Apes and Affects. The Rhetoric of Primatology

Taking a literary perspective on the books and texts of primatologists, this dissertation project explores the role emotions play in the reports and memoirs of researchers in a scientific human-animal relationship – as modes of perception, of insight and of depiction in and of field work.

Mira Shah

The texts in question shape both our view of non-human primates and how we perceive ourselves vis-à-vis our evolutionary next of kin as biological beings. They are testimonies of emotional experiences in the field and reveal a rising concern with modes of scientific research and academic traditions. As such they form an important interface between the three participating disciplines. Following the first seminal accounts of behavioral observations among apes by the spear heads of modern primatology, Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikas, that predominantly focused on ‘positive’ social and emotional similarities between apes and humans in the 1960s and 1970s , a next generation of field researchers, such as Sarah Bluffer Hrdy and Richard Wrangham, shifted their focus to aggressive behavior and ‘negative’ social and emotional traits that link humans with apes or monkeys in a textual form that combines literary genres such as memoir, travel book, research log, journal, novella, and drama. Based on literary theory from Postcolonial Studies and its critique of discursive Othering as well as drawing on conceptual critiques from cultural and gender studies, this project aims to analyze the correlation between the observation of species, cultures, poetics and rhetoric of emotion in texts of primatologists on a systematic and comparative level.

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