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Producing affect: Transnational volunteerism in a Malaysian orangutan rehabilitation center



In a postcolonial economy of volunteer tourism from the Global North to the Global South, mostly British women pay thousands of U.S. dollars to travel to Sarawak, on Malaysian Borneo, to work in a wildlife rehabilitation center. There, in a program operated as a public–private partnership, they provide hard labor to maintain and improve the facility and assist subcontracted indigenous Iban men in caring for displaced orangutans. Through the concept of “custodial labor,” I argue that affect produced at the interface of bodies in the work of orangutan rehabilitation also produces an unequal distribution of risk and vulnerability among those involved, across differences of species, classes, nationalities, and genders. My findings contribute to understandings of how humanity is constituted through multispecies encounters, help demonstrate how animals can be treated as subjects in ethnography, and show how affective encounters produce human and nonhuman subjectivities.