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Too Cute to Cuddle? "Witnessing Publics" and Interspecies Relations on the Social Media-scape of Orangutan Conservation

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In recent years, social media have become increasingly important means through which orangutan conservation organizations engage with the wider public. But more than publicizing orangutan-related issues, the social media-scape of orangutan conservation serves as a powerful space of interaction and moral intervention through which Internet users can participate in a particular project of “saving the orangutan.” Drawing on earlier anthropological analyses of rights-related media activism, this article examines how orangutan causes are crafted, circulated, and given affective and political “charge” online, thereby producing their beholders as “witnessing publics.” At the same time, it pushes beyond the extant literature’s focus on circulation and dissemination by tracing how ideas about orangutans are apprehended, appropriated, embellished, and personalized on social media—sometimes in ways that exceed their original frameworks. Focusing on how social media supporters negotiate the enduring tension between interspecies attachment and species difference, the article aims, first, to highlight the multiplicities and fluctuations that can characterize seemingly straightforward “Western naturalist” conceptions of human-animal relations, and second, to illuminate the complexities of “participation” inherent in that digital gray area between everyday social networking and full-blown political activism on social media.



4401 Anthropology, 44 Human Society

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Anthropological Quarterly

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