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2. Relationality, reciprocity and flourishing in an African landscape: perspectives on agency amongst ||Khao-a Dama, !Narenin and ||Ubun elders in west Namibia


Sullivan, S. and Hannis, M. (March 2016)



Abstract. This paper is a collaboration between an environmental philosopher and an environmental anthropologist seeking to illuminate theoretical reflections on relationships between human and non-human flourishing through exploring ethnographic material regarding agencies-beyond-the-human. Drawing on field research with ‘KhoeSan’ peoples in west Namibia, we document practices and perceptions regarding the agencies of a suite of action-bearing entities, namely: known and unknown ancestors, including an ancestor-hero called Haiseb; different kinds of animals; a particular class of plants imbued with the power to act to intervene in human fortune and misfortune; and rain, which under certain circumstances is personified as what might be thought of as a supernatural or spirit-being called |nanus. We suggest that these practices, perceptions and their associated ontologies are indicative of an ethos of reciprocity and respect that transcends species boundaries, yet remains grounded and pragmatic. We bring our material into dialogue with (in particular) contemporary Anglo-American environmental virtue ethics and the roles of narrative in encouraging ‘environmental virtue’. We argue that our ethnographic data supports and illustrates the attractions of a grounded ecological virtue ethics that recognises a close relationship between human flourishing and the flourishing of other-than-human entities. We affirm that perspectives, practices and associated narratives such as those documented here can have considerable heuristic value for understanding possible relationships beyond-the-human in ways that may transcend their particular cultural settings.


Keywords: relationality; reciprocity; flourishing; virtue ethics; eudaimonism; agency; ontology; west Namibia; KhoeSan; (ecocultural) ethics; ethnography

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