Grace Dho, Fall 2021

Reciprocity is the continuous ethical interaction that occurs between humans and the more-than-human world.1 According to Kanngieser and Todd, authors of From Environmental Case Study To Environmental Kin Study, the first step towards reciprocity is examining one’s own beliefs and preconceived notions about the environment.2 Once one has recognized their biases towards the environment, Kanngiser and Todd emphasize the importance of listening to how the environment responds to these preconceived notions. Once one has listened to the response of the environment, the actor has the ability to change their response to better serve and respect the environment.3 This exchange of reciprocity then produces a stronger connection between people and the more-than-human world.4

Kanngisser and Todd’s definition of reciprocity is deeply rooted in the connection of land, but reciprocity can occur with all aspects of the more-than-human world.5 In the paper Producing Affect: Transnational Volunteerism in Malaysian Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, Parreñas describes an encounter with a lot of affect, but also an exchange of reciprocity.6 Two European volunteers were helping the center care for the orangutans, and they entered the enclosure of an orangutan named Ching.7 Ching charged the volunteers when they entered the enclosure.8

Ngalih, the reserve’s accompanying guide, and the two volunteers received Ching’s response, and they all ran out of the enclosure.9 This encounter shows a reciprocal exchange in the sense that the volunteers’ preconceived notions were received by the orangutan, and the orangutan responded. The volunteers then listened to that response, and they were able to respond in an appropriate manner. This can be viewed as a negative reciprocal reaction, as the women were attacked, but this can also be seen as the women gaining a more in depth understanding of the orangutans.

One example of a smaller, everyday practice of reciprocity can be seen in how we acknowledge the land we currently exist in. When moving only 50 miles to college, I didn’t think that the landscape would be that different from my hometown. However, I quickly found out that the middle peninsula was very different from the inland space of Richmond. I learned how much closer to water we are, and how that affects the environment and the culture. I picked up a greater love for kayaking, and I became more aware of my impact on the watershed. I learned to respect the land for it was instead of what I thought it would be. By seeing the environment as something that we can interact with, we are removing any predispositions that humans are separate or above the environment.10 This not only helps create more intimate relationships with nature, but it can help further normalize native environmental knowledge. This allows us not only to treat the land with more respect, but it can also allow us to promote respect among the native people.11 Therefore, we respect land not just because of our relationship with it, but we respect the land more because of a respect towards native peoples.


1 Kanngieser, Anja and Todd, Zoe, “From Environmental Case Study To Environmental Kin Study”. Decolonizing Histories in Theory and Practice 59, no. 3 (September 2020): 385-393.

2 Kanngieser and Todd, “From Environmental Case Study”, 385-393. 3 Kanngieser and Todd, “From Environmental Case Study”, 385-393. 4 Kanngieser and Todd, “From Environmental Case Study”, 385-393. 5 Kanngieser and Todd, “From Environmental Case Study”, 385-393.

6 Parreñas, Rheana “Juno” Salazar, “Producing Affect: Transnational Volunteerism in a Malaysian Orangutan Rehabilitation Center”, American Ethnologist 39, no. 4 (November 2012): 673-667

7 Parreñas, “Producing Affect”, 673-667

8 Parreñas, “Producing Affect”, 673-667.

9 Parreñas, “Producing Affect”, 673-667.

10 Kanngieser and Todd, “From Environmental Case Study”, 385-393.

11Trisos, Christopher H., Auerbach, Jess, and Katti, Madhusudan, “Decoloniality and anti-oppressive practices for a more ethical ecology”, Nature Ecology & Evolution 5, (May 2021): 1205–1212

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