Beyond-human influences on the formation and transmission of environmental ethics in Amazonia

In most Amazonian societies, the communication with beings beyond the human (e.g., animals, plants, or spirits) exerts a large influence on social life. A range of ethnographic studies show for instance how beyond-humans may prescribe behavioural rules, punish gross misdemeanour, or serve as reminder of moral codes (for example by means of dreams or by sending visual cues and sounds).

Following the ontological turn in anthropology, the research project aims to learn how to learn from and with these beyond-human beings. In particular, it seeks to elucidate how beyond-humans influence the formation and transmission of environmental ethics.

Building on recent advances in the anthropology of ethics, environmental ethics are conceptualised as the reflective processes, norms, and values that inform human conduct towards beyond-human surroundings. The detailed analysis of the formation and transmission of environmental ethics may provide guidance for development and conservation projects, and may help to navigate our current ecological crisis. More generally, it may inform literatures in ecological economics, political ecology, development studies, anthropology, and philosophy.

The research is based on twelve months of fieldwork among an indigenous people in the Amazon region and includes participant observation, participatory methods, focus group discussions as well as semi-structured interviews.

Theodor Borrmann
Research Student