The Anthropology of Extinction

The Anthropology of Extinction

Essays on Culture and Species Death
Edited by Genese Marie Sodikoff
Distribution: World
Publication date: 11/17/2011
Format: paper 256 pages, 8 b&w illus.
6 x 9
ISBN: 978-0-253-22364-7
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We live in an era marked by an accelerating rate of species death, but since the early days of the discipline, anthropology has contemplated the death of languages, cultural groups, and ways of life. The essays in this collection examine processes of—and our understanding of—extinction across various domains. The contributors argue that extinction events can be catalysts for new cultural, social, environmental, and technological developments—that extinction processes can, paradoxically, be productive as well as destructive. The essays consider a number of widely publicized cases: island species in the Galápagos and Madagascar; the death of Native American languages; ethnic minorities under pressure to assimilate in China; cloning as a form of species regeneration; and the tiny hominid Homo floresiensis fossils ("hobbits") recently identified in Indonesia. The Anthropology of Extinction offers compelling explorations of issues of widespread concern.

Author Bio

Genese Marie Sodikoff is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Rutgers University, Newark. She is author of Forest and Labor in Madagascar: From Colonial Concession to Global Biosphere (IUP, 2012).


"The Anthropology of Extinction provides compelling evidence for deep connections between cultural, linguistic, and bio-diversity, and exposes the common threats they now face. This book will serve as a timely call to action for anthropologists, linguists, biologists, and activists." —K. David Harrison, Swarthmore College and National Geographic Society

"As key players in the development of the extinction narrative, anthropologists have mostly neglected their potential as critical interlocutors and have not theorized extinction as a meta-narrative on a globalizing planet—until now, that is. This volume’s contributors offer refreshing, insightful, and challenging analytic accounts of the multi-dimensional power of the trope of extinction in specific cultural, linguistic, biological, and environmental case-studies. Their critical interventions do not diminish the anxieties with which we must confront global ecological and sociocultural crises, but each author’s work highlights the necessity for deeper historical understanding and keener political acumen in anthropology’s encounters with the multiple varieties of extinction taking place in this century." —Les W. Field, University of New Mexico

"[F]ulfills a very important need. . . . It is in keeping with the best and most important aspects of ‘posthumanism’ and the trend toward questioning the boundaries between human and nonhuman life. . . . [R]eadable and thought-provoking." —Molly Mullin, author (with Rebecca Cassidy)
Where the Wild Things Are Now: Domestication Reconsidered

"The Anthropology of Extinction offers compelling explorations of issues of widespread concern." —The Birdbooker Report

"If extinctions are seen as unfamiliar, faraway events, we often fail to think about them, let alone take conscious action to prevent them. Future studies in extinction discourse will do well to further interrogate the relationship between extinctions in 'local' and 'foreign' contexts, while interrogating the assumptions that undergird these very designations. A valuable step in this direction, The Anthropology of Extinction gives us the tools we need to bring us closer to the discomfiting, disorienting, destabilizing real." —Make Magazine

"In an age of academic interdisciplinarity, it is often worth reading well outside the confines of one’s discipline, for one can find valuable and unexpected insights. This volume of essays explores the connections, similarities, and sometimes interactions between biological and cultural extinctions. It emphasizes the nuances of language used to define extinctions and pending extinctions, drawing on each of the main sub-fields of anthropology. Genese Marie Sodikoff, the volume’s editor, has drawn together an eclectic group of authors, resulting in a very loose-knit set of ideas, but a set that provocatively makes one think about extinction in novel ways." —Biological Conservation

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Table of Contents


Introduction: Accumulating Absence—Cultural Productions of the Sixth Extinction \ Genese Marie Sodikoff

Part 1. The Social Construction of Biotic Extinction
1. A Species Apart: Ideology, Science, and the End of Life \ Janet Chernela
2. From Ecocide to Genetic Rescue: Can Technoscience Save the Wild? \ Tracey Heatherington
3. Totem and Taboo Reconsidered: Endangered Species and Moral Practice in Madagascar \ Genese Marie Sodikoff

Part 2. Endangered Species and Emergent Identities
4. Tortoise Soup for the Soul: Finding a Space for Human History in Evolution's Laboratory \ Jill Constantino
5. Global Environmentalism and the Emergence of Indigeneity: The Politics of Cultural and Biological Diversity in China \ Michael Hathaway

Part 3. Red-Listed Languages
6. Last Words, Final Thoughts: Collateral Extinctions in Maliseet Language Death \ Bernard C. Perley
7. Dying Young: Pidgins, Creoles, and Other Contact Languages as Endangered Languages \ Paul B. Garrett

Part 4. Prehistories of an Apex Predator
8. Demise of the Bet Hedgers: A Case Study of Human Impacts on Past and Present Lemurs of Madagascar \ Laurie R. Godfrey and Emilienne Rasoazanabary
9. Disappearing Wildmen: Capture, Extirpation, and Extinction as Regular Components of Representations of Putative Hairy Hominoids \ Gregory Forth

Epilogue: Prolegomenon for a New Totemism \ Peter M. Whiteley

List of Contributors
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