Rhetorical antinomies and radical othering: Recent reflections on responses to an old paper concerning human-animal relations in Amazonia

Stephen Hugh-Jones


Notions of animals as social subjects held by Amazonian Indians have played a central role in anthropology’s ontological turn. Written as a reply to two critical responses to an earlier paper on human-animal relations, this essay explores the complex and often contradictory nature of ideas about animals and attitudes toward them held by both Amerindians and Euro-Americans. It suggests that, alongside mythology and shamanism, a further source of the Amerindians’ ideas about animals as social subjects lies in their everyday interactions with animals, something they share in common with Welsh sheep farmers. This fits uneasily with Philippe Descola’s contrast between animism and naturalism. The essay concludes by querying radical contrasts between “us” and “them.” Such contrasts may have their heuristic, comparative, and rhetorical uses but tend to oversimplify complex ethnographic reality.


Amazonia, human-animal relations, ontological turn, Welsh sheep farmers

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/703873