Anthropomorphic representations presuppose
that people think of humans as forming a referential and distinct category from non-humans. After all, we are not writing this article about how to position species we wish to conserve as panda-morphic, or sea turtle-morphic, or tree-morphic, despite the considerable conservation traction that these taxa may possess. Anthropomorphic representations are transgressive and/or transformative, and thus powerful, in the context #Ferrostatin-1 randurls[1|1|,|CHEM1|]# of Western anthropocentrism and the nature/culture and human/animal dualisms (Ingold 1994; Descola 1996; Fréger 2012). Within this cultural framework, distrust of anthropomorphism as a mode of scientific thinking drew on the idea that non-humans had no mental or emotional states, or that these could not be known (Burkhardt 2005). Anthropomorphism was thus represented as fantasy all across its spectrum (see Fig. 1), firmly on the culture side of the nature/culture dualism. Non-Western cultures, by contrast, display a “seemingly infinite empirical diversity of nature-culture complexes” (Descola 1996 p. 84). Descola divides these complexes into three main types, naturalism (e.g. Western thought), animism (e.g. non-humans speaking to humans), and totemism (e.g. kinship between humans and non-humans). In totemic BAY 11-7082 manufacturer and animistic complexes, anthropomorphism
per se is a non-concept. For example, identification of orangutans as human-like persons by Western visitors to orangutan conservation centers in Malaysia can result in a strong emotional bond that rewards conservation-oriented caring through volunteerism (Parreñas 2012). This empathetic egomorphization constructs a hybrid orangutan/human actor that “disrupts” nature vs. culture while also linking these categories through the “fluid nature of identification” with the orangutan (Sowards 2006; see Descola Sclareol 1996). The emotional bond is arguably motivating and rewarding in part because
it both creates and resolves the problem of orantugan-human similarity. By contrast, indigenous Indonesians already know that orangutans are kin. In their totemic conception, orangutans are humans who went to live in the forest, and they remain human (Sowards 2006). Anthropomorphization of orangutans for conservation outreach to this indigenous community might not produce a similar emotional bond of caring: what would it mean to anthropomorphize a person? The process of anthropomorphization of orangutans could have significantly different meanings across cultures. Many indigenous cultures have some form of totemic or animistic conception of what humans are. For example, in tropical South America monkeys are often a kind of human, or descendants of humans (Cormier 2006). Throughout the Americas, indigenous peoples have been characterized as understanding humans to be what animals and spirits know themselves as when they are at home (de Castro 1998).