A central problem of the 21st century is negotiating the line between human and nonhuman. Culture is key to this because it crosses and defines species boundaries in a variety of ways. But to understand and use it effectively we have to reverse the trajectory by which social theory is generated and start anew, shedding the assumption that society and culture begin with, or are principally about, people.

Social theorists have settled on too narrow a view of sociality by considering the unique case of humans. The premise of Aesop’s is that cultural anthropology should principally be concerned with understanding culture, not just the “Man” or Anthro, which has stood at the center of efforts to define this concept. We’ve drawn a too-limited domain of the social by focusing on humans, regarding nonhuman forms as rudimentary or primitive. We have to flip this to think the social without privileging the exceptional case of humans, in order to arrive at an understanding of cultural dynamics that currently are not part of our thinking about sociality. After all, Humans may not be the optimum locus for understanding the social since 1) we’re only one among many social species; 2) we’ve got a skewed (anthropocentric) version of culture. But how to do this without totemizing “natural” objects to reify social categories?

This page is maintained by John Hartigan, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Texas