About kincentric leadership
In various cultures around the world, human identity cannot be separated from our nonhuman kin. The landscapes we call home — grasslands and forests, mountains and rocks, rivers and oceans — are shared by nonhuman beings who may be considered relatives. Age-old myths and modern science reinforce these kinship relationships. From forest ecology to the human microbiome, emerging research suggests that being human is a complicated journey made possible only by the good graces of our many companions.
From the Kinship Podcast series, by To the Best of Our Knowledge & The Centre for Humans and Nature
What is Kincentric Leadership?
Kincentric Leadership is both an emergent and ancient field of practice. Rooted in a deep sense of our belonging with all life, it places humans as part of nature and recognises non-human beings and cycles as bestowed with intelligence, sensibilities, subjecthood and intentionality. Building on kincentric ecology and worldviews, it sees humans as members of communities and systems that reach far beyond our own species, embedding us in extended networks of human and nonhuman kin whose origin, agency and existence are fundamentally linked to ours. To ensure right relationship with those communities of life requires a deep acknowledgement of our interbeing - and requires us to act as kin. Leading from that place is about learning to include radically other ways of being, learning from multiple forms of intelligence, and influencing the whole system towards a shared purpose of reciprocal respect and mutual thriving.
Some of us need to relearn how to be kin and heal our illusory separation from the more than human world. Others already know or have never forgotten. Across the planet, indigenous communities tell stories of the common origin, ancestry and interconnectedness of all life and creatively nurture lifeways that maintain and improve the integrity, diversity and health of the biosphere and its peoples. They are also often the people most harmed and threatened by non-kincentric ways of life and extractivist, supremacists and colonialist practices and violence, and the ones who bear the brunt of the effects of ecological unravelling.
To act wisely and to address the many complex issues confronting the survival and wellbeing of all members of our biosphere, humans need the input and intelligence of all life in our solutions, problem solving and decision making. That means including all human perspectives, but also extends to the intelligence of the more than human world. If collaborative leadership harnesses collective intelligence through shared decision-making, trust-building and open communication, kincentric leadership expands that notion to include the more than human world. It aims to decentre humanity - to recognise we are no more no less important, unique or integral to the world than bats, earthworms, clouds or rainforests.
How does it build on current ideas of leadership?
The most creative and profound solutions to the most serious, knotty, systemic problems that we face can only be addressed through the application of radical cognitive diversity: the entrainment of the widest possible range of embodied viewpoints and experiences that we can muster. We must also recognize that cognitive diversity extends beyond the human, that it inheres in the intelligence of non-human animals, the organization and agency of forests, fields and fungi, the vibrant efflorescence of slime moulds, gut bacteria, and even viruses. To exclude such entanglements from our political decision-making and problem-solving processes is not merely to maintain our practice of extractivist violence and speciesist totalitarianism towards other forms of life, with devastating consequences for our own survival.
It is to wilfully ignore the wildly creative, evolutionary lessons of randomness itself.
- James Bridle, Ways of Being 2022
Why is it relevant now?
We live in a time characterised by deepening polycrisis, to a large extent brought about by paradigms of thought and action diametrically opposed to kincentrism. To tackle the severe challenges of our age, we urgently need ways of listening, acting and making decisions that integrate the perspectives and intelligence of the more than human world - as well as the vast diversity of human experiences and points of view. In any crisis scenario, there can be a tendency to get narrower and cling to the same ways and paradigms that created the crisis in the first place; paradigms that also tend to be underpinned by vast discrepancies in financial wealth, voice and influence. Bringing kincentric leadership into our responses to the polycrisis will help restrain the tendency to prioritise privileged people, private property and economic gain at the expense of other people and the rest of nature as the pressure increases. It will also ensure we are tackling root causes rather than replicating the kinds of decisions that got us here.
Kincentric leadership recognises the intimate connections between the destruction of human and more than human communities, and the centrality of oppressive systems and colonialism in the polycrisis. The systematic dehumanisation, suppression, killing and displacement of People of Colour and Indigenous Peoples and their cultures and lifeways are intrinsic to extractivism and the continued destruction of the biosphere, just like earlier occupations, land enclosures, persecution, enslavement and killing was inherent to its establishment also in the lands from which such practices spread. Equating people of certain cultures, colours and genders with nature in order to disenfranchise, enslave and explot them in the same way as the more than human world has also long been a key ingredient in colonialism, imperialism, racism and sexism. Environmental justice and a fundamental reevaluation of humanity's place as members of the wider community of life are inextricably bound up with all other struggles for equality. Similarly, focusing on the more than human world does not mean that the struggles of human beings for justice, dignity, equity and autonomy are unimportant or moot - it means placing those concerns at the heart of all we do, while extending them to all our kin.
What is its relationship with colonialism and racial oppression?
Kinship makes us feel part of this collective “we,” and many of the social—and certainly economic—institutions in which we are embedded depend on alienation. They depend on isolation. If we are alienated from the living world, then we can commodify the heck out of it. We can extract everything and make it all into property, make it into natural resources, not the gifts of our relatives. So kinning is a very real antidote to saying that the world is just stuff and all this stuff belongs to us. Kinning with Grandmother Moon, with salamanders, with lichens on our rooftop—all of those are acts of resistance to the objectification and commodification of the world.
But I want to say that it also brings us joy.
It brings us joy and happiness, and that too
can be understood as a radical reclaiming
of who we are as humans.
- Robin Wall Kimmerer
What impact will it have?
Kincentric leadership will grow our collective intelligence, ingenuity and capacity to respond to the polycrisis in just, regenerative, and life-affirming ways, as well as our capacity to dismantle anthropocentrism alongside misogyny, racism and colonialism. Learning how to respectfully access and understand the life-worlds, knowledge, capacities, perspectives and insights of more than human nature will help us include vastlty diverse points of view and types of intelligence into our thinking. It will help us to design projects and interventions that benefit both human and nonhuman life. And it will also grow our own personal and collective resilience, connection and joy through the experience of intimate belonging with all life.
Starting in May 2023, we are running an international pilot programme for Kincentric Leadership, set up to kickstart the development of kincentric leadership as a paradigm and practice. If you are interested in exploring the emerging possibilities of applying both science and indigenous wisdom of the more than human world to how humans live, lead and organise - we strongly encourage you to join us!
How can I learn more?
Examples of Kincentric Leadership
The Water Protectors
Water is Life - and Kin
The Water Protectors arose from Indigenous communities in North America during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, gathering under the slogan ' Defend the Sacred'.
Their approach is rooted in an indigenous cultural perspective that sees water as sacred, necessary for life, and a relative Water protectors have been involved in actions against construction of multiple pipelines, other projects by the fossil fuel industries, and resource extraction activities. They also create resistance camps as a way to re-occupy and refuse to give away traditional territories, and lead and take actions outside of protesting that are rooted in ceremony, such as praying and offering tobacco to water, and water walks.
Well-known water protectors include Autumn Peltier (Wikwemikong First Nation), Marjorie Flowers (Inuit), LaDonna Brave Bull Allard (Dakota, Lakota), and Faith Spotted Eagle (Yankton Sioux).
The Whanganui River Maori
Using the law to secure more than human voice & rights
In 2017, the Whanganui river in Aotearoa / New Zealand was the first waterway granted legal personhood and given two local Maori spokespersons to carry its voice in the human sphere. This soon precipitated several rivers in India and all rivers in Bangladesh also being declared legal persons.
The fight to recognise the river was spearheaded by generations of Maori activists. Before colonization and the concomitant degradation of the Whanganui watershed, the river and local Maoris lived a deeply intertwined life, with the river providing food, water, medicine and spiritual mentorship. A local Maori proverb sums it up - “I am the river, and the river is me.”
The 2017 law states that Te Awa Tupua is an “indivisible and living whole, comprising the Whanganui River from the mountains to the sea, incorporating all its physical and metaphysical elements.”. Jacinta Ruru, an expert in environmental and Māori law at Otago University, says that legal personhood represents a fundamental move from a Western to a Māori perspective, and environmental law experts claim that the Whanganui River law was the start of a perception shift not only in the people who live nearby the river, but also further afield, opening new frontiers in safeguarding more than human nature and the human lifeways that depend on and safeguard it from destruction.
Finding the Mother Tree
Suzanne is a pioneer on the frontier of plant communication and intelligence. She is a professor of Forest Ecology at the University of British Columbia and the author of Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest.
Suzanne is known for her work on how trees interact and communicate using below-ground fungal networks, which has led to the recognition that forests have hub trees, or Mother Trees, which are large, highly connected trees that play an important role in the flow of information and resources in a forest. Her current research investigates how these complex relationships contribute to forest resiliency, adaptability and recovery and has far-reaching implications for how to manage and heal forests from human impacts, including climate change.
Despite decades of resistance from established science and forestry practices, Suzanne persisted in showing the world new depths of forest intelligence and how ignoring it puts all life in peril.
The Goats of Mount Etna
More-than-human early warning
For two years, researchers tracked the activities of of goats grazing on the volcano Mt Etna, Sicily, and sheep, cows and dogs around the city of L’Aquila in the centre of Italy.
When Mt Etna erupted at 10 p.m. on 4 January 2012, the team looked back over their data and saw that the goats had become abnormally agitated six hours previously. Over the course of the study, the goats predicted another seven major eruptions. The same was true of earthquakes in L’Aquila. In the days and hours before earthquakes, the sheep, cows and dogs would behave in unusual – but measurably unusual – ways. The closer they were to the looming epicentre, the more agitated they became. Together, they constituted an early warning system more powerful, more accurate and more advanced than any other mechanism humans have devised.
Folk wisdom has long held that animals indeed are able to predict earthquakes, and when living closely with animals, people have ways of listening and paying attention - and taking their lead - that science is only now learning to do. By learning to percieve the intelligence of more than human nature rather than focusing on whether or how its members can possess such a quality, human beings, no matter their background, can help their more than human communities navigate towards and design better responses to threaths as they arise.
Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate. But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond.
- Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass