Accepted Paper:

The nature of data, the danger of foreigners: making knowledge in Amazonian climate science  


Antonia Walford (University College London)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on ethnography completed with climate scientists in Brazil, this paper explores the ramifications for “endo” anthropology of taking Western naturalism seriously in ethnographic situations where it is exactly the nature of the non-humans and the otherness of the humans that is in question.

Paper long abstract:

This paper aims to extend discussions concerning the ramifications of taking Western naturalism (in this case, climate science) seriously, drawing on ethnographic research conducted with the Large Scale Biosphere Atmosphere Experiment in Amazonia (LBA), Brazil, an international scientific project to ascertain the role of the Amazon forest in the global carbon cycle. This paper suggests that a crucial aspect of taking one's informants seriously is what Eduardo Viveiros de Castro has called "controlled equivocation"; that is, not only allowing one's informants "ontological self-determination", but also subversively permitting them alien agency to pervert home-grown ontological commitments. Focussing this discussion on its relation to "endo-anthropology", this paper maintains that the internal differentiation within anthropology lies in the different ways that such equivocations are wrought. Describing this briefly using ethnography completed with LBA climate modelers demonstrates the ramifications of "taking them seriously", which brings about an unexpected re-appraisal of the representationalist/non-representationalist dichotomy in which studies of science - and indeed, the human/non-human distinction - are often parsed. This in turn brings issues of analytical stabilization into relief. However, this paper aims to extend this by ethnographically complicating the question of internal differentiation "at home": what happens simultaneously to the position of the ("endo") anthropologist and to her attempts to take Western naturalism seriously when the situations - drawn in this case from ethnography completed with the researchers of the LBA and "foreign" collaborators - are themselves explicitly riddled with doubts as to the nature and positions of the humans and non-humans in question?

Panel P15
Internal others: ethnographies of euroamerican naturalism