Featured Article

Explorations in Ethnoelephantology: Social, Historical, and Ecological Intersections between Asian Elephants and Humans

Author: Piers Locke
Volume 4, Number 1 (2013)

The Asian or Asiatic elephant is the only living species of the genus Elephas and is distributed in Southeast Asia from India in the west to Borneo in the east (photograph by Dennis Jarvis via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0).


Humans and elephants have lived together and shared space together in diverse ways for millennia. The intersections between these thinking and feeling species have been differently explored, for different reasons, by disciplines across the sciences, humanities, and social sciences. Such disciplinary divisions, predicated on oppositions of human-animal and nature-culture, are integral to the configuration of modernist thought. However, posthumanist and biocultural thinking questions the underlying epistemological conventions, thereby opening up interdisciplinary possibilities for human-animal studies. In relation to issues of conflict and coexistence, this article charts the emergence of an interdisciplinary research program and discursive space for human-elephant intersections under the rubric of ethnoelephantology. Recognizing continuities between the sentient and affective lifeworlds of humans and elephants, the mutual entanglements of their social, historical, and ecological relations, and the relevance of combining social and natural science methodologies, the article surveys recent research from anthropology, history, and geography that exemplifies this new approach.


PIERS LOCKE is a social anthropologist at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. Piers conducts field research in Chitwan, Nepal, where his primary interest is human-elephant relations. He has curated two exhibitions based on his field photography and coproduced the ethnographic film Servants of Ganesh (2010). Piers recently convened an interdisciplinary symposium on human-elephant relations in South and Southeast Asia, and his latest research concerns the historical photography of humans and elephants in colonial South Asia. He is also writing a monograph about his research with Nepali handlers and their elephants.

Tags: captive elephant managementelephant conservationelephant welfareethnoelephantologyethnoprimatologyhuman-elephant relationsmore-than-human geographymultispecies ethnographyPiers Locke