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Durham e-Theses
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Multi-species entanglement: Human-baboon interactions in Nthongoni, eastern Kenya

MWANGI, DANSON,KARERI (2019) Multi-species entanglement: Human-baboon interactions in Nthongoni, eastern Kenya. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

PDF (Thesis) - Accepted Version


This thesis is an ethnographic study of multispecies relations in a post-colonial conservation context. The thesis is based on one year of ethnographic fieldwork and focuses on the creation and management of Tsavo and Chyulu Hills National Parks in Kenya, to explore how the parks have influenced the health and well-being of humans and wildlife. I use a multispecies approach, focusing on the entangled lives of humans and baboons as a window onto broader human-wildlife and nature-culture relations. I describe how human-wildlife relations in Nthongoni, eastern Kenya, are constructed by a global conservation agenda that is itself shaped by multiple transnational, national and local political and economic influences. I suggest that contemporary human-baboon relations in Nthongoni cannot be understood separately from these wider influences. The people of Nthongoni were dispossessed from the land they previously shared with wildlife, pushed to the periphery of the parks and alienated both physically and socioeconomically. In spite of this, the lives of humans and baboons remain deeply entangled across the parks’ borders. I argue that alienation of people living alongside parks from economic potentials offered by the parks is another form of failed well-being. I shift the traditional anthropological paradigm from a focus on ‘culture’, to attend to the ways in which humans and nonhuman others co-produce life, health and well-being for each other. Further, I attend to political power structures that influence human-nonhuman interactions. I describe how the concept of ‘pristine’ nature involves making wildlife areas uninhabited through exclusion of indigenous people, and re-inhabited with tourists, conservation staff, hoteliers and tour guides. Rather than seeing wildlife areas as nonhuman landscapes, I invite debates on the depth to which ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ are entwined and inseparable. I reveal a human-baboon entanglement that runs beyond everyday interactions and sharing of space, to active participation of baboons in human semiotic lives, sharing of food and water and potential exchange of microbes. Further, by exploring overlap of microbes between humans and baboons, I move beyond ethnographic attention to social interactions and provide microbial evidence for how humans and animals are likely to be entangled in each other’s biological health and well-being. I bring human-nonhuman interactions under the lens of both the anthropology of conservation and medical anthropology and make use of a novel methodological combination of social and biological sciences to re-imagine health and well-being through post-human scholarship.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Multi-species relations, Ethnoprimatology, Dispossessed landscapes, Colonial conservation, One Health, Alienation, Post-human scholarship
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Anthropology, Department of
Thesis Date:2019
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:06 Feb 2020 08:03

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