skip to content

Department of Social Anthropology


“Only the orangutans get a life jacket”: Uncommoning responsibility in a global conservation nexus

Liana Chua (Cambridge), Hannah Fair (Oxford), Viola Schreer (Brunel), Anna Stępień (Brunel) and Paul Hasan Thung (Brunel)

Dr Liana Chua (University of Cambridge)

In an era of mass extinction, who gets a life jacket, who is left to drown or swim—and on what basis? This paper addresses these questions by exploring how tropes and practices of responsibility are variously enacted, reworked, contested, and refused across the global nexus of orangutan conservation. Drawing on multi-sited, collaborative ethnography, we trace the mutually constitutive relation between multiple orangutan-figures and commons imaginaries at different nodes of conservation—from environmental activism in the Global North to NGO-villager encounters in rural Borneo. In so doing, we “uncommon” international conservation’s encompassing planetary imaginaries, showing how dominant portrayals of the orangutan as a global responsibility are translated and fragmented in different settings. Thinking through our ethnography, we further contemplate what an analytic of responsibility might bring to ongoing discussions about the “commoning” planetary epoch in which conservation is increasingly embedded—the Anthropocene.


Friday, 22 October, 2021 - 16:15 to 18:00
Event location: 
Lecture room 6, Mill lane, Cambridge