Monday, April 22, 2024

Eben Kirksey

Eben Kirksey at at Zuchotti Park in 2011

Eben Kirksey studies the political dimensions of imagination as well as the interplay of natural and cultural history.  Duke University Press has published his two books—Freedom in Entangled Worlds (2012) and Emergent Ecologies (2015)—as well as one edited collection: The Multispecies Salon (2014).

Dr. Kirksey is perhaps best known for his work in multispecies ethnography—a field that mixes ethnographic, historical, ethological, and genetic methods to study spaces where humans and other species meet.  He first entered this field as an editor and curator.  “The Emergence of Multispecies Ethnography,” a special issue of Cultural Anthropology co-edited with Stefan Helmreich, situates contemporary scholarship on animals, microbes, plants, and fungi within deeply rooted traditions of environmental anthropology, continental philosophy, and the sociology of science.  Collaborations with bioartists, who work with living matter as their media, produced The Multispecies Salon, an edited book which brought together insights from the humanities on the microbiome, health, food, environmental justice, and synthetic biology.

Emergent Ecologies, his latest book monograph (Duke: 2015), explores how chance encounters, historical accidents, and parasitic invasions have shaped present and future multispecies communities.  The book asks: “How do certain plants, animals, and fungi move among worlds, navigate shifting circumstances, and find emergent opportunities?”  

Eben Kirksey first went to West Papua, the Indonesian-controlled half of New Guinea, as an exchange student in 1998. As a British Marshall Scholar at Oxford University, and a doctoral student under James Clifford at UC Santa Cruz, he later studied a popular indigenous political movement in West Papua.  Kirksey’s research morphed as he discovered that collaboration, rather than resistance, was the primary strategy of indigenous Papuan leaders. Accompanying indigenous activists to Congressional offices in Washington D.C., Kirksey saw the revolutionaries’ knack for getting inside institutions of power and building coalitions with unlikely allies.  Freedom in Engangled Worlds, his first book, blends ethnographic research with indigenous parables to illustrate visions of dramatic transformations on coming horizons.  Papuans have visions of a future when they will give away their natural resources in grand humanitarian gestures, rather than watch their homeland be drained of timber, gold, copper, and natural gas.

Princeton University hosted Dr. Kirksey as the 2015-2016 Currie C. and Thomas A. Barron Visiting Professor and he is currently an Executive Program Committee Member of the American Anthropological Association (AAA).

The books mentioned in the interview are Geoontologies by Elizabeth A. Povinelli and Testo Junkie by Paul B. Preciado.

Emergent Ecologies: Parasites from Multispecies Salon on Vimeo.

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  1. […] Eben Kirksey chooses to see the road not as one leading toward inevitable ecological destruction and global social and political apocalypse, but as a journey marked with opportunity at every bend. “Little bubbles of hope and happiness,” he says, can be the way we think rather than focusing on all that is wrong in the world. His studies in multispecies ethnography have led to multiple publications. The Multispecies Salon is an edited collection combining wisdom about the microbiome, health, food, environmental justice, and synthetic biology through the lens of the humanities. Emergent Ecologies looks at the relationship of chance and accident as they allow for forward momentum within the multispecies community and Freedom in Entangled Worlds emerged from his observations in Papua New Guinea. The current political times, Kirksey says, will perhaps usher in the sort of “collaborative and imaginative work that it takes to bring elusive desires into contact with reality.” […]

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