Dr Piers Locke - New Zealand Centre for Human-Animal Studies - University of Canterbury - New Zealand

Dr Piers Locke

Piers Locke is a social anthropologist interested in posthumanist philosophy, Dr Piers Lockemultispecies ethnography, and other forms of more-than-human research in the humanities and social sciences. Piers has developed an integrated approach for investigating the social, historical, and ecological intersections between humans and elephants called ethnoelephantology. Understanding the human and the elephant as coevolving companion species whose lives and landscapes are mutually entangled in multiple ways, this approach attends seriously to the subjective agency of elephants, and seeks to combine expertise from the social and the natural sciences.

Piers conducts historical and ethnographic research on captive elephant management, biodiversity conservation, ecotourism, and human-elephant conflict, mainly in Nepal and Sri Lanka. He is currently writing a monograph about his fieldwork in the elephant stables of the Chitwan National Park, Nepal, where he apprenticed as an elephant handler. This work is concerned with challenging the humanist bias of ethnography, with the possibility of nonhuman personhood, and with presenting the elephant stable as an institutional space of interspecies cohabitation. It documents apprenticeship learning, intimate interspecies relations, and elephant training as a rite of passage for both humans and elephants (which also features in his documentary film Servants of Ganesh). It also explores the coextensive yet variably emphasized states of animality, personhood, and divinity that handlers attribute to their elephants, as well as the integral role elephants play in protected area management and local tourist economies.
Piers is also working on an edited volume about human-elephant relations in South Asia, featuring contributions from anthropologists, conservation biologists, historians, geographers, political scientists, and Sanskritists, deriving from an international symposium he convened at the University of Canterbury in 2013. His most recent project concerns the historical photography of human-elephant relations in colonial-era South Asia, which features elephant capture operations in India, elephant-back hunts in Nepal, elephants in pomp and pageantry in India, and religious elephant parades in Sri Lanka.

Teaching and Supervision
Piers currently supervises several research students with human-animal themed research. Paul Kiel is working on shared space and interactive practice concerning humans and elephants in Assam, India. Samantha Eason is working on elephant volunteer tourism and social media in Thailand. Raj Skekhar Aich is working on photographic practices, aesthetic value and human-elephant relations in Africa and Asia. Piers teaches on human-animal relations in ANTH213/313 Environment, Development and Disaster, and ANTH410 Multuspecies Anthropology: Other Species in Human Life.

Research Interests

  • History of captive elephant management
  • Apprenticeship learning in elephant husbandry
  • Elephants in biodiversity conservation and nature tourism
  • Ritual practice and religious symbolism of Asian elephants.

Research and Publications

Film & Photography

Locke, P. (Producer and Consultant) Servants of Ganesh: Inside The Elephant Stable (2006). Ethnographic Documentary (42 minutes), One World Films.

Locke, P. Of Elephants and Oysters (February-May 2006), photographic exhibition, Rutherford College, University of Kent. (for similar online version see: http://home.myfairpoint.net/markandal/piers_gallery/)