In “When Species meet” Donna Haraway turns to Barbara Smuts, who used the practice of “becoming with” during her graduate studies with chimpanzees. She states her transition from being rejected to being seen as an outcast by the chimpanzees to eventually knowing “the way of the baboon” and being socially accepted in the end as an intriguing one. Smuts claims that through “mutual acknowledgement” of each others presence and intentions the chimpanzees no longer saw her as a threat or disturbance in their every day lifestyles allowing smooth sailing from then on with their relationship.
In my interpretation, in order to to able to understand the baboons Smuts had to “become with” them to gain a different perspective, in other words adapt to their way of life to in a way become one with them. With time, as Smuts began to adopt to the chimpanzees way she states “…it signaled a profound change from being treated like an object …to being treated as a subject with whom they can communicate” (25). This social acceptance resulted from an understanding by an alteration in her behavior, like her way of walking, talking, and sitting, towards the chimps. Since “becoming with” is already stated(in theory)as adaptation to establish a joint relationship, Smuts achieved this by (in her opinion) allowing the baboons to acknowledge her by her actions which establishes a mutual respect between them, enough to allow her studies to continue. Additionally, Smuts expresses her success claiming ” ..I expressed respect, and by responding in ways I picked up from them, I let the baboons know that my intentions were benign and that I assumed they likewise meant me no harm. Once this was clearly established in both directions, we could relax in each other’s company” (25). Notably, allowing the chimps to still thrive in their own environment undisturbed using distinctive greetings created a change in the relationship with actions that illustrate the truth about their intentions towards each other.
Conversation questions: Why is it preferred for one to change their behavior in order to be socially accepted by a different group? What is Haraway’s interpretation of “becoming with”?