Elephants as persons, affective apprenticeship, and fieldwork with nonhuman informants in Nepal

Piers Locke


In this account of interspecies intimacy in the enclaved institution of the Nepali elephant stable, I explore not-just-human figurations of personhood and argue for the methodological inclusion of nonhuman informants as subjective actors and contributing participants in ethnographic research. I explain how my experience forming a trusting, working relationship with a female elephant in a hybrid community of humans and elephants revealed the conceptual limitations of a human-focused tradition of ethnography ill-equipped for the generative sociality of interspecies encounters. I discuss questions of nonhuman personhood and I consider developments in the animal behavioral sciences, while also investigating the cultural logic by which Nepali mahouts attribute personhood to their elephants. This exploration of apprenticeship, personhood, and affective encounter is situated in a distinctly interspecies strand of multispecies studies, and is a contribution to ethnoelephantology as an interdisciplinary approach to the social, historical, and ecological relations between humans and elephants.


apprenticeship learning, human-elephant relations, nonhuman personhood, multispecies studies, ethnoelephantology, mahouts, Nepal

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau7.1.024