Decolonizing Extinction: The Work of Care in Orangutan Rehabilitation (Duke University Press, 2018) presents a multi-species ethnography of orangutans and humans that probes the shared susceptibilities of both species in the face of future extinction. In a series of provocative chapters, the book interweaves intimate entanglements in the workings of an orangutan rehabilitation centre with reflection on the work of care that draws on queer theory and feminist conceptions of welfare. By centralizing such rehabilitation efforts, the book reveals the contradictions inherent in such a system. The practice of rehabilitation, it shows, is underpinned by violence. Parreñas demonstrates the colonial origins of such an approach to conservation biology and how care within enclosures traps both humans and endangered primates alike. As such, we should urgently question how we could divest ourselves from the need for security that is dependent on cruelty and seek instead a decolonial era of co-existence which welcomes and finds joy in our moments of brief, mutual vulnerability.
In this conversation, we discuss models of orangutan care, coerced copulations, the concept of “arrested autonomy” and how we as a species could love better.
Juno Salazar Parreñas is an assistant professor at the Department of Science & Technology Studies at Cornell University. Her research interests centre on human-animal relations and the institution of environmental justice. This book received the 2019 Michelle Z. Rosaldo Prize, biennially awarded by the Association for Feminist Anthropology for a first book as well as honourable mentions for the 2019 New Millennium Prize, the 2019 Diana Forsythe Prize and the 2020 Harry Benda Prize from the Association for Asian Studies.
For more on orangutans in Borneo, check out the following:
SSEAC Interview with conservation scholar Dr. June Rubis here.
NBN Interview with historian Prof. Robert Cribb here.
Faizah Zakaria is an assistant professor of Southeast Asian history at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. You can find her website at www.faizahzak.com or Twitter @laurelinarien.
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