Monday, June 8, 2020

#DecolonizePrimatology: A Reading List

(Last updated October 2023).

The goal of this reading list is to curate a list of readings and other media that address understanding the need to decolonize primatology and developing approaches to doing so. If you find this material useful, and use it in courses or researchPLEASE CITE IT! Please note that I now have some of my own publications listed here as well; if you would like a PDF copy on any of my own work, let me know! Please be mindful that part of unsettling colonial dynamics in primatology means recognizing, acknowledging, and citing the work of Global South scholars/scholars of Global South diasporas.

There are differing definitions and understandings of what it means to decolonize. If you are new to the concept of decolonizing, and/or still struggling to understand what it means to decolonize, here are some good starting points:

IUCN Primate Specialist Group Section for Human-Primate Interactions webinar of Decolonising Primatology, organized by Sian Waters and Susan Cheyne, and featuring talks by Seheno-Andriantsaralaza, June Rubis, Jo Setchell, and myself.

My TEDx Marquette Talk: Who Gets to Be Our Conservation Heroes?

Here's some background reading on decoloniality:
And here are some videos explaining perspectives on decoloniality:

This list focuses on readings that address the 1) neocolonial history of primatology (or, in some cases, more broadly the colonial/neocolonial origins of science, anthropology, and conservation that relate to primatology), 2) the power imbalances and hierarchies between North American/European scientists/funders and the local people and communities where primate research is conducted, and/or 3) how those power hierarchies and gatekeeping limit full access, authorship, participation, and/or leadership of African, Asian, and Central/South American researchers (as well as racial/ethnic minorities in North America/Europe) relative to white North Americans and Europeans. 

This list is NOT intended to be a comprehensive list of publications from range-country primatologists. If you are looking for that, please see this editable Google doc of Publications by Range-Country Primatologists. Many thanks to Erin Kane, Cat Hobaiter, Colleen Friedly, Caitlin Hobbs, Luz Carvajal, and Elicia Abella for their work on putting this together!

This list has been a work in progress, and reflects my own readings.  However, since the IUCN Section for Human-Primate Interactions is developing resources for decolonial primatology, in the future I hope that will be a more comprehensive resource!  Also, if you use end up using any of my writing or this list in your syllabi, please let me know!


Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in Modern Society
by Donna Haraway

  • A feminist examination of primatology's history, focusing on the role of race, gender, and colonialism. This is one that I found to be a very challenging read in my first attempt to read it years ago. However, upon re-reading, I'm struck by how many astute observations Haraway meant about the colonial and necolonial roots, and the impact of dynamics of colonialism, racism, class, and global geopolitics in shaping primatology research. Some of us have been doing an ongoing reading group exploring chapters in this book--if you'd like to be added to the list, let me know!
Decolonizing Extinction: The Work of Care in Orangutan Rehabilitation
by Juno Salazar Parreñas 
  • Multispecies ethnography focusing on the work of caring for rehabilitant orangutans from decolonial, feminist perspective, highlight the unequal, neocolonial hierarchies in sanctuary care and conservation management, and the way in which emphasis on prioritizing breeding to increase population numbers may overlook the animals' welfare.
    Edited by Tracie McKinney, Sian Waters, & Michelle A. Rodrigues
  • Edited volume reviewing how humans influence primates in both wild and captive contexts. This was a collaborative effort from primatologist around the globe, with 78 authors from 24 countries. Case studies within the chapters provide examples that highlight relevant research and conservation topics. Our goal was to prioritize a range of diverse perspectives and advance a diverse, inclusive, and decolonial approach to human-primate research and conservation.
Primate Encounters: Models of Science, Gender, and Society
Edited by Shirley Strum and Linda Fedigan
  • An edited volume exploring the ways in which primate research is shaped by broader cultural and historical patterns, drawing on the work of both primatologists and science and technology scholars. My favorite chapters were those that offered perspectives from Japan and Brazil.

Articles from Peer-reviewed Journals and Edited Volumes:

by Neel Ahuja. 2013.  In: The Macaque Connection: Cooperation and Conflict Between Humans and Macaques. S. Radhakrishna, MA Huffman, A Sinha, (Eds). Developments in Primatology: Progress and Prospects 43: Springer. pp 71-91.
  • Describes the history of Indian Rhesus macaque exportation to the United States, within the larger backdrop of British colonialism, the establishment of Indian Rhesus macaques as a biomedical model in the United States, as well as some of the broader history colonial and neo-colonial history of importing primates and establishing as biomedical models. This is especially useful for the perspective of how Clarence Ray Carpenter’s research and export of Rhesus macaques from India to Puerto Rico was predicated on a colonial model of science, and how early waves of American exportation from British colonial India despite religious and cultural objections.
by Rachel Ashegbofe Ikemeh. 2017. Biodiversity, 18(4):210-211
  • Highlights the efforts of African primatologists in leadership roles in African primatology and conservation, and the need for training programs and structural support to facilitate sharing information and networking among African peers.

by Michelle Bezanson (@bezanswer) and Allison McNamara ( @allison_mcnama). 2019. Evolutionary Anthropology, 28(4): 166-178.
  • Examines the distribution of primate field research across taxa and research sites, highlighting biases toward major field sites and frequently studied taxa, potential publication biases, and ethical issues with the lack of community engagement and acknowledgement.
Best Practices are Never Best: Evaluating Primate Conservation Programs (PCEPs) from a Decolonial Persective.  by Michelle Bezanson, Montserrat Franquesa-Soler, Martin Kowaleski, Allison McNamara, Rahayu Oktaviani, & Michelle A. Rodrigues. 2022. American Journal of Primatology 85(5):e23424.
  • Part of an AJP special issue on new ideas in conservation education. We consider the goals of conservation education and how they may reproduce necolonial processes, and review 20 years of primatology literature on conservation education. We concluded that education projects in habitat projects should have local leadership, and that Global North primatologists should focus on broader educational outreach to their own cultural communities.
by Mary E. Blair. 2019. International Journal of Primatology, 40: 462-464.
  • Commentary on how primatology needs to work toward decolonizing and becoming more equitable.
by Declan Butler. 2017. Nature, 54: 144-145.
  • Highlights the formation of the African Primatological Society, the important work that African primatologists are doing, and the need to support funding and training for African scientists.
by Liana Chua, Mark E. Harrison, Hannah Fair, Sol Milne, Alexander Palmer, June Rubis, Paul Thung, Serge Wich, Bram Büscher, Susan M. Cheyne, Rajindra K. Puri, Viola Schreer, Anna Stepieǹ, & Erik Meijaard. 2020. People and Nature, 2(1): 42-60.
  • Explores the interplay between conservation and social sciences through an examination of orangutan conservation. It highlights the role of community engagement, outreach to Global North to solicit funding and political support, and the role of social science in understanding the complex cultural and political landscape involved in orangutan conservation. While this paper focuses more on bridging disciplinary perspectives, it highlights many of the local and global cultural factors involved in conservation research.
The Elephant in the Room: Confronting the Colonial Character of Wildlife Conservation in Africa. 
by Elizabeth Garland. 2008. African Studies Review, 51(3): 51-74.
  • Examines the way structural inequality and neocolonial approaches characterize African conservation through cases studies of National Geographic supported work include Jane Goodall and Gombe, and Michael Fay's mega-transect project.
by Catherine Hobaiter, John Walter Akankwasa, Geresomu Muhumuza, Moreen Uwimbababazi, & Inza Koné. 2021. Current Biology, 21(20):PR1367-R11369.
  • Addresses how parachute science is part of a long history of colonial and neocolonial exploitation of people and resources, and highlights the importance of local specialists in science, with perspectives from four local chimpanzee specialists and one foreign scientist. One of the things I like about this article is they present the material as a conversation amongst themselves. They cover the importance of local specialists in chimpanzee research, obstacles to African leadership, and the role non-African primatologists should play in supporting and advancing the training and leadership of African researchers.
by Danielle N. Lee (@DNLee) 2020. Animal Behaviour, 164, 272-280.
  • Review of the contributions of underrepresented minorities to the field of American animal behavior research from 1800s to the present to restores this narratives into the discipline's history. If you use this article in your course, please make sure you send your syllabi to the author!
by Aamina H. MalikJanine M. Ziermann, & Rui Diogo ( @Rui_Diogo_Lab). 2017. Journal of Biology Education.  DOI: 10.1080/00219266.2016.1268190
  • Overview of the contribution of Muslim scholars in developing ideas about evolution, natural selection, human's similarity to to apes/monkeys, and the evolution of human skin color from the 8th through 14th century during the Islamic Golden Age. These scholars are typically left out of Eurocentric Western accounts of the development of ideas that led to Darwin and Wallace's development of evolutionary theory. However, many of the eight scholars listed published their work, and their writings may have influenced the European thinkers that are credited for the foundations of evolutionary theory.
by Michelle A. Rodrigues, Vicent Kizza, Matthew R. McLennan, Sérgio Mendes, & Karen Strier. 2022. International Journal of Primatology, 43:1133-1158.
  • Part of a special issue in IJP of "What Works, and What Doesn't Work? The Challenge of Creating Effective Applied Conservation Research in Human-modified Habitats. We review a history of how and why primatology may reproduce necolonial dynamics, and consider the role of positionality in shaping our collaborations. We present two narratives of positionality from foreign and range country collaborators, focusing on Africa (Kizza & McLennan) and South America (Mendes & Strier). We consider how primatologies can use these examples to interrogate their own positionality, and emphasize how prioritizing range-country and local collaborators can strength primate research and conservation.
by June Mary Rubis. 2020. Cultural Studies 34(5):811-830. DOI: 10.1080/09502386.2020.1780281
  • Describes how the push for recognizing Indigenous knowledge in conservation priotizes traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), but does not prioritize Indigenous inter-relationships with nature. Via a kin (case) study in Sarawak, Rubis considers the way in which conservation organization's use of the term "orang utan"--a Western term combining Malay terms for "people" and "forest"--is part of a power dynamic in which conservation organizations prioritize their views over local Iban people's relationships with the "maias" (the Iban term for orangutans). Acknowledging and using the Iban name is a step toward prioritizing Indigenous human-animal-ecosystem relationships.
by Reinmar Seidler, Richard B. Primack, Varun R. Goswami, Sarala Khaling, M. Soubadra Devy, Richard T. Corlett, Cheryl D. Knott, Erin E. Kane, Tri Wahyu Susanto, Emily Otali, Robin J. Roth, Oliver L. Phillips, Tim R. Baker, Corneille Ewango, Euridice Honario Coronado, Aurora Levesley, Simon L. Lewis, Beatriz S. Marimon, Lan Qie, Bonaventure Sonké, John W. Wilson, Richard Wrangham. 2021. Biological Conservation 255:108933.
  • Part of a special issue on long-term ethical and conservation in the tropics. This provides perspective from a wide variety of researchers about ethical challenges in long-term research, particular with addressing issues with parachute research, cross-cultural perspectives, and participation of local and Indigenous in long-term research. Each author/group of authors addressed a particular issue related to their field research. The highlight for me is Emily Otali's contribution, where she mentions that she was the African women to receive a PhD in chimpanzee behavior.
by Sindhu Radakrishna & Dale Jamieson. 2018. Journal of Biosciences, 43:3-8.
  • An important perpsective on the Eurocentric biases of primatology that highlights how cultural worldviews shape relationships with, and our understanding of non-human primates, and why those diverse cultural perspectives are needed to strengthen how primatology is practiced. The perspectives of non-Western primatologies is highlighted, with an emphasis on how different cultural/religious worldviews shape how primates are viewed in relation to humans, and thus how primatological research is approached. For example, the Euro-centric perspectives of humans in a hierarchical relationship to primates contrats with Buddhist, Shinto, and Hindu perspectives of seeing both human and non-human primates within inter-connected, non-hierarchical systems. This is one of the best perspectives I've read about how cultural worldview shapes primatology, and the importance of recognizing different culturally-situated 'primatologies,' rather than single, unified primatology.
by Mewa Singh, Mridula Singh, Honnavali N. Kumara, Dilip Chetry, Santanu Mahato. Journal of Threatened Taxa, 12(13).
  • This review provides a historical perpective of Indian primatological research. Indian primatology began from roots with zoology, and was largely iniated by foreign primatologists, predominantly American and Japanese primatologists. However, one Indian primatologist, Sho Dan Singh, began his research during this the early natural history phase, and had an important role of shaping the discipline. This paper tracks the history of Indian primatology, emphasizing Sheo Dan Singh's influence is training students, and highlights the development of an earlier Indian primatological society that became inactive, and the initation of the Association of Indian Primatologists in 2019.
Blog and Magazine Articles:

by Adam Johnson (@Anthropology365)
  • Explores Kinji Imanishi's A Japanese View of Nature: The World of Living Things, focusing on Imanishi's perspectives on Darwinian natural selection from a Japanese perspective. Darwinian evolutionary theory has roots in the determinististic Western Enlightment philosophy, whereas Imanishi views are shaped by Japanese cultural perspectives.
by Michelle A. Rodrigues (@MARspidermonkey)
  • A summary of Bezanson and McNamara's (2019) study on field site and taxonomic biases in primate research (see above) with suggestions on ways to address these issues.
It's Time to Stop Lionizing Dian Fossey As a Conservation Hero
by Michelle A. Rodrigues (@MARspidermonkey)

  • Addressing the way in which veneration of Dian Fossey as a conservation martyr overlooks her violent methods that were rooted in neo-colonialism and racism.
Neocolonial Narratives of Primate Conservation
by Michelle A. Rodrigues (@MARspidermonkey)
  • Examines how the National Geographic documentary Jane reiterates the neocolonial narratives of primate research and African conservation, and more broadly, the way that primate conservation research is rooted in colonial and neocolonial history. 
The Achilles Heel of Conservation
 by Merlyn Nomusa Nkomo (@merynomsa)
  • Not specific to primatology, but broadly about the way that African conservation centers white foreigners while being closed to local Black Africans.
The Problem of Colonial Science
by Asha De Vos (@ashadevos)
  • Not specific to primatology, but about the problems of doing "helicopter science" and the way that global conservation research structures and funding create power imbalances and limit opportunities for local researchers to access funding and shape conservation research driven by local cultural knowledge and  expertise.
Recovering conservationist: Q&A with orangutan ecologist June Mary Rubis
by Basten Gokken
  • Malaysian ecologist June Mary Rubis describes her previous work with an international NGO with orangutan education programs with Indigenous communities. In this work, she encountered the issues working within the paternalistic Western frameworks of orangutan (maias) conservation, and the ways conservation work prioritized their views of conservation over the Indigenous Iban relationships with the maias and the forest. She describes herself as a "recovering conservationist" and recommends a shift to prioritizing Indigenous social science.
by Brurce Mecca ( @Brurce)
  • Not specific to primatology (and points the problems of  Western researchers centering their priorities in Indonesian environmental science on only orangutans and deforestation), but relevant to the dynamics between Western scientists and scientists from the areas those Western scientists study. Mecca brings up issues with how differences in inter-cultural perspectives and understandings means that for Indonesian scientists to be understood, or have their views recognized, they must assimilate to Western styles of communication and priorities. Additionally, while Western researchers set priorities in terms of addressing their hypotheses and building theory, they undervalue the perspectives and priorities of Indonesian researchers who prioritize the pressing environmental issues that affect local people's lives.

  • Critique of a commentary published in the American Journal of Primatology, De-colonizing Conservation in a Global World, by Annette Lanjouw. They note that Lanjouw brings up valuable approaches in conservation; however, it does not fully engage with recognition of colonial dynamics in conservation/primatology, cite the rich literature on decoloniality in the social sciences development by Global South scholars, or cite Global South primatologists working on decolonial approaches. They highlight that "decolonizing" should refer to unsettling colonial dynamics--and that using the term without challinging colonial/decolonial dynamics or citing Global South researchers that develop this literature perpetuates necolonialism dynamics.
by Bidyut Sarania, Krishnapriya Tamma (@priya_tamma), Samira Agnihotri, Subhashini Krishnan (@serenehowls), & Sutirtha Lahiri
  • An important perspective on how calls to decolonize research play out power dynamics in India, including tribal and casteist perspectives. While focused on India, there's an important lesson here that beyond Global North-Global South dynamics, there's additional layers of power dynamics that should be carefully considered.

Other relevant reading lists:

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