Orangutans in the Anthropocene: vulnerability, compassion and digital mediation

Authors: Hannah Fair*, Brunel University London
Topics: Anthropocene, Animal Geographies, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: Anthropocene, orangutan, conservation, compassion, charity
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Embassy Room, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper explores how orangutans are enrolled in narratives about conservation and the Anthropocene by those who are affectively and financially invested in their plight, yet geographically removed from their lives. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted with UK-based orangutan conservation charities and orangutan virtual 'adopters' (those who make a regular financial contribution to a charity in aid of an individual ape), I explore the bases for different forms of interspecies compassion and engagement in different ‘regimes of care’ (Van Dooren 2014), ranging from ecosystem to species to individual level concerns, and encompassing multiple such regimes at once. I explore the ways in which affective entanglements are mediated via digital encounters that seek to make orangutans visible on a global stage. I interrogate how the orangutan is made to stand in for the precarity of nonhuman life in the Anthropocene and the extent to which such a conscription potentially reinforces flawed and depoliticised understandings of ‘the Anthropos’ as an undifferentiated universal human subject that elide questions of race, gender and class (Malm and Hornborg 2014, Davis and Todd 2017). Finally, I turn to contentions surrounding the politics of palm oil, and the different approaches to navigating orangutan vulnerability, corporate power and effecting change deployed by adopters, consumers, advocacy groups and conservation practitioners.

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