Conflict or Coexistence: Why Words Matter

I have a confession: I don’t know WHAT I study. I still struggle to summarize my research in a very basic way because of terminology…


Raiding? Feeding? Foraging?

Monkeys eat fruit that farmers grow. That’s what I know.

Initially I used the term crop-raiding. During interviews, I translated the phrase literally in Bahasa Indonesia: mencuri hasil panen. I worried that I was potentially biasing the farmers’ responses to my questions, but I wanted to be clear about what I was asking. In hindsight, I feel OK about this choice because even if my decision did influence my ability to understand to what nuanced extent the farmers thought of the monkey’s behavior as theft, at least I used a term that acknowledged the reality of their experiences as a result of the behavior under discussion.

Later, in scholarly publications, I switched to the term, crop feeding. This works from the perspective of many ecologically-minded primatologists, but what about the farmers? Foraging/feeding undermines the very real experience of the human animals about whom the researcher writes.

What about the monkeys’ perspectives? How does their experience differ as they forage in agricultural spaces compared to the forest? At least we know they will never read our papers…

It gets more convoluted. Crop-whatever is just one example within the larger study of…

Human-wildlife WHAT?

Conflict? Coexistence? The same problem applies. (Truth be told, I even have an issue with the hyphenated reinforcement of the dichotomy between human and animal here, but I’ll try to stay on track.)

Conflict conjures negative imagery for the human thinker, potentially harming efforts to reduce such tensions. It often erroneously implies that the resulting problems for humans are a direct result of interactions with wildlife, instead of the far more likely possibility that those problems originate with very human root causes that have little or nothing to do with wildlife.

On the other hand, coexistence sounds like a rose-colored insult to those who experience economic hardship, food insecurity, threats to personal health and safety, and other consequences due to sharing space with animals.

Whats the solution?

I have no idea! The challenges presented by the terminology we use to discuss human-wildlife issues perfectly exemplify just how complex these relationships can be.

May I suggest crop munchie-munching?


  1. Chirag Girdhar says:

    Hey AlmostAnthroplogy,
    I am really happy after reading your view’s on conflict or coexistnance.
    Your words have those power, which is needed especially for people who claimed themselves educated.

    Last but least your area’s of interests is exceptional like the words or books, you spend your time with.

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