Anthropology is quite obviously an anthropocentric discipline. However, as a recent book by Eleaor Shoreman-Ouimet and Helen Kopnina titled Culture and Conservation: Beyond Anthropocentrism advocates, there are many ways in which anthropologists can (and should) open up their scope to include nonhumans, plants, and the environment in a holistic approach to conservation. Anthropologists are situated perfectly at the nexus of where culture and conservation collide and therefore can potentially play a pivotal role in saving and protecting life on Earth.
Because of academia’s insistence on precedence, this idea has been met with considerable resistance within the anthropology community. The point of this post, though, is to expose the Anthrozoology community to this broader ideal in the hopes that fellow up-and-comers can grab onto this idea and run with it, encouraging the next generation to do the same.
It is not such a radical idea to include nonhumans in anthropological concerns. “The animal turn” as it has been called, is already having a similar effect in many realms. Anthrozoology itself is trying to open up academics in general to consider the realities of nonhuman others. Kay Peggs wrote Animals and Sociology in 2012 encouraging sociologists to open their discipline up to considering interactions with and among nonhuman animals. Emily Plec recently did the analogous thing for Communications with Perspectives on Human-Animal Communication.
One of Canisius’ own Anthrozoology graduates, Adam Fix, published a journal article advocating for indigenous movements to include space in their agenda for nonhuman animals. Lisa Kemmerer compiled Animals and the Environment in order to encourage environmentalists to open themselves up to animal-specific issues, and conversely, persuade animal advocates to care about the environment (i.e., not just ‘release the animals,’ but to
where?). Ethnobotany has shown that historically there have been many personal connections and interdependencies between humans and plants. Thus, it does not seem unreasonable to ask anthropologists to consider nonhumans. Basic laws of ecology (biodiversity, finite resources, etc.) show us that variety equates to wellness. So the argument is that variety within anthropology will make it a stronger and more resilient pursuit.
The goal is to unite people over a more focused and mutual cause, namely, to free the oppressed from their oppressors. For anthropology to defend and protect humans while not raising an eyebrow over animal extinctions is not only a logical inconsistency, but it also doesn’t work too well. Many traditional societies depend on the environment for their livelihoods and so, regardless of your position on the use value of nonhuman others, a culture may not last without its animals. This may seem anthropocentric in itself, but the point is that a single-issue approach may not work well for anyone in the long run.
There is a trend developing in academics where disciplines are becoming more interdisciplinary and further reaching. I suggest that it is best for everyone if anthropology gets on board and becomes a leader in broadening and deepening the academic system. The program and people that make up the Anthrozoology program at Canisius College are a great resource to encourage development in this direction.