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technical paper

AAA Annual Meeting 2021

November 18, 2021

Baltimore, United States

Flea Choice: Nonhuman Taxonomies and Plague Relationships

keywords:

science & technology studies

environment

theory

Taxonomies are powerful ordering techniques, material-semiotic devices of inclusion and exclusion, and discourses that do not merely describe the material world but constantly remake it. They have long been critical for the development of the modern life sciences (Leigh Star, 1989; Helmreich, 2005). In response to hegemonic claims that scientific taxonomies reveal the intrinsic order in nature, critical scholars of the life sciences have argued that taxonomic concepts, such as species, impose an order on life that does not inherently exist. Other scholars•in both the social and life sciences•have countered that organisms beyond humans recognize different kinds of beings, thereby engaging in classificatory practices themselves (Kirksey 2015). This suggests that a wide range of “existents” (Povinelli, 2016) practice their own taxonomies. This debate leads us to rethink not just the histories of classificatory practices but, more broadly, humans’ and nonhumans’ roles in the making and perpetuation of taxonomies. Anthropologists have closely scrutinized how people around the world have been subjected to taxonomies, but paid scarce attention to taxonomies of the nonhuman, the inhuman, the more-than-human, the transhuman, and other existents. Recognizing these raises new questions, and possibilities, for understanding taxa and other ordering techniques. How do different existents order the world today? How do they bring older forms of inclusion and exclusion, belonging and unbelonging, into question? What tools do anthropologists have to study the taxonomic practices of humans and/or nonhumans? What are the challenges and possibilities of studying them today, when the boundaries among subjects and objects, bios and geos, are ever more opaque? How should we engage them? These are crucial questions as we try to make sense of the social/material world around us today. In this panel, we seek to bring together papers that examine taxonomies of substances such as chemicals, metals and rocks; taxonomies of energy, space, time; taxonomies that unite the organic and the inorganic, bios and geos, and otherwise assemble the human and the nonhuman. References: Helmreich, Stefan. 2005. How scientists think; about ‘natives’, for example. A problem of taxonomy among biologists of alien species in Hawaii. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 11(1):107-128. Kirksey, Eben. 2015. Species: A Praxiographic Study. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 21(4): 758-780. Leigh Star, S., & Griesemer, J. R. 1989. Institutional ecology, translations’ and boundary objects: amateurs and professionals in Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907-39. Social Studies of Science, 19(3):387-420. Povinelli, Elizabeth A. 2016. Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism. Duke University Press.

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