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Accepted Paper:

Facing our Earth Others: A Phenomenological Approach to Non-Human Personhood  
Henrik Ohlsson (Södertörn University)

Paper short abstract:

I study modern Western animism in the context of contemporary nature connection practices, specifically the constitution of non-human persons, drawing on classical phenomenological notions of the Other.

Paper long abstract:

This paper discusses nature connection practices, such as forest bathing and nature therapy, based on field research in the Baltic Sea region. At the heart of these practices are experiences and attitudes constituting what I have termed modern Western animism. I use the term in much the same way as Kocku von Stuckrad (2002) speaks of modern Western shamanism, a current in opposition specifically to Western modernity. Animism, as personification of non-humans has a long history in anthropology and has seen a renaissance in recent decades, now often understood as a relational epistemology (Bird-David 1999), i.e. and epistemology that prioritizes relations rather than things. This tendency to personify non-humans may be studied on a cultural, social, or personal (psychological) level. My own approach takes its starting point in classical phenomenology, where the notion of the Other has been given substantial theoretical attention. Husserl postulated that the Other is constituted through appresentation, i.e. through likeness in bodily form, leading us to derive an indirect recognition of another node of experience to which we do not have direct access. For Levinas, the Other is presented to us as a face, an existential horizon which overflows our conceptual grasp, lifting the Other from the sphere of ontology to the sphere of ethics. For those generations of phenomenologists, the Other was almost exclusively a human person. In my own study, I attempt to describe in detail how Earth Others are constituted on an experiential level, through emotions, attitudes, and social conduct.

Panel P080
(Re)connecting with Earth Beings: ritual innovation and affective entanglements in contemporary ecopolitics