Menu Expand



Sprenger, G. Can Animism Save the World? Reflections on Personhood and Complexity in the Ecological Crisis. Sociologus, 71(1), 73-92.
Sprenger, Guido "Can Animism Save the World? Reflections on Personhood and Complexity in the Ecological Crisis" Sociologus 71.1, , 73-92.
Sprenger, Guido: Can Animism Save the World? Reflections on Personhood and Complexity in the Ecological Crisis, in: Sociologus, vol. 71, iss. 1, 73-92, [online]


Can Animism Save the World? Reflections on Personhood and Complexity in the Ecological Crisis

Sprenger, Guido

Sociologus, Vol. 71 (2021), Iss. 1 : pp. 73–92

1 Citations (CrossRef)

Additional Information

Article Details


Author Details

Guido Sprenger, Institut für Ethnologie, Universität Heidelberg.

Cited By

  1. Using neo-animism to revisit actors for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in S-D logic

    Helkkula, Anu

    Arnould, Eric J.

    Journal of Business Research, Vol. 149 (2022), Iss. P.860 [Citations: 4]


  1. Abram, David. 2011. Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology. New York: Vintage.  Google Scholar
  2. Abram, David. 2014. “The Invisibles: Toward a Phenomenology of the Spirits.” In The Handbook of Contemporary Animism, edited by Graham Harvey, 124–132. London: Routledge.  Google Scholar
  3. Amster, Matthew. 2016. “Animism and Anxiety: Religious Conversion among the Kelabit of Sarawak.” In Animism in Southeast Asia, edited by Kaj Århem and Guido Sprenger, 205–218. London: Routledge.  Google Scholar
  4. Århem, Kaj. 2016a. “Animism and the Hunter’s Dilemma: Hunting, Sacrifice and Asymmetric Exchange among the Katu of Vietnam.” In Animism in Southeast Asia, edited by Kaj Århem and Guido Sprenger, 91–113. London: Routledge.  Google Scholar
  5. Århem, Kaj. 2016b. “Southeast Asian Animism in Context.” In Animism in Southeast Asia, edited by Kaj Århem and Guido Sprenger, 3–30. London: Routledge.  Google Scholar
  6. Århem, Kaj, and Guido Sprenger, eds. 2016. Animism in Southeast Asia. London: Routledge.  Google Scholar
  7. Barraud, Cécile. 1990. “Kei Society and the Person: An Approach through Childbirth and Funerary Rituals.” Ethnos 55: 214–231.  Google Scholar
  8. Bird-David, Nurit. 1999. “‘Animism’ Revisited: On Personhood, Environment and Relational Epistemology.” Current Anthropology 40, S1: S67–S91.  Google Scholar
  9. Blaser, Mario. 2009. “The Threat of the Yrmo: The Political Ontology of a Sustainable Hunting Program.” American Anthropologist 111 (1): 10–20.  Google Scholar
  10. Bouissac, Paul. 1989. “What is Human? Ecological Semiotics and the New Animism.” Semiotica 77 (4): 497–516.  Google Scholar
  11. Bovensiepen, Judith. 2014. “Lulik: Taboo, Animism, or Transgressive Sacred? An Exploration of Identity, Morality and Power in Timor-Leste.” Oceania 84 (2): 121–137.  Google Scholar
  12. Bräuchler, Birgit. 2018. “Diverging Ecologies in Bali.” In Plural Ecologies in Southeast Asia, Special Section, edited by Kristina Großmann, and Guido Sprenger. Sojourn – Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia 33 (2): 362–396.  Google Scholar
  13. Brightman, Marc, Vanessa Grotti, and Olga Ulturgasheva, eds. 2012. Animism in Rainforest and Tundra: Personhood, Animals, Plants and Things in Contemporary Amazonia and Siberia. Oxford: Berghahn Books.  Google Scholar
  14. Bryant, Rebecca, and Daniel M. Knight. 2019. The Anthropology of the Future. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  Google Scholar
  15. Clammer, John. 2004. “The Politics of Animism.” In Figured Worlds: Ontological Obstacles in Intercultural Relations, edited by John Clammer, Sylvie Poirier, and Eric Schwimmer, 83–109. Toronto e.a.: University of Toronto Press.  Google Scholar
  16. De la Cadena, Marisol. 2015. Earth Beings: Ecologies of Practice across Andean Worlds. Durham/London: Duke University Press.  Google Scholar
  17. Descola, Philippe. 1992. “Societies of Nature and the Nature of Society.” In Conceptualising Society, edited by Adam Kuper, 107–126. London: Routledge.  Google Scholar
  18. Descola, Philippe. 2011 [2005]. Jenseits von Kultur und Natur. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.  Google Scholar
  19. Despret, Vinciane. 2014. “Domesticating Practices: The Case of Arabian Babblers.” In Routledge Handbook of Human-Animal Studies, edited by Garry Marvin, and Susan McHugh, 23–38. London: Routledge.  Google Scholar
  20. Dooren, Thom van, Eben Kirksey, and Ursula Münster. 2016. “Multispecies Studies: Cultivating Arts of Attentiveness.” Environmental Humanities 8 (1): 1–23.  Google Scholar
  21. Drexler, Josef. 2010. “Das ‘Säen von Macht’: Kosmovision zwischen politischer Ökologie und Lebenspraxis.” Zeitschrift für Ethnologie 135 (1): 23–38.  Google Scholar
  22. Dumont, Louis. 1991 [1983]. Individualismus: zur Ideologie der Moderne. Frankfurt/New York: Campus.  Google Scholar
  23. Eller, Jack David. 2007. Introducing Anthropology of Religion. London: Routledge.  Google Scholar
  24. Fausto, Carlos. 2007. “Feasting on People. Eating Animals and Humans in Amazonia.” Current Anthropology 48 (4): 497–530.  Google Scholar
  25. Fox, James. 1987. “Southeast Asian Religions: Insular Cultures.” In Encyclopedia of Religion, Vol. 13, edited by Mircea Eliade, 520–527. New York/London: Macmillan.  Google Scholar
  26. Guthrie, Stewart. 2014. “Spiritual Beings: A Darwinian, Cognitive Account.” In The Handbook of Contemporary Animism, edited by Graham Harvey, 353–357. London: Routledge.  Google Scholar
  27. Halbmayer, Ernst, 2012. “Debating Animism, Perspectivism and the Construction of Ontologies.” Indiana 29: 9–23.  Google Scholar
  28. Haraway, Donna. 2016. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chtulucene. Durham/London: Duke University Press.  Google Scholar
  29. Harvey, Graham. 2005. Animism: Respecting the Living World. New York: Columbia.  Google Scholar
  30. Harvey, Graham. ed. 2014. The Handbook of Contemporary Animism. London: Routledge.  Google Scholar
  31. Hornborg, Alf. 2006. “Animism, Fetishism, and Objectivism as Strategies of Knowing (or not Knowing) the World.” Ethnos 71 (1): 21–32.  Google Scholar
  32. Ingold, Tim. 1988. What is an Animal? London: Unwin Hyman.  Google Scholar
  33. Ingold, Tim. 2000. The Perception of the Environment. Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill. London: Routledge.  Google Scholar
  34. Ingold, Tim, ed. 2006. “Rethinking the Animate, Re-Animating Thought.” Ethnos 71 (1): 9–20.  Google Scholar
  35. Kaerlein, Timo. 2015. “The Social Robot as Fetish? Conceptual Affordances and Risks of Neo-Animistic Theory.” International Journal of Social Robotics 7 (3): 361–370.  Google Scholar
  36. Kappeler, Peter. 2012. Verhaltensbiologie. 3. Imprint. Berlin/Heidelberg: Springer.  Google Scholar
  37. Karatani, Kojin. 2014. The Structure of World History: From Modes of Production to Modes of Exchange. Translated by Michael K. Bourdagh. Durham/London: Duke University Press.  Google Scholar
  38. Knight, John. 2012. “The Anonymity of the Hunt: A Critique of Hunting as Sharing.” Current Anthropology 53 (3): 334–355.  Google Scholar
  39. Langlitz, Nicolas. 2018. “Salvage and Self-Loathing: Cultural Primatology and the Spiritual Malaise of Anthropology.” Anthropology Today 34 (6): 16–20.  Google Scholar
  40. Latour, Bruno. 2008 [1991]. Wir sind nie modern gewesen: Versuch einer symmetrischen Anthropologie. Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp.  Google Scholar
  41. Latour, Bruno. 2018. Das terrestrische Manifest. Berlin: Suhrkamp.  Google Scholar
  42. Lévy-Bruhl, Lucien. 1956 [1927]. Die Seele der Primitiven. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.  Google Scholar
  43. Luhmann, Niklas. 1984. Soziale Systeme: Grundriß einer allgemeinen Theorie. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.  Google Scholar
  44. Luhmann, Niklas. 2008. “Was ist Kommunikation?” In Soziologische Aufklärung 6: Die Soziologie und der Mensch. 3. Print, 113–124. Wiesbaden: Verlag für Sozialwissenschaft.  Google Scholar
  45. Luhrmann, Tanya. 1993. “The Resurgence of Romanticism: Contemporary Neopaganism, Feminist Spirituality and the Divinity of Nature.” In Environmentalism: The View from Anthropology, edited by Kay Milton, 219–232. London: Routledge.  Google Scholar
  46. Marett, Robert Ranulph. 1914 [1909]. The Threshold of Religion. London: Methuen.  Google Scholar
  47. Nadasdy, Paul. 2007. “The Gift in the Animal: The Ontology of Hunting and Human-Animal Sociality.” American Ethnologist, 34 (1): 24–43.  Google Scholar
  48. Naveh, Danny, and Nurit Bird-David. 2014. “How Persons Become Things: Economic and Epistemological Changes among Nayaka Hunter-Gatherers.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 20 (1): 74–92.  Google Scholar
  49. Nieuwenhuis, Anton Willem. 1918. “Die Wurzeln des Animismus: eine Studie über die Anfänge der naiven Religion, nach den unter primitiven Malaien beobachteten Erscheinungen.” Internationales Archiv für Ethnographie 24, Suppl.: 1–87.  Google Scholar
  50. Palmer, Lisa. 2017. “Timor Leste: Embracing Resource Governance through Ritual in a Post-Conflict Society.” In Routledge Handbook of the Environment in Southeast Asia, edited by Philip Hirsch, 483–495. London: Routledge.  Google Scholar
  51. Platenkamp, Josephus D.M. 2004. “From Partial Persons to Completed Societies.” Zeitschrift für Ethnologie 129: 1–28.  Google Scholar
  52. Polanyi, Karl. 1995 [1944]. The Great Transformation: Politische und ökonomische Ursprünge von Gesellschaften und Wirtschaftssystemen. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.  Google Scholar
  53. Praet, Istvan. 2014. Animism and the Question of Life. London (e.a.): Routledge.  Google Scholar
  54. Radin, Paul. 1937. Primitive Religion: Its Nature and Origin. New York: Dove.  Google Scholar
  55. Rehbein, Boike, and Guido Sprenger. 2016. “Religion and Differentiation: Three Southeast Asian Configurations.” In Configurations of Religion – A Debate, edited by Peter J. Bräunlein, Michael Dickhardt, and Andrea Lauser. DORISEA Working Paper series, No. 24.  Google Scholar
  56. Remme, Jon Henrik Ziegler. 2016. “Actualizing Spirits: Ifugao Animism as Onto-Praxis.” In Animism in Southeast Asia, edited by Kaj Århem and Guido Sprenger, 138–153. London: Routledge.  Google Scholar
  57. Robbins, Joel, and Alan Rumsey. 2008. “Introduction: Cultural and Linguistic Anthropology and the Opacity of Other Minds.” Anthropological Quarterly 81 (2): 407–420.  Google Scholar
  58. Rountree, Kathryn. 2012. “Neo-Paganism, Animism, and Kinship with Nature.” Journal of Contemporary Religion 27 (2): 305–20.  Google Scholar
  59. Sprenger, Guido. 2016a. “Production is Exchange: Gift-Giving between Humans and Non-Humans.” In Parts and Wholes: Essays on Social Morphology, Cosmology and Exchange in Honour of Josephus D.M. Platenkamp, edited by L. Prager, M. Prager, and G. Sprenger, 247–263. Berlin: Lit Verlag.  Google Scholar
  60. Sprenger, Guido. 2016b. “Dimensions of Animism in Southeast Asia.” In Animism in Southeast Asia, edited by Kaj Århem and Guido Sprenger, 31–51. London: Routledge.  Google Scholar
  61. Sprenger, Guido. 2017. “Communicated into Being: Systems Theory and the Shifting of Ontological Status.” Anthropological Theory 17 (1): 108–132.  Google Scholar
  62. Sprenger, Guido. 2018. “Buddhism and Coffee: The Transformation of Locality and Non-Human Personhood in Southern Laos.” Sojourn – Journal of Social Affairs in Southeast Asia 33 (2): 65–90.  Google Scholar
  63. Sprenger, Guido. 2019. “Die konstitutiven Widersprüche der Gabe.” Paideuma 65: 139–156.  Google Scholar
  64. Stolz, Rosalie. 2018. “‘Spirits Follow the Words’: Stories as Spirit Traces among the Khmu of Northern Laos.” Social Analysis 62 (3): 109–127.  Google Scholar
  65. Strathern, Marilyn. 1988. The Gender of the Gift: Problems with Women and Problems with Society in Melanesia. Berkeley: University of California Press.  Google Scholar
  66. Sullivan, Sian. 2010. “‘Ecosystem Service Commodities’ – A New Imperial Ecology? Implications for Animist Immanent Ecologies, with Deleuze and Guattari.” New Formations 69 (6): 111–128.  Google Scholar
  67. Swancutt, Katherine. 2016. “The Art of Capture: Hidden Jokes and the Reinvention of Animistic Ontologies in China.” Social Analysis 60 (1): 74–91.  Google Scholar
  68. Swancutt, Katherine. 2019. “Animism.” In The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Anthropology, edited by F. Stein, S. Lazar, M. Candea, H. Diemberger, J. Robbins, A. Sanchez, and R. Stasch. Accessed October 25, 2021.  Google Scholar
  69. Swancutt, Katherine, and Mireille Mazard, eds. 2016. “Animism beyond the Soul: Ontology, Reflexivity, and the Making of Anthropological Knowledge.” Social Analysis 60, 1 (Special Issue).  Google Scholar
  70. Tiele, Cornelius Petrus. 1897. Elements of the Science of Religion. Vol. 1: Morphology. Oxford: Blackwood.  Google Scholar
  71. Toulmin, Stephen. 1981 [1961]. Voraussicht und Verstehen: ein Versuch über die Ziele der Wissenschaft. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.  Google Scholar
  72. Trouillot, Michel Rolph. 1991. “Anthropology and the Savage Slot: The Poetics and Politics of Otherness.” In Recapturing Anthropology: Working in the Present, edited by Richard G. Fox, 17–44. Santa Fe, New Mexico: School of American Research Press.  Google Scholar
  73. Tylor, Edward Burnett. 1958 [1871]. Religion in Primitive Culture, Vol. 2. New York e.a.: Harper & Row.  Google Scholar
  74. Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo. 1998. “Cosmological Deixis and Amerindian Perspectivism.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.) 4: 469–488.  Google Scholar
  75. Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo. 1999. “Comment (on Nurit Bird-David: ‘Animism’ revisited).” Current Anthropology 40, S1: S79–S80.  Google Scholar
  76. Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo. 2019 [2015]. Kannibalische Metaphysiken: Elemente einer post-strukturalen Anthropologie. Translated by Theresa Mentrup. Leipzig: Merve.  Google Scholar
  77. Willerslev, Rane. 2007. Soul Hunters: Hunting, Animism and Personhood among the Siberian Yukaghirs. Berkeley CA: Berkeley University Press.  Google Scholar
  78. Yoneyama, Shoko. 2019. Animism in Contemporary Japan: Voices for the Anthropocene from Post-Fukushima Japan. London/New York: Routledge.  Google Scholar


The term “animism” is at once a fantasy internal to modernity and a semiotic conduit enabling a serious inquiry into non-modern phenomena that radically call into question the modern distinction of nature and culture. Therefore, I suggest that the labelling of people, practices or ideas as “animist” is a strategic one. I also raise the question if animism can help to solve the modern ecological crisis that allegedly stems from the nature-culture divide. In particular, animism makes it possible to recognize personhood in non-humans, thus creating moral relationships with the non-human world. A number of scholars and activists identify animism as respect for all living beings and as intimate relationships with nature and its spirits. However, this argument still presupposes the fixity of the ontological status of beings as alive or persons. A different view of animism highlights concepts of fluid and unstable persons that emerge from ongoing communicative processes. I argue that the kind of attentiveness that drives fluid personhood may be supportive of a politics of life that sees relationships with non-humans in terms of moral commitment.

Table of Contents

Section Title Page Action Price
Guido Sprenger: Can Animism Save the World? Reflections on Personhood and Complexity in the Ecological Crisis 1
Abstract 1
1. Introduction 1
2. Animism as Politics of Life 4
3. Crises to Choose from 6
4. Shifting Personhood 8
5. Complexity and Opacity of the Other 1
6. Implications Instead of Conclusions 1
References 1