Accepted Paper:

'Learning to speak chimpanzee': examining 'doublethink' in a Catalonian chimpanzee sanctuary  

Author:

Lys Alcayna-Stevens (College de France)

Paper short abstract:

Based on ethnographic research conducted in a chimpanzee sanctuary, this paper introduces the concept of 'doublethink' in order to ask; if 'western ontology' is not taken as a predefined and static category, what kind of understanding is possible across species boundaries?

Paper long abstract:

Great Apes inhabit the uncertain borderlands of humanity and animality in many scientific discourses of what it is that 'makes us human'. This paper seeks to move beyond a discussion of comparison, to one of interaction and mutual possession. It focuses on ethnographic research conducted in a chimpanzee sanctuary in Catalonia, in which chimpanzees are all but passive objects in a human society. Through an exploration of how human and nonhuman share each others' affective spaces, exchange objects, communicate and have meaningful relationships, it seeks to take seriously the keepers' and researchers' discourses of 'humanness' and 'chimpanzeeness' and their philosophy of 'dehumanising' and 'resocialising' chimpanzees. The concept of 'doublethink' is introduced to examine the paradoxical ways in which keepers explain the impossibility of knowing what a chimpanzee thinks, while simultaneously forming friendships with them, and teaching them to rediscover their 'natural' selves through a practice of subjectification and techniques of self - of 'learning to speak chimpanzee'. Indeed, much of the primatologists' and keepers' descriptions of becoming have more in common with Amerindian Perspectivism than with Cartesian dualism. If 'western ontology' is not taken as a predefined and static category, what kind of understanding is possible across species boundaries?

Panel P15
Internal others: ethnographies of euroamerican naturalism