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Can a Species Be a Person?: A Trope and Its Entanglements in the Anthropocene Era

Michael Carrithers, Louise J. Bracken and Steven Emery
Current Anthropology
Vol. 52, No. 5 (October 2011), pp. 661-685
DOI: 10.1086/661287
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/661287
Page Count: 25
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Can a Species Be a Person?
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Abstract

The notion that an animal species is comparable with a human person is unusual but significant in North Atlantic societies. We analyze this trope to make a case for rhetoric culture theory as a powerful form of anthropological analysis. The “species is person” trope has been woven with other tropes to make moral and cosmological arguments in the present geosocial era of environmental crisis. The trope stands against two others in North Atlantic societies, tropes that are themselves at odds: (1) other animal species are not persons but are means to our ends, and (2) each individual animal of a species is equivalent to an individual human person and so are ends in themselves. The “species is person” trope has been used to evoke the characteristically North Atlantic notion of sacred personhood to support action on behalf of human-distant species such as river-dwelling mollusks, species that unlike pandas or otters are not “charismatic.” The use of the trope both to alter understandings and to initiate commitments to action demonstrates its effectiveness as reasoning but also the importance of this style of analysis.

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