How persons become things: Economic and epistemological changes among Nayaka hunter-gatherers

Danny Naveh, Nurit Bird-David

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The ontologies and epistemologies of hunter-gatherers have attracted growing attention in recent years as these people are undergoing changes. We examine these changes, focusing on one particular case based on our studies of the South Indian Nayaka; they have recently added cultivation and animal husbandry to their partially ongoing hunting and gathering life-style. Resisting analysis based on an assumed forest/domesticated dichotomy, we show that forest and domesticated animals and plants are both regarded as sentient co-dwellers in some cases, and as objects in others, depending not on what they are in essence, or where they are, but on when, by whom, and for what purpose they are approached. We argue that pockets of utilitarian framing emerge within the continuing relational epistemology of the Nayaka along with a growing departure from immediacy in the production-consumption nexus. In these pockets, the vivid presence of animals and plants is concealed, and they no longer appear as persons but as things.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)74-92
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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