partners’ agendas and strategies, as well as to bring a critical, nuanced voice to public understandings of the debates surrounding this charismatic, critically endangered species.