Decolonizing Extinction By Juno Salazar Pareñas

Introduction by
Becky Mansfield And Rebecca Lave

Based on ethnographic research in two orangutan rehabilitation centers in Malaysian Borneo, the book urges us to think about mutual but unequal vulnerability in the face of annihilation.


n the introduction to Decolonizing Extinction, Juno Salazar Parreñas tell us that her “intention in this book is to urge reflection” (p. 3). As the reviews in this forum demonstrate, Parreñas was very successful!  This book made us think in new ways about extinction, rehabilitation, conservation, care, labor, gender, motherhood, sexual violence, coloniality, autonomy, vulnerability, and human-animal relations.  Decolonizing Extinction also made us feel in new ways, as we were confronted with the pain of individual human and nonhuman beings, and with the violence not only of colonialism and extinction but of rehabilitation and the quest for survival and autonomy.

Based on ethnographic research in two orangutan rehabilitation centers in Malaysian Borneo, the book urges us to think about mutual but unequal vulnerability in the face of annihilation. The first section of the book, Relations, examines how humans attempt to build social relations with orangutans, a famously solitary species. This section moves between the rehab center, the history of decolonization, and the global economy of tourism, between gender, labor, and affect. The second section, Enclosures, considers how orangutans and the humans who care for them experience inter-related enclosures. Focusing on “the shared interface of loss” for animals and people in the face of dispossession, this section moves from forced reproduction for orangutans to waged labor for indigenous caretakers (28). The third section, Futures, asks what the future of constrained rehabilitation might look like in the interlinked dynamics of financial capitalization and decolonization.  This section focuses on the arrested autonomy of the orangutans and their caretakers, and provides us with a vision of the rehabilitation center as hospice for a dying species.

Decolonizing Extinction urges an entirely different way of thinking about rehabilitation and the work of care for endangered species. The six review essays take up the framing questions that Parreñas poses for the reader (p.3): “What if we experienced this present era of extinction without violent domination and colonization over others, particularly nonhuman beings? Can we instead embrace the vulnerability of sharing our lives together, however fleeting those moments might be? Can we abandon an impression of safety that depends on cruelty?”

essays in this forum

Freeing Them To Die Or Forcing Them To Live: The Many Paradoxes In Decolonizing Extinction

For Parreñas decolonization, and the attendant work, labor, care and compensation it entails, is an ongoing process about fundamental ways of understanding and living in the world. It is about addressing human-nonhuman divides to imagine relations “beyond the tired colonial tropes of violence and benevolence.” Her approach to the study of human-animal relations is unsettling because it is non-teleological and asks us to leave open the notion of what “decolonization” looks and feels like. It is precisely for this reason that it is so relevant to unthinking the many constitutive binaries of colonial modernity.

Resisting The Reordering Of Life On Earth

Last year The Guardian generated a simple graphic (Carrington 2018) based on a new model of life on earth published by a team of systems biologists (Bar-On et al 2018). The graphic shows three figures sketched in light blue against a white background: a gigantic cow towering over a medium-sized, faceless human to its left, both of them facing the viewer while dwarfing a miniature rhinoceros to the right of the cow’s hooves, caught in motion as if about to scamper off the right-hand side of the page.

Feminism And Animal Studies

Juno Salazar Parreñas offers an intimate, holistic, and provocative study of wildlife workers and semi-wild orangutans at rehabilitation centres on Borneo. In Decolonizing Extinction, she foregrounds the work of care to explore the everyday social relations, grounded in mutual vulnerability and arrested autonomy, as well as experiences of loss and pain.

Politicizing Care

As someone who entered academia after more than a decade of doing hands-on work with animals in India, the complicated and often hidden ways in which harm enters practices and domains of more-than-human care have been a core interest of mine. Along the way, I have encountered insights, literatures, and empirical materials that have inspired, but also in some cases, baffled me, and raised more questions than they answered.

Hospice For Species

Juno 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.

Ethnography And Decoloniality

Decolonizing Extinction, by Juno Salazar Parreñas, is a powerful, thought-provoking, and touching account of the quotidian nature of mass extinction.

Response To Review Forum: Decolonizing Extinction

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