Decolonizing Extinction

The Work of Care in Orangutan Rehabilitation

Book Pages: 288 Illustrations: 7 illustrations Published: August 2018

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Natural Sciences, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

In Decolonizing Extinction Juno Salazar Parreñas ethnographically traces the ways in which colonialism, decolonization, and indigeneity shape relations that form more-than-human worlds at orangutan rehabilitation centers on Borneo. Parreñas tells the interweaving stories of wildlife workers and the centers' endangered animals while demonstrating the inseparability of risk and futurity from orangutan care. Drawing on anthropology, primatology, Southeast Asian history, gender studies, queer theory, and science and technology studies, Parreñas suggests that examining workers’ care for these semi-wild apes can serve as a basis for cultivating mutual but unequal vulnerability in an era of annihilation. Only by considering rehabilitation from perspectives thus far ignored, Parreñas contends, could conservation biology turn away from ultimately violent investments in population growth and embrace a feminist sense of welfare, even if it means experiencing loss and pain.


"This is seriously thought-provoking and challenging material, and it may be essential to understand it if we want to save orangutans from ourselves." — John R. Platt, The Revelator

"Impactful. . . .  Juno S. Parreñas details diverse assumptions and expectations participants bring to this complex network, thereby generating a unique and timely addition to the conservation literature. Highly recommended. Advanced undergraduates through faculty and professionals." — L. K. Sheeran, Choice

"Decolonizing Extinction is essential reading for anyone with the ambition to do multispecies ethnography well. It’s also a beautiful and moving book that struggles with the ethical weight of ethnography as a mode of knowledge production." — Gabriel N. Rosenberg, Radical History Review

"This important book asks us to suspend our desire for clear answers. It offers foster or hospice care for dying species as a thread of hope by which to connect the grey shadow of biopolitics to the black of necropolitics." — Kiran Asher, Society & Space

"[This book] excels in these tricky in-between places: in meetings between species, between temporalities, between bodies, between genders, between sexes, and across divergent positions within colonial histories and presents. Parreñas tracks meetings across difference with the best kind of ethnographic sensitivity." — Rosemary Collard, Society & Space

"Decolonizing Extinction offers a compelling example of why feminism is well suited and positioned to take on issues related to animals, as well as how gender relations of power are necessarily embedded in human-animal relations, and in turn broader process of colonization and arrested autonomy." — Alice Hovorka, Society & Space

"The book brilliantly weaves discussions about broader socio-political transformations and norms alongside very careful and detailed accounts of the everyday practices and interactions between orangutans and people." — Krithika Srinivasan, Society & Space

"A powerful, thought-provoking, and touching account of the quotidian nature of mass extinction." — Becky Mansfield, Society & Space

"Parreñas’s Decolonizing Extinction is a beautifully written book, in which she uses a case study of orangutan rehabilitation on Borneo to weave together many complex analytic threads: gender, race, and labor; care, violence, and freedom; liberalism and neoliberalism; the geological past, the colonial present, and the prospect of a different future." — Rebecca Lave, Society & Space

"Though this book does not focus on the behavioural ecology of reintroduced orangutans, gaining an insight to social relations between wildlife workers and captive orangutans is vital for understanding the underlying mechanisms of conservation initiatives in indigenous communities. It provides a perspective thus far ignored. The descriptive and anecdotal writing style lures the reader into the narrative, portraying the sense of emotion and openness. Though this book is specifically about Lundu Wildlife Centre and is not representative of all orangutan rehabilitation projects, it is a valuable source for those seeking wider reading of conservation initiatives, without the solely-biology focus." — Emma Lokuciejewski, Primate Eye

“With Decolonizing Extinction, Juno Salazar Parreñas gives us a groundbreaking and beautifully written multispecies ethnography that explores the entwined lives of human and nonhuman primates. Deftly combining primatology, political ecology, and postcolonial and feminist theory, her book will interest biological and cultural anthropologists alike and has the potential to foster deeper cross-disciplinary engagement.” — Genese Marie Sodikoff, American Ethnologist

“Even the processes of extinction are subject to active colonization. But what would shared vulnerability be outside violent domination and ongoing colonization of human and nonhuman others? This book's focus is the painful work of care of captive 'rehabilitating' orangutans by workers themselves enmeshed in structures of arrested autonomy. These are extraordinary, entirely unromantic social relations at the edge of extinction and at the heart of extraction and exploitation. Here is a deep, heartfelt, and quite simply brilliant book that gives us a needed theory of decolonization in the everyday work of care in impossible circumstances. Who lives and who dies and how inside which practices of care? How might things—still—be otherwise?” — Donna J. Haraway, author of Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene

“How can humans and orangutans share a future together in the midst of violence and extinction? How do we embrace risk and cultivate attentiveness with endangered species? Can we let go of safe inequality? In this moving, stunning story of interspecies relations in a Malaysian wildlife center, Juno Salazar Parreñas demands we decolonize our understanding of conviviality, extinction, and loss. Functioning as an orangutan hospice, a place for palliation and not solutions, the wildlife center becomes a tragic allegory for the fate of our planet. What is to be done? Here Parreñas allows us to glimpse a different future.” — Warwick Anderson, author of Colonial Pathologies: American Tropical Medicine, Race, and Hygiene in the Philippines


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Juno Salazar Parreñas is Assistant Professor of Science and Technology Studies & Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Cornell University and editor of Gender: Animals.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction: Decolonizing Extinction  1
Part I. Relations
1. From Ape Motherhood to Tough Love  33
2. On the Surface of Skin and Earth  61
Part II. Enclosures
3. Forced Copulation for Conservation  83
4. Finding a Living  105
Part III. Futures
5. Arrested Autonomy  131
6. Hospice for a Dying Species  157
Conclusion: Living and Dying Together  177
Notes  189
References  223
Index  255
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Honorable Mention, 2019 Diana Forsythe Prize by the General Anthropology Division of the American Anthropological Association

Honorable Mention, Harry J. Benda Prize, presented by the Southeast Asia Council (SEAC) of the Association for Asian Studies

Honorable Mention, New Millennium Book Award from the Society for Medical Anthropology Section of the American Anthropological Association

Winner of the 2019 Michelle Z. Rosaldo Book Prize, presented by the Association for Feminist Anthropology

Named a 2019 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Additional InformationBack to Top