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Supported by the Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS) and Univerity of Bristol's Centre for Environmental Humanities (CEH)

Activity 3

A Decade of Eduardo Kohn's How Forests Think: In Translation in Latin America

Speakers: Eduardo Kohn (McGill University), Mónica Cuéllar Gempeler (Pontificia Universidad Javeriana) and Jamille Pinheiro Dias (University of London)

In this activity of the GERMINATIONS series, which this year centres on 'Forest Thinking/Thinking Forests', Eduardo Kohn (McGill), Mónica Cuéllar Gempeler (Pontificia Universidad Javeriana) and Jamille Pinheiro Dias (CLACS/ILCS) will discuss aspects of the translation, circulation and reception of Kohn's seminal book How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human, with a focus on Latin America. How Forests Think calls into question the very underpinnings of anthropology by challenging some of the most fundamental assumptions about what it means to be human and, by extension, what it means to be distinct from other forms of life. Based on four years of fieldwork in the Ecuadorian Amazon, the book examines how the Runa (Kichwa) people interact with the numerous species that coexist in one of the world's most complex and biodiverse ecosystems. Arguing that selfhood does not solely belong to humans, Kohn proposes that any entity that communicates through the use of signs can be considered a self, leading to a complex ecology of selves of which humans and nonhumans are both part. How Forests Think has been translated into multiple languages, including Spanish, Italian, French, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Danish, and Russian, in addition to translations into Portuguese and German, soon to be published.

Eduardo Kohn is Associate Professor and Anthropology for the Ecozoic Lead at McGill University (Montreal, Canada). Kohn is the author of How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human, which received the 2014 Gregory Bateson Award for Best Book in Anthropology. Kohn's work seeks to take the social sciences beyond the limits of strictly human relations. In How Forests Think, he proposes that all life forms, not only humans, engage in processes of signification. He is currently working on a new project, Forest for the Trees, which argues that a forest—that highly "absential" emergent product of a vast network of nonhuman semiosis—is a real thing and not merely a human abstraction. 

Mónica Cuéllar Gempeler is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana (Bogotá, Colombia). Her research, focused on rural areas of the Colombian Andes, inquires into processes of mourning, absence and narrative in relation to rural migration. She is the co-translator of the Spanish version of How Forests Think (Cómo piensan los bosques: hacia una antropología más allá de lo humano, with Belén Agustina Sánchez, Hekht Libros), published in 2021.

Jamille Pinheiro Dias is the director of the Centre of Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the Institute of Languages, Cultures and Societies at the University of London’s School of Advanced Study, where she also works as a Lecturer. Her studies involve environmental issues, Amazonian cultural production, Indigenous arts, and translation studies in Latin America, with a focus on Brazil. She is the translator of the Portuguese version of How Forests Think (Como as florestas pensam: por uma antropologia além do humano, Editora 34), soon to be published in Brazil.

All are welcome to attend this free seminar, which will be held online via Zoom at 17:00 BST. You will need to register in advance to receive the online joining link. Please click on the Book Now button at the top of the page to register.

Thursday 23 March 2023
Thursday 11 May 2023

Thursday 8 June 2023

Forest Thinking/Thinking Forests
GERMINATIONS is an annual series of activities launched in June 2022 to pluralise and diversify the Environmental Humanities field. Experimenting with multicultural, multilingual, transdisciplinary, and multimodal initiatives, it cultivates awareness of the spectrum of work in EH beyond Anglo-European academic networks. It is hosted by the Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS) and convened in collaboration with scholars based at the universities of Essex and Bristol.

This year, GERMINATIONS is organising a series of activities under the title Forest Thinking/Thinking Forests

The importance of forests to efforts to address contemporary environmental challenges is now broadly recognised. At the COP27 summit in 2022, Brazil’s president-elect, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, stated: “There is no climate security for the world without a protected Amazon,” and pledged to “spare no efforts to have zero deforestation and the degradation of our biomes by 2030.”

Yet government action cannot be effective without a consideration of the socio-cultural significance of forests to those who live in and with them. The publication of Eduardo Kohn’s How Forests Think in 2013 marked an important milestone in the development of critical efforts to understand forests as systems of signification and relation that point us towards a post-anthropocentric ecological ethics. 

Kohn is careful to acknowledge his intellectual debts to traditions of forest thinking in Latin America, not least that of the Runa people of Ecuador’s Upper Amazon and the anthropological work of Eduardo Viveiros de Castro. In the context of ongoing deforestation and usurpation of Indigenous lands, knowledge systems of coexistence and kinship with forests that move beyond extractivist paradigms are at the forefront of struggle.

How, then, might the task of thinking with or as forests be taken forward? 

GERMINATIONS proposes three online activities to address this question. 

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