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How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human
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How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  319 ratings  ·  40 reviews
Can forests think? Do dogs dream? In this astonishing book, Eduardo Kohn challenges the very foundations of anthropology, calling into question our central assumptions about what it means to be human—and thus distinct from all other life forms. Based on four years of fieldwork among the Runa of Ecuador’s Upper Amazon, Eduardo Kohn draws on his rich ethnography to explore h ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published August 10th 2013 by University of California Press (first published January 1st 2013)
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Average rating 3.87  · 
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 ·  319 ratings  ·  40 reviews

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Eelin Hoffström
Note to self: if you write a book about how FORESTS think, define what you mean by 'forest'. This book is all about thinking, and many different ways of thinking, by many different thinkers in a forest. But if you are wanting to read something about the agency and thinking of the actual trees or other less animate objects in a forest, you'll be disappointed. I think then you should probably read: The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate — Discoveries From a Secret World by ...more
Oct 25, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This was a crushing disappointment. His AE essay on how dogs dream was terrific and made me briefly hopeful that he was someone pursuing the ontological turn who was equally ready to look at both political economy and Viveiros de Castro. But really there's nothing even remotely like that here. Instead this is ~280 pages of turgid meditations on whether Terrance Deacon or C.S. Peirce is more awesome (answer: they're both awesome). There's nothing about Forests thinking here, rather we are given t ...more
May 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The best book I've read that I can't recommend to anyone. Readers must be comfortable with ontological, epistemological, anthropological thinking with an understanding of semiotics.
Mar 29, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2016
An incredibly interesting book on anthropology and how indigenous people of South America see the world.
Jun 08, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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Min Joo
Dec 28, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Eduardo Kohn’s How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human asks humans to understand the world through the perspectives of other than humans. Further, through his research, Kohn encourages anthropologists to engage in ethnography beyond the human. Kohn weaves his own ethnographic research conducted alongside Amazonian Avila with various theories such as that by Viveiros de Castro, John Berger, Judith Butler, Donna Haraway, and Tim Ingold to just name a few whose ideas make appeara ...more
I first shelved this ages ago I think mostly on the strength of the title, and picked it up with a bunch of other books earlier this summer. When I dipped in to sample the first chapter, I realized it had some bearing on an upcoming project, so I put it off until the time when I was prepared to confront that project. In the meantime, I pursued another line of research that I knew was vaguely related, but which actually turned out to be important context for this book, so by the time I went back ...more
Dec 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Life is constitutively semiotic
Charles Sanders Peirce's 3 types of signs: icons, indices, symbols
Only the third type of sign (symbol) specifies human language, but humans and non human animals represent themselves and the world through the first two
An anthropology beyond the human accounts for the semiosis (interpretation and representation) of living beings
All living beings are selves - loci of a living ecology
All living beings live to inhabit a future
All living b
Aidan Vosooghi
Jun 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Eduardo Kohn’s highly theoretical and intellectually rigorous work, How Forests Think, invites its readers to critically engage with the site of Kohn’s fieldwork -- the uniquely enchanted, semiotically rich “ecology of selves” that comprises the Upper Amazonian Forest – in this fascinating discussion of thinking selves. Rooted in concrete ethnographic experiences, the text is simultaneously dedicated to thoroughly developing Kohn’s argument for an expanded view of the kinds of selves that think and m ...more
Nerve Macaspac
Jun 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Eduardo Kohn's How Forests Think reflects on the entanglements between human and non-human. As a critique to the human-centric ethnographic representation prevalent in anthropology, Kohn foregrounds an ethnography that is "beyond human" that decenters and defamiliarizes the human (125). Kohn posits that as humans we need to look beyond ourselves and learn to see how we are merely one voice within an "ecology of selves" (78). An incredibly rich ethnography, How Forests Think transcends an ontological ...more
Jun 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book, How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology beyond the Human, by Eduardo Kohn, provides ethnography with environmental policy and civic engagement in mind. Through his use of semiotics, Kohn demonstrates the extension humans have with their surroundings through examples with the Runa Avila in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The text demonstrates the requirement for people to recognize their effect on others, in this case, others being humans as well as other-then-human persons. Acknowledging oth ...more
Selaine Henriksen
I'm having a hard time processing this book into 'regular' language. I suppose that means I haven't understood it so well, which is likely true. The language is so densely academic that I understand while I'm reading (or think I do) but have a difficult time relaying what I've understood.

The author lived with the Runa in the Amazon but, although an anthropological study, this is not a study of how they see the world. Or how 'we' see them. It tries to go beyond to how all living creat
Forrest Gander
Mar 10, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
My Aussie eco-poetic friend Stuart Cooke gave this 3 stars, and I respect him, but I found the book completely preposterous, and I did want so much to like it. But Eduardo Kohn hyper-romanticizes the Amazonian Runa as the nearly perfect community, the paragons for all of us (in large part, no doubt, because the Runa happen to be the culture he has spent some time with over a brief four years; if he'd spent time with the Havyakas in Karnataka, one gets the feeling he would make the same claims fo ...more
Nick Fisher
I just finished reading Kohn's How Forests Think for the second time -- once during my first term in grad school and now in the penultimate quarter of the Master's program -- and I can honestly say that his exploration of an "ecology of selves" is a formative component of my approach to Anthropology. More clearly than other social theorists, Kohn breaks down several binaries caught up in that persistent Cartesian worldview, whose destruction is the project of many postmodern social scholars. In ...more
Nov 03, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
"How other kinds of beings see us matters. Th at other kinds of beings see us changes things. If jaguars also represent us—in ways that can matter vitally to us—then anthropology cannot limit itself just to exploring how people from different societies might happen to represent them as doing so. Such encounters with other kinds of beings force us to recognize the fact that seeing, representing,
and perhaps knowing, even thinking, are not exclusively human affairs."
Megan Mcginty
Nov 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Awesome book. Am reading it for the second time & will have to do so again. Dense and academic, this book lives deeply in the blurry border of human-nature relations, working to trouble divides we have wrought. Other reviewers have written more articulate and specific reviews, but i highly recommend this to anyone investigating the issue.
Eva De
Jul 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's about anthropology beyond humans. If you've studied semiotics, it's a great book to read. It leads to understanding human relations to nonhuman beings, which leads to understanding ourselves better.
Justin Abraham
How nonhumans signify.
Beyond binaries.
Human interactions with nonhumans.
Distrust of your own body.
Trans/inter-subjectivity occasioned by rotting fruit.
Casey Tester
Nov 16, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
So disappointing and difficult to ascertain what he means because he constantly jumps back and forth between topics that he already wrote a conclusion to.
Jun 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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Jonna Higgins-Freese
Probably three stars is not fair -- if I were to evaluate this on its own terms, the terms in which it explicitly seems to want to be taken seriously, as highly theorized academic discourse, it would get five stars. But as a lay person reading just for interest, I found that what it was saying actually seemed to be very basic: there are non-human subjects and agents in the world that communicate with each other. This is one of those things that must be theorized and argued and justified to be ac ...more
Jun 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 25, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Plodding, arcane, and bewilderingly detached from its stated subject matter. I was not persuaded as to the utility of framing the study with the linguistic model of Charles Peirce, which seemed more of an in-house distraction for the benefit of anthropologists and one more layer of mediation between the reader and the subject. Show, don’t tell. In the end, undertaking a ‘post-human’ project that does not more fully and equally engage with non-humanist, scientific knowledge (of forests, jaguars, ...more
Oct 25, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I think anyone who has done their speculative realism reading eventually comes across this book being automatically recommended to them. It definitely has its virtues for those of us on that side of things. It also was more than a bit too linguistically focused for me and that may be the case with other materialists. There were a few times were I thought the author's core points were becoming lost in the opaqueness of the text. That being said, the anecdotes from living with the Runa in the Amaz ...more
R. Muzaffer
The author has good points and principles to discuss. Ecology of minds associated with things that humans are only a part of and the interrelations between them within the context of political economy is an interesting concept to think about. On the other hand, these are dragged throughout the book and it feels like he actually has a lot more experiences and thoughts that could be part of a longer and interesting book.
Mar 12, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kohn basically uses C.S. Peirce's semiotics to argue that all forms of nonhuman life think and communicate. There's an excursion about form, and as the book goes further on, it gets harder to discern much of a coherent point, at least in the last chapter (for me, anyway). It's a lot of redefining terms in strange ways and teasing out conclusions from there, a lot of which I felt weren't entirely justified. Still interesting though, especially as an intellectual exercise.
Mar 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one to revisit. It presents a new (to me) idea of culture beyond that of humans. I enjoyed reading and thinking about this. It certainly adds to the discussion of climate change and over development.
Jul 20, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
so garbage, anthropology is a human discourse and a product of the enlightenment, native particularism is a product of whinging mystics who are part of the same discourse.
Crispin Semmens
May 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Fabulously thought provoking and explicit on how meaning emerges from non-living form, permeating and uniting the entire living world.
mind-blowing. brilliant. fantastic.
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