Eduardo Kohn

Anthropology for the Ecozoic Lead – McGill University

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Eduardo Kohn is Associate Professor and lead for the Anthropology for the Ecozoic (A4E) Network Strategy Centre (NSC) in the Department of Anthropology at McGill University. He is dedicated to developing the conceptual equipment – the ideas, methods, and theories – to prepare us for living in this age of unprecedented anthropogenic climate change. He advocates for a fundamental rethinking of anthropology and “the human” so that we can learn to “ecologize” our ethics.

 

Professor Kohn’s work builds on twenty-five years of sustained and ongoing anthropological research with Amazonian indigenous people and uses a robust conceptual toolkit and a set of alternative ethnographic methods based on semiotics – the study of signs. In his critically acclaimed book, How Forests Think, he argues that in order to truly comprehend what it means to live in this age we need to reimagine our relationship to a larger living world that really – but in sometimes counter-intuitive ways – also thinks. How Forests Think won the 2014 Gregory Bateson Award for Best Book in Anthropology and is translated into nine languages. It has inspired the planetary ecological imaginary in a surprisingly diverse number of ways, ranging from an eponymous symphony premiering at Lincoln Center, to international museum exhibits, and best-selling works of fiction and non-fiction. The book been enthusiastically received and endorsed by leading scholars in anthropology and the environmental humanities.

 

Professor Kohn’s current project, Forest for the Trees, builds on this foundation to argue that a forest – that highly “absential” emergent product of a vast network of nonhuman semiosis – is a real thing and not merely a human abstraction. As such, a forest can provide a kind of ethical orientation for the sake of the various human and nonhuman life forms – the trees – it sustains. It can thus orient us, as we develop a mode of comportment and an orientation for these times of climate crisis. How to discern such guidance from the holistic properties a living world manifests is a complex philosophical problem (involving, as it turns out, the relation between aesthetics and ethics) that Professor Kohn explores ethnographically in the real world with a diverse and remarkably creative Ecuadorian network of indigenous activists, leaders, architects, lawyers, academics, scientists and artists.