Size matters! The scalability of modern hunter-gatherer animism

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Cultural anthropology has for decades been committed to the tenet that all cultures deserve equal scholarly consideration, regardless of population or community size. In this article, I argue that the minuscule size of hunter-gatherer communities, as well as how they scale and imagine their worlds, are critical factors that should not be glossed over in their study. To illustrate my point, I examine the distortive effect of scale-blind research on a long-studied topic currently drawing renewed interest: indigenous animism. I demonstrate how uncritical use of key terms in analyzing animism, without regard for scale, inadvertently leads to serious disfiguring of hunter-gatherer worlds. I then factor scale into reanalysis of a South Indian forager community known as Nayaka that I started studying in the late 1970s. I argue that the Nayaka animistic cosmos is best understood in terms of a plurispecies community of local beings who are present in each other's lives, rather than in terms of human and nonhuman “persons” and “societies.”

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)305-314
Number of pages10
JournalQuaternary International
StatePublished - 10 Jan 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier Ltd and INQUA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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