From species being to being species.

How did it take so long for us to realize that, when we come to the humanities, we’re talking about the question of a species? The term “species being” has been used to name the sense of belonging to an ongoing project, the project of the human—something which began before us, and which stretches out—precariously—after. To be sure, the species conception has been troublesome—who gets counted in the human, who gets the credit for it, who takes the blame.

Alongside species being, perhaps, we need a sense of what being species could mean. Being species: as Donna Haraway might say, it’s a kin-making framing. How might we exist as a species among many others—inclusively, skillfully? How might we take seriously the work of being human in a more-than-human world?

What about the name?

Since I blundered into the department as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, anthropology has sustained, nourished, goaded, and frustrated me in my thinking projects. Ever since, I keep finding myself tangled up in anthropology, an a(nthro)pologist-manqué, endlessly anthro-curious. Throughout its history—often in fraught and irredeemable ways—anthropology has faced the question of the human in species terms. As our planet heats up, and we struggle with newly-urgent needs to consider what we are and do as a species, the study of that fixedly-fluid Anthropos begins to matter in new ways.


We all receive reports from the edges of human worlds. I want to know what you’re seeing, and hearing, out there, and what you want to see here. So keep in touch.

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Being human in more-than-human times.


Matthew Battles

Author of Library: an Unquiet History (Norton 2003) & Tree (Bloomsbury 2017), among other books. Editor of Arnoldia, a magazine about the nature of trees published at Harvard's Arnold Arboretum.