Can forests think? Do dogs dream? In this astonishing book, Eduardo Kohn challenges the very foundations of anthropology, calling into question our central assumptions about what it means to be human—and thus distinct from all other life forms. Based on four years of fieldwork among the Runa of Ecuador’s Upper Amazon, Eduardo Kohn draws on his rich ethnography to explore how Amazonians interact with the many creatures that inhabit one of the world’s most complex ecosystems. Whether or not we recognize it, our anthropological tools hinge on those capacities that make us distinctly human. However, when we turn our ethnographic attention to how we relate to other kinds of beings, these tools (which have the effect of divorcing us from the rest of the world) break down. How Forests Think seizes on this breakdown as an opportunity. Avoiding reductionistic solutions, and without losing sight of how our lives and those of others are caught up in the moral webs we humans spin, this book skillfully fashions new kinds of conceptual tools from the strange and unexpected properties of the living world itself. In this groundbreaking work, Kohn takes anthropology in a new and exciting direction–one that offers a more capacious way to think about the world we share with other kinds of beings.
About the Author
Eduardo Kohn is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at McGill University.
"What’s so welcome about Kohn’s approach is that he walks a tightrope with perfect balance: never losing sight of the unique aspects of being human, while refusing to force those aspects into separating us from the rest of the abundantly thinking world."
— Times Literary Supplement
"How Forests Think is an important book that provides a viable way for people educated in Western philosophy to approach indigenous animism without being credulous or inauthentic. It is refreshing to read a book of this intellectual caliber that takes Runa stories seriously and enters into dialogue with their claims using the tools of Western philosophy."
"Kohn pushes the reader to step out of an anthropocentric view and re-evaluate how humans can interpret the world. Indeed, the author stresses that the field of anthropology has been too short sighted and has not yet fully explored how other beings constitute what it is to be human."
— Space and Culture
"How Forests Think is a remarkable book. Eduardo Kohn uses language that captures your attention and makes you want to say “no” until, sometimes reluctantly, you will see what he wants you to see. Do forests think? No, of course not. And yet, in the way that this ethnography unpacks what that question means, the reader comes to understand that they do."
— American Anthropologist
"This study seduces at once by its methodological seriousness, the quality of its writing, and its construction. Indeed, the style is both rich and accessible, offering us clear—and often picturesque—explanations for complex concepts, using an intelligent syntax."
— Current Anthropology
"Kohn’s engaging and intellectually dynamic ethnography of the Runa and their relations to the world around them demonstrates that interrelations among people and dogs and forests, as just one example, play important, interactive and creative roles in the formation of human selves and their life histories. "
— Anthropology Now