The anthropologist and Americanist Philippe Descola awarded the 2012 CNRS Gold Medal
Since 2000, Descola has been a professor at the Collège de France,
where he is chair of Anthropology of Nature, while simultaneously serving as director of the social anthropology laboratory founded in 1960 by Claude Lévi-Strauss.
Philippe Descola will visit UBC as Peter Wall Institute Distinguished Fellow in September, 2013.
Born in Paris in 1949, Philippe Descola studied philosophy before
undertaking a post-graduate thesis with Lévi-Strauss. He first studied philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure de Saint-Cloud before moving on to ethnology at the University of Paris X and the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (EPHE) (6th section). Appointed project director by the CNRS (French National Center for Scientific Research), he undertook an ethnographic study from 1976 to 1979 with the Jivaros Achuar indigenous people in Ecuadorian Amazon.
His special focus was the environment, and his research became the topic of a doctoral thesis in ethnology under the supervision of Claude Lévi-Strauss, which he defended in 1983. After teaching at the University of Quito, he became a visiting scholar at King’s College in Cambridge as well as research associate with the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme. He then joined the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) as lecturer in 1984, and later director of studies in 1989.
Descola undertook an ethnographic study from 1976 to 1979 with the Jivaros Achuar indigenous people in Ecuadorian Amazon.
In his research, Descola seeks to transcend the dualism that pits nature against culture and to redefine the dialectic that structures humankind’s relationship with the world and with other beings. He proposes a nondualistic form of anthropology, one that does not make a categorical distinction between humans and non-humans. As the cornerstone of approach, he distinguishes four modes for the identification of beings in all human societies—different ways of defining the frontiers between the human and non-human that make up what he calls the system of four ontologies: totemism, animism, analogism, and naturalism.
He is a foreign member of both the British Academy and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Over the course of his career, Descola has published many works that have become references in the field, several of which have been translated into English :
In the Society of Nature: A Native Ecology in Amazonia (1993); Nature and Society: Anthropological Perspectives (1996); Spears of Twilight: Life and Death in the Amazon Jungle (1998); The Ecology of Others: Anthropology and the Question of Nature (2012); Beyond Nature and Culture (in press).
In addition, he has published conference proceedings, popularization work, and over 120 scientific articles and chapters of books.
AWARDS AND DISTINCTIONS
Philippe Descola received the CNRS Gold Medal in 2012; the Édouard Bonnefous award from the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques in 2011 and the CNRS Silver Medal in 1996. He is an Officer in the French Legion of Honor (2010) and the French National Order of Merit (2004), and a Knight of the French Order of Academic Palms (1997). He is a foreign member of the British Academy and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.