Tema Milstein On Overcoming The Human/Nature Binary – Watch

April 28, 2016 Laura Bridgeman

Dr. Tema Milstein is a Presidential Teaching Fellow at the University of New Mexico, author of many groundbreaking works, and we are fortunate to have her as a Sonar collaborator. In this talk at the Santa Fe Institute, Tema speaks about the human/nature binary and how this is held in place with the words we use. 

Drawing from her time studying the whale and dolphin-watching industry in locations around the word, she discusses how this industry forms a microcosm of human-nature relations – providing sites where people actively perform and at times entrench their perception and relations with the more-than-human world. She coined the term performer metaphor, identifying one of the ways that westernized people tend to speak and think about nature using an entertainment metaphor. This is applied to everything non-human, including the inanimate: from whales to flowers to storms.

As a way of identifying “the limits of our stories” – our culturally-ascribed understandings of the nonhuman world –  Tema refers to those ineffable moments of connection with other animals that leave people literally without words. These moments illustrate “the boundaries of our ecocultural toolbox”, revealing ways that we can, and perhaps ought to, probe, challenge and dismantle these boundaries.

Tema’s fascinating work demonstrates how communication directly affects our perception of the more-than-human world and mediates our relations with other animals. Her explorations open up a new realm of possibilities as we entertain relational alternatives, and as we begin to listen to whales and dolphins as being storytellers themselves.

Watch her talk below, and click here to view the full presentation.

Tema Milstein at the Santa Fe Institute from Sonar on Vimeo.

Photo by Atmo Kubesa.