Reflections on the field: Primatology, popular science and the politics of personhood

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This paper examines the content, form and function of popularized accounts of primatological research in the field. Based on the textual analysis of 11 popular accounts published from 1964 to 2001, it demonstrates that a key element of such scientific writing is the construction and presentation of the primates themselves as knowledgeable actors within particular social, ecological and moral landscapes. It places these accounts in the context of the problem of anthropomorphism within the history of the behavioural sciences, and argues that, given the importance of avoiding anthropomorphism in primatological research, the presentation of primate research subjects as persons must serve some significant function. It suggests that while one reason for this might be the severely endangered status of many primates, another might be found in the development of particular methodological strategies for conducting field site research, strategies that may help researchers form individualized relationships with their research subjects. However, such public productions of primate personality have political consequences, consequences that the science studies community needs to consider more carefully.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)881-907
Number of pages27
JournalSocial Studies of Science
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2007


  • anthropomorphism
  • emotion
  • field science
  • methodology
  • popular science
  • primates
  • LIFE
  • VIEW

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