Monday, June 8, 2020

#DecolonizePrimatology: A Reading List

The goal of this reading list is to curate a list of readings that address understanding the need to decolonize primatology and developing approaches to doing so. 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:



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) the ways in which 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 non-Western/habitat country primatologists. There has been interest in compiling such a list, and colleagues and I are working on an editable document to curate that list. I will post a link when it is up and running.

This list is a work in progress--please let me know of other readings I should be adding to the list! Please note, though, that unless noted in the annotation, this is a list curated based on my own reading, so if you send me additional readings, it may take a bit before I have a chance to read it and add it to the list. 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. I debated putting this on here solely because the last time I attempted to read this book, I struggled to get through it and understand it--I'm not sure how much I really read and absorbed from that attempt. However, it's an important contribution, and it's been long enough that I should give it another attempt at a re-read.

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. It's been a long time since I've read this one, but my favorite chapters were those that offered perspectives from Japan and Brazil.

Decolonizing Extinction: The Work of Care in Orangutan Rehabilitation
by Juno Salazar ParreƱas (@JunoIsHere)

  • 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.

Articles from Peer-reviewed Journals and Edited Volumes:

The Elephant in the Room: Confronting the Colonial Character of Wildlife Conservation in Africa. 2008. African Studies Review, 51(3): 51-74.
by Elizabeth Garland

  • 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 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 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.

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 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 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 Aamina H. Malik, Janine 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.

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.

Other relevant reading lists:

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