Accepted Paper:

How forests think  


Eduardo Kohn (McGill University)

Paper short abstract:

Amazonian Runa relations to forest beings suggest that “forests think.” This is neither a metaphor nor is it a culturally bounded claim. Engaging with those who think with forests reveals the thinking properties inherent to forests as well as the sylvan properties inherent to thought.

Paper long abstract:

Forests think. This is neither a metaphor nor is it a claim specific to any "ontology." What happens to social theory -and the human- if we take this claim seriously? Thought emerges with life; it is not restricted to humans. The tropical forest of the Upper Amazon, one of the world's most complex ecosystems, amplifies the way life thinks. In the process it makes over the thoughts of those who engage with its living logics. Ethnographic attention to how the Amazonian Runa interact with the many beings that 'walk' the forests -animals, but also the dead, and spirits- renders visible some of the strange properties of living thoughts that are occluded by the ways in which our distinctively human ways of thinking have colonized how we think about thought. Allowing ourselves to think with and through forests permits us to craft conceptual tools from the world itself in ways that provincialize more distinctively human forms of thought. In the process our fundamental assumptions about context, complexity, and difference come into question, and so do the humanist forms of thinking we unwittingly take with us even when we seek to venture beyond the human. Here I explore how thinking with forests reveals a counter-intuitive "absential" logic that is central to living thoughts. Learning to think with forests is crucial if we are to hold open spaces where the sylvan thinking we share with all of life can flourish -a form of thinking that is under dire threat in this, our Anthropocene.

Panel P008
Multiple nature-cultures and diverse anthropologies (CLOSED)