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Interspecies love: Being and becoming with a common ant, Ectatomma ruidum (Roger)
chapterposted on 2012-01-01, 00:00 authored by Eben KirkseyEben Kirksey
Insect love has lately become the subject of much attention from anthropologists. In confessing my own affections for Ectatomma ruidum - an ant species that is flourishing in the forested landscapes, agricultural fields, and suburban lawns of Central and South America - I must be clear that our feelings are not at all mutual. At best, Ectatomma ants remain indifferent to human beings. When an Ectatomma forager sees a large vertebrate, a potential predator like me, she will often turn her whole body to face-off - jaws open, legs firmly planted, stinger ready. If these persistent threats are empty (any Ectatomma aficionado knows that the ant has difficulty stinging humans and will scurry away, and try to hide, upon serious molestation) they still serve as reminders of the unease generated by my fondness for their kind. Threats also became evidence that these ants were capable of returning my gaze (Haraway, 2008: p. 21). Recognizing gaps in our gaze, and disjunctures in our interests, offers a point of entry to rethinking respectful coexistence across the species interface. Ectatomma ants are flighty nomads - ever moving among worlds. Nomadic subjects, such as these agile insects, can be dangerous, irredeemably destructive, or tolerant, in the words of Isabelle Stengers (2011: p. 373). The challenge, for Stengers, is to trap nomads, to enfold them in production of what she calls cosmopolitical worlds. Cosmopolitics offers an idiom for considering the diverging values and obligations that structure possible non-hierarchical modes of coexistence. “The cosmos refers to the unknown constituted by multiple divergent worlds,” Stengers writes, “and to the articulations of which they could eventually be capable” (Stengers, 2005: p. 995). These common worlds involve contingent “political” articulations. We have to build them together, tooth and nail, in concert with other agents (Latour, 2004: p. 455). Cosmopolitical worlds are structured by relations of reciprocal capture, a dual process of identity construction where each agent has an interest in seeing the other maintain its existence (Haraway, 2008: pp. 35, 42; Stengers, 2011: pp. 35-6).