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

Response To Review Forum: Decolonizing Extinction

Writing this book for me was painful and the reasons for that pain venture into a story that might not be, as scholar Christina Sharpe (2016) has written, mine to tell. Yet whose story belongs to who is very difficult for an ethnographer. What we experience, what we notice is always social and thus belongs to every participant, every witness in that shared moment—however fragmented or particular one’s perspective is.


Juno Salazar Parreñas

Resisting The Reordering Of Life On Earth

Based on more than a year of meticulous, shrewd observation at two wildlife rehabilitation centres in Sarawak, Parreñas gives us an intimate and embodied glimpse into one way this transformation is unfolding: in an anxious scramble to prevent orangutan extinction in two postage-stamp sized, dubious refugia, while leaving all the structures causing that extinction intact.


Rosemary Collard

Ethnography And Decoloniality

"Decolonizing Extinction", by Juno Salazar Parreñas, is a powerful, thought-provoking, and touching account of the quotidian nature of mass extinction. I found it both heartbreaking and lovely. I think this affective response is the central argument of the book.


Becky Mansfield

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

Parreñas' 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.


Kiran Asher

Politicizing Care

Over the years of thinking about the entanglement of harm and care in more-than-human spaces, three key themes have preoccupied me: a) the relationship between the individual (organism) and the collective (species, ecosystem, population); b) the links between the socio-political context and embodied, everyday encounters, i.e., between structure and agency; and c) in a related vein, the relationship between care and justice. "Decolonizing Extinction" by Juno Salazar Parreñas tackles all three themes head on through an ethnography of orangutan rehabilitation and conservation in Borneo.


Krithika Srinivasan

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.


Alice J. Hovorka

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.


Rebecca Lave