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by Katherine Wright (University of New England – Australia)

Multispecies ethnography is particularly attentive to Becoming’s – what Eben Kirksey and Stefan Helmreich describe as ‘new kinds of relations emerging from nonhierarchical alliances, symbiotic attachments, and the mingling of creative agents.’ Becoming involves a metaphysics that is grounded in connection, challenging delusions of separation. Donna Haraway tells us that “If we appreciate the foolishness of human exceptionalism then we know that becoming is always becoming with, in a contact zone where the outcome, where who is in the world, is at stake.”

Becomings often involve the development of hybrid, embodied and multisensorial languages to communicate across species boundaries. In this clip a puppy and magpie are immersed in an inter-species dance, becoming-with one another through play. Haraway observes that the joy of play ‘breaks rules to make something else happen.’ In this ‘joint dance of being’ critters are ‘bounded in significant otherness’ – a relational constitution of identity where beings ‘are neither whole nor parts’ but rather are made in the fleshly space of encounter.’

Becomings are not imitation, nor literal transformation (from a magpie into a dog, for example), but the proliferation of multiple identities and ways of being in the world. Deleuze and Guattari observe ‘becoming animal does not consist in playing animal or imitating an animal’ and one ‘does not “really” become an animal any more than the animal “really” becomes something else… What is real is the becoming itself, the block of becoming, not the supposedly fixed terms through which that becoming passes’.

Becomings are a form of worlding which open up the frames of what registers to us and so what matters to us (in part by recognizing what matters to others). For example, in becoming-dog one does not acquire fur or paws, but becomes attuned to a multiplicity of worlds through encounter with a new relational context – a doggish umwelt. In other words, we become-with lives, not bodies, and lives are always connected to worlds.

From this multispecies perspective becoming-with can be understood as an ecology, where becomings are openings into the responsive capacity of all earthly life, with important implications for ethics. If our knowledge of Earth’s complex ecological systems relies on interspecies becomings, then issues like extinction, conservation and biodiversity are epistemic – if we lose a species we might irrevocably damage a multispecies way of knowing through becoming-with, diminishing what Mick Smith has termed the “species of possibilities” that define our “sense of the world”.

Further Reading

Buchanan, Brett (2008) Onto-Ethologies: The Animal Environments of Uexküll, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Deleuze, Albany: State University of New York Press.

Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari (1987) A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrena, Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.

Haraway, Donna (2003) The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness, Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.

Haraway, Donna (2008) When Species Meet, Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.

Helmreich, Stefan and S. Eben Kirksey (2010) ‘The Emergence of Multispecies Ethnography,’ Cultural Anthropology 25(4): 545 – 576.

Smith, Mick (2013) ‘Ecological Community, the Sense of the World, and Senseless Extinction,’ Environmental Humanities 2: 21 – 41.

von Uexküll, Jacob (1957) “A Stroll Through the Worlds of Animals and Men: A Picture Book of Invisible Worlds,” Instinctive Behavior: The Development of a Modern Concept, ed. and trans. Claire H. Schiller, New York: International Universities Press, pp. 5–80.

Katherine Wright: profile
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a companion to the book