Ethnoprimatology as 'Intra-Action': Violence, Village Abandonment, and Chimpanzee Ecology in Sierra Leone


A Kellogg Work-in-Progress Seminar with Faculty Fellow Catherine Bolten.

The emerging field of ethnoprimatology combines primatalogy and cultural anthropology to examine how humans and non-human primates co-exist, sharing and competing for resources and space in ways that mold their behaviors and survival. The field has thus far been influenced primarily by ecological models, positing that humans and non-humans create and defend “niches” in their environments. Through historical, archaeological, ethnographic, and ecological research in Sierra Leone, my collaborator and I have found that ecological models alone cannot explain the dynamism of human and chimpanzee cohabitation of an environment. Rather, histories of violence, colonialism, and development have had a profound influence on how humans and chimpanzees inhabit landscapes. Rather than thinking in evolutionary and ecological terms, this specific dynamism is more robustly tackled through quantum physics. “Intra-action” sees humans and chimpanzees come into being as actors in the specific ways they relate to each other in discrete historical moments. We posit that quantum physics may provide the most powerful theory for understanding the Anthropocene, whereas evolutionary models are losing their explanatory power because of the profound influence of political and social decisions on the natural world.

Kellogg Work-in-progress seminars are designed to generate in-depth discussion of new scholarly work. For the pre-circulated paper and to attend, register with