EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

(P034)
Ecosystem as concept, legacy, and (sustainable) futures
Location U6-36
Date and Start Time 20 July, 2016 at 14:30
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Roberta Raffaetà (Università Milano-Bicocca) email
  • Valerie Olson (UC Irvine) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

The system concept has an important but controversial legacy in anthropology, currently resurfacing with the "ecosystem" concept. This panel explores anthropological work with and about ecosystems. We invite contributions analyzing ecological systems, assemblages, or ecosystems.

Long Abstract

The system concept has an important but controversial legacy in anthropology. As contemporary ethnographies turn attention to the socialites and politics of large-scale environmental interconnections and their sustainability, the "ecosystem" concept has become a compelling system form to think with. Yet, it provokes anthropological suspicions of totalizing or normative concepts.

This panel explores the presence of the ecosystem concept in anthropology. We invite contributions which use conceptualizations of ecological systems and assemblages or which focus on "ecosystems" as objects of study.

Potential approaches:

-Historical: Legacies of the system concept in anthropology, in its national and theoretical declinations. How this heritage applies today, especially in light of ecological considerations? How in this process has the concept of system taken on particular forms?

-Ethnographic: Exploration of various fields (e.g, environmental, medical, biological…) in which the concept of ecosystem is used and applied.

-Theoretical: How scientific and social scientific ecosystemic approaches integrates or clashes? How does the ecosystem concept align or differ from theories of relational connection (network, infrastructure, assemblage, meshwork, fluid ontologies…) currently employed in anthropological debates? Which overlaps? Which frictions and what can be learned?

-Political: Political, ethical and moral import of the ecosystem concept and its deployments in social worlds. Which limitations and which advantages does it lay out? In light of which agendas?

-Methodological: From which perspective, scale and temporality can we get to know ecosystemic connections, mindful of the situated histories and politics of the concept? Are distinctions between human and non-human, living and nonliving useful?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Ecosystems in-the-making: exploring liminal ecosystemic formations

Authors: Segolene Guinard (Université Paris 8)  email
Anna-Katharina Laboissière (Ecole Normale Supérieure)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing from postnatural inquiries, such as outer space habitats and novel ecosystems, the authors will discuss the limits and possible futures of an ecosystemical approach in anthropology and philosophy when engaging with disrupted ecologies.

Long Abstract

The authors of this paper will collectively discuss the limits and possible futures of an ecosystemical approach in anthropology and philosophy, at the crossroads of their research subjects.

Ecosystemic approaches have enabled a connection between social and natural sciences through their emphasis on exchanges of information, matter and energy that weave together abiotic and biotic beings, mind and matter, without relying on a an a priori differentiation between human and non-human, or even between life and non-life.

However, the emphasis on self-organization, retro-action and regulation through feedback loops that cybernetics instilled into the concept of ecosystem is certainly an obstacle to apprehending disrupted ecologies, where systems of all kind (biomes, societies, capitalism) have become strikingly unbalanced. If ecosystems are constantly changing for "survival" (Bateson), how can we understand those alterations without eluding that which is lost, which remains unredeemable (or : exhausted, Povinelli 2012) ? How can we speculate about present futures, that is : ecosystems in-the-making ?

Drawing from postnatural inquiries, such as outer space habitats and the emergence of what has been called novel ecosystems, defined as self-sustaining ecosystems having their origin in human agency and significantly altered species, the authors will examine whether the notion of ecosystem should be renewed, used or associated to more muddy concepts in order to engage with those emerging relationships to land, earth, and home, whatever those terms may come to mean and encompass in postnatural spaces.

People-plant alignments in healing

Author: Julie Laplante (University of Ottawa)  email

Short Abstract

Akin to a discussion in medical anthropology on the problem with thinking in terms of medical systems I would like to tease this out with the notion of ecosystem and rather propose meshworks as more relevant to understand what healers do with plants at two edges of the Indian Ocean.

Long Abstract

The notions of ecology and ecosystem seem to carry the same imagination of a habitat or environment that can be studied either in itself or in the interrelations between its objets (organisms) or components (biotic or abiotic) assuming a pre-existing organization or system that in turn we need to 'sustain', 'save', 'protect' or 'preserve' from the outside. Akin to a discussion in medical anthropology that has thoroughly critiqued the assumption of pre-existing (ethno)medical systems and their corresponding bofies to defend, fix and protect., the idea of a system takes us backwards in a research agenda to document its workings as if it had some kind of closure. As a partial solution to this problem, Latour's networks can extend indefinitely, making our task to follow the ways humans and nonhumans assemble as they make the social yet keeping with interests in knots of connections. Meshworks as proposed by Ingold and corresponding with Deleuze and Guattari's 'lines of becoming' offer possibilities to navigate through all of this in a movement forward. The idea of lines that bend from the middle with no beginning and no end as well as showing endless possibilities of entanglements has been the most useful notion in my research aiming to understand how people entangle beneficially with vegetal lives in healing. I would like to tease this out through the practices of healers with whom I did fieldwork at two edges of the Indian Ocean.

Does the revolution start from what we eat?

Author: Francesca Mininni (University of Milan-Bicocca)  email

Short Abstract

Our meals have unattended consequences: just thinking about the implications of chosing a meal instead of another affecting the lives of people and the environment. In this frame, the diffusion of veganism has drawn attention for an analysis of its roots and to test the consequences on people’s lives.

Long Abstract

Biography, culture, food, practices and societies are interdependent aspects of a network of relationships. Choiches about food are crucial in shaping a community and contribute in determining the nature of a society, habits and actor's identity. The spread of veganism demands to be subjected to a critical analysis. Differently from what happens in developing countries, where vast part of the population is vegetarian because of poverty, in industrial societies veganism has been voluntarily adopted also because of material conditions: industrialized and intensive agriculture, global market, capitalism. With the advent of modernity, the pluralisation of eating styles and diets multiplies this, allowing for the exploration and birth of alternative identities and lifestyles.

For most people, to become vegan is a real "way of life". The connection between veganism and its repercussions on the values and habits of the individuals appears evident: activism, political participation, critical consumption, selfproduction, the preference for organic agriculture are all practical tools by means of which social actors make themselves aware and responsible. Through their decisions, they can actively condition the internal dynamics of society and become drivers of change.

Exploring a minority eating practice is necessary to reflect on the role human beings have taken in this world, but also to reason on the environmental, ethical and political dimensions. This new lifestyle integrates modernity but it also aims at refounding it on different principles. A rethinking process of the relation between society and the natural environment and between humans and nonhumans seems to be in progress.

Restore natures: ecology and the compositions of time between humans and non-humans in the brazilian Atlantic Forest

Author: Daniel Delatin (UFRRJ)  email

Short Abstract

This work will discuss the scientific field of ecological restoration and its implications for the composition of new relationships between humans and non-humans in a period marked by climate unpredictability.

Long Abstract

This work will discuss the scientific field of ecological restoration and its implications for the composition of new relationships between humans and non-humans in a period marked by climate unpredictability. Described as the passage of reforestation without scientific grounds for an practices based on concepts and ecological theories, ecological restoration should be considered also a political response to an ecological crisis (loss of biodiversity). It is located around two central issues about how to re-build the nature and how to change society. It would mark an innovation through active prospect of production of new relationships between humans and nonhumans. Discussions coming of anthropology and sociology field point out, in the first case, the existence of a multi-naturalism (which prevent us to consider nature as a given universal) and in the second case the constructive character of science over nature (which require show practice of delimitation). Using input from both disciplines show that the analysis of ecological restoration requires the use of an alternative notion of nature that highlights his compositional character. The change of "balance in nature" paradigm for the "flow of nature" will transform the environmental policies construction so as to imply a deep reflection in the field about the distinctions between nature and culture that will culminate in notions as "neoecosytem" and "landscape of reference" . In this sense these scientists moved from a past reference of an untouched nature in favor of a notion of mixed temporalities marked by unpredictability and constant openness to new compositions.

Soil protection: ecological system and problems of sustainability in agriculture

Author: Viacheslav Rudnev (Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology)  email

Short Abstract

Keeping soil fertile is one of the main goals for human beings. This paper analyzes folk technologies related to soil protection in the context of keeping food production safe by using natural resources in the soil with a goal of keeping the soil fertile for future generations.

Long Abstract

The misuse and maltreatment of soil is one of the main dangers facing mankind’s future. The rapid growth of industry using a model that consumes nature and natural resources (in particularly land previously dedicated to agriculture) has put all of global society at risk and in a dangerous position.

Current studies on the use of natural plants for fertilizers and pollination related to keeping a balance of biodiversity currently suggest that keeping soil fertile using natural plants rather than using dangerous chemical fertilizers will be a successful model because it uses only technologies and practices which are friendly to nature and, additionally, because it takes into consideration the future society’s development and the goal of sustainability.

In the past, folk cultures developed unique data and technologies (on the local level) that were quite effective and useful for using natural resources sparingly. For example: Russian peasants used (in pre industrial period) plants for fertilizing the soil and practiced crop rotation to allow arable land to recover for later use. This paper will focus attention on traditions and customs of folk cultures and the techniques they developed which have been used for studying nature and collecting unique data useful for the sole purpose of preserving and sustaining nature for future generations. Special attention will be paid to problems of ecosystem, faced by folk cultures and how their results of their efforts can be supported by and applied to life today keeping the goal of sustainability in mind for future generations.

Contemporary practices of start-upping

Author: Jonna Josties (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)  email

Short Abstract

My paper addresses how contemporary high-tech start-up practices as interventions into uncertainty trigger overlapping and unintended effects and shape possible, maybe unwanted futures. The concept of the “entrepreneurial ecosystem” which is used and applied in the startup field will be put into question.

Long Abstract

What do high-tech startup practices have to do with the spread of 'start-up churches'? What kind of unexpected, perhaps un-wanted, futures are being shaped when so-called "entrepreneurial ecosystems" get promoted in urban environments?

In my proposed talk, I intend to open up a window into these questions, drawing on my ethnographic, empirical investigation on start-up practices in Berlin and the San Francisco Bay Area. The Berlin case suggests that there is a connection between the emergence of a blossoming startup environment and the proliferation of new urban religious initiatives, which even use the same urban hotspots high-tech start-ups would use to set up their projects. Conducting fieldwork in the San Francisco Bay area has taken my observations of Berlin to the next level pointing to similar analogies from a transatlantic perspective of global connection.

I will show that neither the notion of the "entrepreneurial ecosystem", nor the older ways of distinguishing between the domains of the economic and religious are effective in order to grasp the complexities, dynamics and unstable social terrains emerging in the context of contemporary 'start-up-ism'. Instead, I will suggest that 'assemblage thinking' (Ong/Collier 2005) enables to explore how high-tech start-up practices as interventions into uncertainty trigger overlapping and unanticipated effects both globally and in situated localities like Berlin.

Integrating the very large and the very small: digital anthropology, knowledge networks, and complex systems

Authors: Lisa Jenny Krieg (University of Bonn)  email
Julia Poerting (Heidelberg University)  email

Short Abstract

Data available through digital social media, such as Facebook, and Twitter, makes visible large networks of knowledge flows in which the ethnographic field is situated. Complexity theory is a promising approach to integrate the particular and ethnographic with large networks and global structures.

Long Abstract

Data available through digital social media, such as Facebook, and Twitter, makes visible large networks of knowledge flows in which the ethnographic field is situated. Complexity theory is a promising approach to integrate the particular and ethnographic with large networks and global structures.

Complex systems, such as ecosystems, financial markets, neural systems, or social systems, are described as assemblages whose "whole is greater than the sum of its parts" (Byrne and Callaghan, 2014:4): the structure of a system shapes the behavior of its elements, and the behavior of the elements shapes the structure of the systems, creating emerging effects that cannot be described by simply adding up single actions (Hidalgo, 2015:2).

Working with digital data from the Facebook page of a Pakistani organic farmer, and from Erowid, an online portal for knowledge and experience reports on (psychoactive) drugs, we attempted to integrate ethnographic knowledge with the analysis of very large digital data sets. Facebook-Page-Like networks with +5000 nodes, and +20.000 user-generated drug experience reports do not only show a larger horizon of a phenomenon encountered in ethnography, they also ask for a conceptualization. Conceptualizing the middle ground between the very large and the very small is a challenge.

In this paper, we want to draw on our research on psychoactive substances and online knowledge; and on innovative farming practices in Pakistan and the use of social media, in order to discuss whether highly interconnected sites and actors, online and offline, can be conceptualized as complex systems.

Ecosystem of innovation: an Actor-Network-Theory analysis

Author: Keren Mazuz (Hadassa academic college Jerusalem)  email

Short Abstract

This paper based on ongoing ethnographic research in a multi-national high-tech corporation located in Israel to explore how an ecosystem of innovation is being formed, assembled and performed. This paper aims to describe the term ecosystem based on Bruno Latour's Actor-Network-Theory (ANT).

Long Abstract

This paper based on ongoing ethnographic research in a multi-national high-tech corporation located in Israel to explore how an ecosystem of innovation is being formed, assembled and performed.

In this research, innovation is conceptualized as an imaginative, non-linear and interactive exchange process. Thus an innovation in the making reveals the ecosystem, a set of closely intertwined and multiplied actors, objects and processes, human and non-human, associated and assembled together unto new shapes and combinations.

This paper aims to describe the term ecosystem based on Bruno Latour's Actor-Network-Theory (ANT). Both theoretically and methodologically, the term refers to the ways ethnography could "extend the list and modify the shapes of those assembled as actors and participants and to design a way to make them act as a durable whole" (pg.72)1.

1 Latour, B.2005. Reassembling the Social an Introudaction to Actor-Network-Theory, Oxford University Press.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.