Sensing Others


Sensing Others

Voicing Batek Ethical Lives at the Edge of a Malaysian Rainforest

Alice Rudge

326 pages
12 photographs, 2 appendixes, index


October 2023


$75.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

October 2023


$75.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

Sensing Others explores the lives of Indigenous Batek people in Peninsular Malaysia amid the strange and the new in the borderland between protected national park and oil palm plantation. As their ancestral forests disappear around them, Batek people nevertheless attempt to live well among the strange Others they now encounter: out-of-place animals and plants, traders, tourists, poachers, and forest guards. How Batek people voice their experiences of the good and the strange in relation to these Others challenges essentialized notions of cultural and species difference and the separateness of ethical worlds.

Drawing on meticulous, long-term ethnographic research with Batek people, Alice Rudge argues that as people seek to make habitable a constantly changing landscape, what counts as Otherness is always under negotiation. Anthropology’s traditional dictum to “make the strange familiar, and the familiar strange” creates a binary between the familiar and the Other, often encapsulating Indigenous lives as the archetypal Other to the “modern” worldview. Yet living well amid precarity involves constantly negotiating Otherness’s ambivalences, as people, plants, animals, and places can all become familiar, strange, or both. Sensing Others reveals that when looking from the boundary, what counts as Otherness is impossible to pin down.

Author Bio

Alice Rudge is a lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at SOAS University of London.


Sensing Others is one of the richest, most textured, and most innovative ethnographies I have read in recent years. Through her acute and deeply informed account, Alice Rudge compellingly conveys the complex nexus of emotion, experience, identity, and ethics entangled in Batek life and its scholarly representation. This is a remarkable book, a signal accomplishment, and a likely classic.”—Donald Brenneis, coeditor of Law and Empire in the Pacific: Fiji and Hawai‘i

“In her exceptionally high-quality fieldwork, Alice Rudge noticed and understood unusually subtle levels of Batek life practice in the midst of profound change, and she conveys those understandings eloquently here. Sensing Others is a fundamental contribution to anthropology, Southeast Asian studies, linguistic anthropology, hunter-gatherer studies, and environmental studies, and to global popular understanding of Indigenous rainforest people in the Anthropocene.”—Rupert Stasch, author of Society of Others: Kinship and Mourning in a West Papuan Place

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Prelude: Friends and Strangers
Author’s Note
List of Abbreviations
Introduction: Living with Others
Chapter 1. Closeness and Loss, Longing as Archive
Interlude 1. Story of the pompakoh Bird, in Which a Father Becomes a Bird
Chapter 2. Alone and Together, Wrongdoing and the Ethical Self
Interlude 2. Story of the Batak Cannibal, in Which a Woman Escapes
Chapter 3. Like and Different, Hidden Likenesses in Everyday Speech
Interlude 3. Story of the caŋkãy Frog, in Which Frogs and Leaves Become Batek
Chapter 4. Known and Unknown, Sensing the Intentions of Others
Interlude 4. Story of a sarɔt Who Flicks His “Fruit”
Chapter 5. Attachment and Detachment, Sharing with Strange Others
Interlude 5. Story of Hiding from Batak in the Treetops
Coda: The Politics of Being Alone
Appendix 1: Grammar
Appendix 2: Selected Lexicon

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