Ethnobiology, the Ontological Turn, and Human Sociality

Journal of Ethnobiology 43 (3):198-207 (2023)
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The ontological turn (OT) is a loose cluster of theoretical approaches within cultural anthropology that advocates a synthetic, overarching way forward for ethnographically oriented cultural anthropology. We argue that in order to contribute substantively to ethnobiology the OT needs to distance itself from a long-standing tradition of thinking within ethnography that assumes some kind of fundamental divide between the natural and the social sciences. This distancing seems especially unlikely in light of the meta-anthropological nature of the OT as primarily a perspective on ethnographic methodology. Instead, we advocate for naturalistic theoretical alternatives for thinking about human sociality, where philosophical innovation develops in concert with ongoing empirical work across the biological, cognitive, and social sciences. We illustrate this perspective by drawing on two naturalistic accounts likely to prove more fruitful for ethnobiological practice, namely, trans-genera models of sociality and progenerative views of kinship.

Author Profiles

Lucia C. Neco
University of Western Australia
Robert A. Wilson
University of Western Australia


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