Rebecca S Winkler

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Pennsylvania, U. of

Grant number

Gr. 10356

Approve Date

April 13, 2022

Project Title

Winkler, Rebecca (Pennsylvania, U. of) "Acting on Behalf of Elephants: The Ethics and Politics Human-Elephant Relations in Northern Thailand."

REBECCA WINKLER, then a graduate student at University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was awarded funding in April 2022 to aid research on “Acting on Behalf of Elephants: The Ethics and Politics Human-Elephant Relations in Northern Thailand,” supervised by Dr. Kristina Lyons. The dissertation fieldwork sought to answer three questions: In what ways do Karen people’s relations with elephants trouble epistemological boundaries between wild and domestic, village and forest, and human and animal social worlds? How have forms of valuing elephants changed over the as they are incorporated into different regimes of knowledge and labor? How do competing frameworks for ethical coexistence between humans and elephants propel new forms of environmental politics that animate futures other than militarized conservation and neoliberal tourism development? These questions were investigated during 12 months of fieldwork in Thailand where the grantee conducted ethnographic, archival, and participatory audio/visual research. Through long-term participatory research with multiple Karen elephant-keeping communities the findings illuminate intergenerational bonds of interspecies kinship and alternative forms of cohabitation to conventional narratives about human-wildlife conflict. Archival and oral history research uncovered marginalized histories of human-elephant relationality that conflict with nationalist historiography and conventional assumptions about the separation of wild and “domestic” elephants. In addition to the financial support from the Wenner-Gren Foundation, fieldwork was supported by and contributed to ongoing projects among Thai and Karen scholars at Chiang Mai University, Payap University, Chiang Mai Rajabhat University, and collaborators from Mahouts Elephant Foundation and Indigenous North West (INW).