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Refiguring conservation in/for ‘the Anthropocene’: the global lives of the orangutan (GLO) is a project that puts socio-cultural anthropology to work in increasingly interdisciplinary conversations about multispecies entanglements and ‘the Anthropocene’.

Project description

In recent years, conservationists have engaged in heated debates about how to respond to the challenges of ‘the Anthropocene’ – an era marked by the overwhelming influence of human activity on planetary processes and formations.

Running from 2018 to 2023, our project explores how this debate is playing out in multiple, patchy and unpredictable ways in the global nexus of orangutan conservation. It entails the first multi-sited ethnography of this field: a sprawling network of models, ideas, practices and human and nonhuman players spread across Borneo, Sumatra and the global North. Treating orangutan conservation as a contact zone between multiple players, ontologies, values and regimes of power and knowledge, we ask: How is conservation scaling up to engage with the Anthropocene? And how are Anthropocenic phenomena and discourses experienced, conceptualized or contested in specific conservation contexts?

Through this ethnography, we seek to add empirical depth and nuance to emerging cross-disciplinary discussions about the Anthropocene, and to develop new theoretical and conceptual analytics for figuring, and figuring out, conservation and ‘the Anthropocene’ at a time of planetary change and crisis.

Practical resources

Designed for conservationists seeking innovative community engagement, our resources encourage thinking beyond conventional approaches. We have created a toolkit and a guide, a 2-page visual summary and 6 comic-based scenarios. Drawing on our research on orangutan conservation in rural Borneo, they offer insights into how social, political and cultural dynamics influence communities’ interactions with conservation.

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Orangutan conservation: specific studies

Rather than treating orangutan conservation as a monolith that retains its form as it traverses different contexts, the project will ask how it is (re)produced and reworked across a fragmented planetary landscape.

Our 4 Studies

Visualising orangutans

Visualising orangutans

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Community Conservation

Community conservation

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Orangutan Adoption

Orangutan adoption

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Orangutan Rescue


Orangutan rescue

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The Project

GLO is a project that puts socio-cultural anthropology to work in increasingly interdisciplinary conversations about multispecies entanglements and ‘the Anthropocene’. It draws on two distinctive anthropological strengths – in-depth ethnography and multiply-scaled comparison – to flesh out the big, sometimes abstract, questions raised by global conservation debates and policies. Using multi-sited ethnography, it explores how contemporary conservation is responding to the challenges posed by what is widely known as ‘the Anthropocene’ – a term that encapsulates the overwhelming, transformative impact of human activity on the planet.

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This project is geared towards opening new cross-sector conversations with a range of
stakeholders, including conservation organizations, natural scientists and the general public.

We aim to use ethnographic insights to inform our conservation partners’ agendas and
strategies, as well as to bring a critical, nuanced voice to public understandings of the
debates surrounding this charismatic, critically endangered species.

glo research team

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