Relationality, Animals, and the Environment

Recently, the Anthropocene Working Group declared the time period between 1950 and 1954 as the Anthropocene’s start. This consequential paradigm shift neglects the systematic examination of capitalist industrial societies and colonial empires in exacerbating long-term planetary damages and exploiting interspecies relations for large-scale accumulation of power and resources. Relevant to contemporary environmental debates, others have radically called for the epoch to be renamed the Capitalocene, acknowledging how capitalism is the dominant way of organizing nature (Jason Moore, 2016). By seeing the Capitalocene as a world ecology that relies on the systematic exploitation of human and nonhuman natures for power and profit, scholars illustrate how the reframing of humanity-in-nature is key to environmental liberation (Moore, 2016). Others, such as degrowth scholars, urgently call for the downscaling of mass production and consumption in the Global North to prioritize the ecological well-being of human and nonhuman communities (Jason Hickel, 2020;Kohei Saito, 2023). Overall, these environmental scholars suggest economic growth markers such as GDP should not strictly equivocate with social definitions of prosperity or equitable living conditions. Instead, they suggest reimagining ideas of abundance, progression, and sustainability, taking into account political imbalances between Global North and Global South societies. A major way of reimagining ideas around sustainability is to discuss key anthropogenic impacts on animal agriculture, deforestation, and other extractive industries that exploitatively depend on nonhuman labor and animal materialities.

This reading group will facilitate intellectual discussions on reconceptualizing human relationality with animals, biotic forces, and the environment beyond the extractive legacies of colonialism and capitalism.Throughout the fall semester, participants will discuss how particular anthropocentric perceptions and societal assumptions have been invented, exploited, or contested in the Anthropocene. Readings are curated according to selected monthly themes such as multispecies justice, capitalist animality, colonial legacies of science, and human perceptions of wilderness/domestication. Themes such as capitalist animality and colonial legacies of science will unpack how animals are differentiated into socially constructed categories of ‘wild’ or ‘domesticated’. Blending both contemporary multispecies ethnographies and environmental literature, these themes will discuss how socio-cultural perceptions of animals as ‘companions’,‘pests’, and ‘commodities’ have political consequences in altering human and animal labor activities related to capitalist extraction processes. Lastly, the reading group will conclude with a collective rumination around empathetic relations of mutuality with nonhuman subjects beyond narratives of anthropocentric mastery and domination. Our holistic discussion will revolve around how the environment critically intersects with the following political issues: belonging, capitalism, displacement, gender, race, and political ecologies. How do we disrupt the colonial myth of a unified and capitalist anthropos? In what ways can we reimagine empathetic relations of mutuality with nonhuman subjects? How can we reconceptualize the political responsibility of specific human societies exacerbating anthropogenic destruction over others?

Readings are collaboratively adjusted as participants provide feedback. We welcome scholars from all academic disciplines and will draw upon readings from anthropology, critical theory, environmental humanities, history of science, and literature. This is an in-person reading group with the option to zoom in. We will meet on a monthly basis.

Sample Reading List:
● The Promise of Multispecies Justice by Sophie Chao, Karin Bolender, and Eben Kirksey
● Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom by Slyvia Wynter
● Porkopolis by Alex Blanchette
● Becoming Human by Zakiyyah Iman Jackson
● Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital by Jason W.Moore

Our next meeting is Thursday, November 30th at 4:30 pm ET in Aaron Burr Hall’s Room 213.

This meeting session will feature guest speaker Drexel University Professor Alberto Morales who will discuss his ethnographic work on ant colonies and scientific knowledge production in Panama.

November 30th Meeting Core Readings:
Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom by Sylvia Wynter
    ○ Parts One and Two
On Being Human as Praxis by Sylvia Wynter and Katherine McKittrick
    ○ Pages 1-24 in Chapters "Yours in the Intellectual Struggle" and "Unparalleled
Catastrophe for our Species?"
Mushroom at the End of the World by Anna Tsing
    ○ Pages 19-25 in Chapter "Arts of Noticing"
● Optional/supplemental summary on Wynter's Unsettling the Coloniality, link:



October 11th Meeting Core Readings:

Decolonizing Extinction by Juno Salazar Parreñas

  • Chapter Three: Forced Copulation for Conservation
  • Pages 83 to 94
  • Conclusion - Page 103 to 104

Animal Intimacies by Radhika Govindrajan

  • Chapter Five: Pig Gone Wild: Colonialism, Conservation and the Otherwild
  • Pages 119 to 129
  • Pages 136 to 143 (Subsection: Jungli soongar, jungli log: Wildness across Species)

Life and Death in the Multispecies Commons by Marcus Baynes-Rock

Please contact Kym at [email protected] for participation inquiries.

This reading group is co-sponsored by the Anthropology Department, the English Department, and High Meadows Environmental Institute (HMEI)    ​