The ABCs of Multispecies Studies

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Eben Kirksey, Curator and Editor
Elan Abrell, Karin Bolender, Laura  McLauchlan, Jeffrey Bussolini, Editorial Board
Craig Schuetze, Provocateur
Manon Meyer-Hilfiger, Jane Kang, Production and Editorial Assistants

Alphabets have been used to make sense of disparate fragments of discourses by philosophers such as Gilles Deleuze and Roland Barthes. They capture emergent concepts that are not fully formed, but that start to take on order within alphabetic logics.

In codifying the ABCs of Multispecies Studies we are reaching out to our swarm of creative collaborators–poachers who are prepared to trespass within the lexicon of others, as well as authors who have coined their own concepts.

Alphabets typically involve a search for roots, which is perhaps why encyclopedias arose as a genre alongside disciplines that produced origin myths. In the domains of high art and in early enterprises of colonial anthropology, intellectuals gave prestige to originals and origins. In their recent refusals to conform to diachronic standards of validity, however, both artists and anthropologists have turned away from genealogical projects and practices that require an established pedigree.

The Multispecies Salon is creating a kind of alphabet that reaches to the biological as well as etymological–containing both roots and rhizomes. Authors of the Multispecies ABCs will move beyond the domain of ethnography, to bring in key morphemes from geography, ecology, archaeology, history, queer theory, and allied intellectual traditions. Letters will represent more than one word. A is for Animal as well for Anthropos; B is for Becoming and for Buzz; C is for Care and Charisma.  Rather than privilege our favorite literal organisms, we will only accept critter keywords if they have serious figural potential, like P for Parasite.

Alphabets tell us as much about what we know as what we do not. In L’Abécédaire Gilles Deleuze used the letters X and Y to stand for unknown variables, black boxes of knowledge as uncharted as the elements on the periodic table. Yet these lacunas of language are not empty.

Bjorn Norgaard’s introduction to the Danish Cast Collection, a series of plaster replicas of some of Europe’s finest art, offers an archaeological perspective on types of alphabetic knowledge:

“In the 1960s we believed that the physical work of art was empty. But what postmodern philosophers referred to as “simulacrum” instead turned out to be like an alphabet in language, a vantage point even for recent art forms. Form, color, line, is the basic alphabet of visual art, just like A, B, C, D, E on the keyboard. Visual art, like science, is based on layer upon layer, accumulated through generations, through reference, rebellion, quotes, citations, new theories, stealing of other people’s work or ideas, charlatans, hearsay, and so on.”

Norgaard’s words offer an apt frame for the ABCs of Multispecies Studies. Our alphabet will map out citations and references, while offering rebellious readings of emergent theory.

You cannot argue with a dictionary.  You can only write a new one.

Further Reading

Barthes, Roland (1978) A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments. New York: Hill and Wang.

Christensen, Inger (2001) Alphabet, New Directions.

Deleuze, Gilles (2011) Gilles Deleuze from A to Z. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

Raffles, Hugh (2010) The Illustrated Insectopedia: Insect Love From A-Z. New York: Pantheon/Vintage.


Click on a letter to view the corresponding Multispecies ABC entries

b2c d EgH

 L mp


Alphabet des animaux, A. Caulo, Paris, 1856 

The Letter B
Becomings by Kate Wright                             Buzz by Mary Kosut & Lisa Jean Moore

The Letter C
Care by Thom van Dooren                           Charisma by Jamie Lorimer
Cryopolitics by Emma Kowal & Joanna Radin 

The Letter D
Diaspora by Laura Ogden                                  Domestication by John Hartigan

Double Death by Deborah Bird Rose

The Letter E
Image EthnographyDeanna Pindell's wool sculptures, Thneeds Reseeds, on display in Sydney, Australia.
Ethnography by Jeff Bussolini                   Ecoart by Karin Bolender & Deanna Pindell
& Ananya Mukherjea     

Eros by Deborah Bird Rose

The Letter G
Service groups gather at Long & Scott's farm to participate in the Society of St. Andrew's Florida corn "gleaning" project, Saturday, October 5, 2013. Gleaning is a second harvest of crops for smaller vegetables that don't meet commercial standards but are passed on to area food banks. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel)

Gleaning  by Jane Kang, poaching Rusten Hogness

The Letter H

Hope by Eben Kirksey

The Letter L

Labor by Jennifer Hamilton

The Letter M

Microbiopolitics by Heather Paxon

The Letter P
The Reverend Of Nano Bio Info Cogno by Praba Pilar.2008 Baiser ange 3
Paraethnography by Eben Kirksey         Praxis by Beth Carruthers

Personhood by Dafna                                      Poaching by Eben Kirksey,                                        Shir-Vertesh                                                         Craig Schuetze & Nick Shapiro                                                                                                         

The Letter R

Rot by Joanna Radin

The Letter S
photograph-of-sloane-herbarium-specimen-volume_33277_1man anaconda spectacular
Species by John Hartigan                                    Spectacular by Paige West
Swarm by Eben Kirksey, Craig Schuetze & Nick Shapiro

The Letter W
DSCN2125 (1)
Wild by Rosemary Collard
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a companion to the book