EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

(P122)
Living well together: considering connections of health, wellbeing and work in the lives of humans and other living beings [Humans and Other Living Beings]
Location U6-1F
Date and Start Time 21 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Sara Asu Schroer (University of Aberdeen) email
  • Ursula Muenster (Ludwig Maximilians University Munich and University and Rachel Carson Center) email

Mail All Convenors

Discussant Heather Paxson

Short Abstract

In this panel we invite participants to engage with the question of how humans' sense of health and wellbeing is often intimately connected to and dependent on the manifold ways through which human and nonhuman ways of life are entangled and emplaced within wider ecological relationships.

Long Abstract

We invite participants to engage with the question of how humans' sense of health and wellbeing is often intimately connected to and dependent on the manifold ways through which human and nonhuman ways of life are entangled and emplaced within wider ecological relationships. We are particularly interested in contributions based on in-depth ethnographic materials, helping explore the theoretical and ethical dimensions of what it means to people to 'live well' with other living beings. How might this notion allow to conceptualise health and wellbeing as being constituted through and dependent on the active participation of human and nonhuman living beings in shared social worlds? We especially invite papers to explore the connections between health, wellbeing and 'work' or 'labour'. How might a less human-centric and more open understanding of these terms contribute to a better understanding of the active and constitutive role of other living beings, whose often hidden and invisible 'work' is crucial for the creation of human health and wellbeing? How are other living beings such as animals, plants, fungi and microbes involved in creating and maintaining human health and sense of wellbeing? In times of climate change, severe ecological crisis and species extinction, an anthropological understanding of these questions seems all the more relevant. This panel is an initiative of the newly founded EASA network 'Humans and Other Living Beings' and will be accompanied by an inaugural network meeting to which all are welcome.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

The limits of care: elephant wellbeing and Herpes in times of extinction

Authors: Ursula Muenster (Ludwig Maximilians University Munich and University and Rachel Carson Center)  email
Celia Lowe (University of Washington)  email

Short Abstract

This paper presents three stories of elephant care in times of extinction to remind us that human management and care-work have only limited power to secure the future wellbeing of valued life forms.

Long Abstract

Across the world, Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus (EEHV) is increasingly killing elephant calves and threatening the long term survival of the Asian elephant, a species that is currently facing extinction. This paper presents three open-ended stories of elephant care in times of death and loss: at places of confinement and elephant suffering like the zoos in Seattle and Zürich, as well as in South India, where the country's last free-ranging elephants live. Our ethnographies of deadly viral-elephant-human becomings remind us that neither human care, work, love, and attentiveness, nor techniques of control and creative management are sufficient to fully secure elephant health and wellbeing. The paper introduces the concept of the "viral creep" to explore the ability of a creeping, only partially knowable, virus to rearrange relations among people, animals, and objects despite multiple experimental human regimes of care, governance, and organization. The "viral creep" exceeds the physical and intellectual contexts of human interpretation and control. It reminds us that uncertainty and modes of imagining are always involved when humans care and work for the wellbeing of other living beings and thereby make sense of the word around them.

Worker bees, parasites, and the human fear of the feral

Author: Felix Remter (Munich University (LMU))  email

Short Abstract

The human-honeybee-contact-zone has a long and vivid history of practices and ideas. In the late 20th century, a mite "bio-invaded" the largely economized relationship, and raised questions about the social insects ontological status. I follow the debate of the re-introduction of feral colonies in Europe.

Long Abstract

The "Bienensterben" (CCD) in the nineties and early two-thousands raised awareness of human dependency on honeybee pollination, as well as the precarious situation of bees in Europe's industrialized landscapes. When the mite varroa destructor travelled from South Asia to Europe in the seventies it met different reactions: human medication and breeding against varroa and the bees developing their own strategies to deal with the ectoparasite. A few years ago, research from the US and Russia brought information about feral colonies developing a stable relation to the mites. The work of re-introducing the once extinct feral colonies in Europe is now seen either as the salvation and rehabilitation of the honeybee or as a threat to the highly controlled genetic pool of productive breeding. Regardless of perspective, all involved parties are active in saving the bees, who are viewed as domestic, wild, or productive animals.

I will point out, that a less human-centric perspective - including the agency of both the bees and the mites - may lead to a more sustainable relationship between human, bee and mite and a less parasitic ecology. The ideas of work and health are central to these interrelations, as the bees productivity is key to the well-being of both bee and human societies.

I draw on my own multi-sited fieldwork in German and UK apiaries, as well as my work in southern Ural with Bashkirian tree beekeepers and on the analysis of scientific discourses. In all sites and on the ground of different nature-culture concepts, the human, bee, and mite form different intimate assemblages.

The myth of the spotted sun and the blemished moon: a biosocial ethnohistory of syphilis and related diseases

Author: César Enrique Giraldo Herrera (University of Oxford)  email

Short Abstract

Early versions of the myth of the Sun and the Moon are interpreted as records of a biosocial ethnohistory which addresses the social interactions between and beyond humans, interrelating the origin of diseases like syphilis and the origin of particular practices in agriculture, fishing and metallurgy.

Long Abstract

Syphilis, yaws and pinta are diseases that feature prominently in some of the earliest accounts of Amerindian medical knowledge and mythology. These diseases, the way they were understood by Amerindians and their treatments drew the avid attention of European missionaries, chroniclers and historians in the years that followed the first contacts. According to these records and to the oral traditions of some enduring communities, these diseases were and are starring characters of their myths origin. They are the protagonists of the earliest recorded versions of the myth of the Sun and the Moon; a myth, which albeit with profound variations, is widely distributed throughout the Americas. It narrates the events that led to the origin of the celestial bodies, of diseases that caused their spots, and of crucial cultural practices like fishing, cultivation, pottery or metallurgy. This paper examines myth and knowledge associated with it as records of a biosocial ethnohistory. It addresses the social interactions between and beyond humans portrayed by the early accounts of the myth and how these interactions could have influenced the development of the disease, and the evolution of host and pathogen communities. It also explores how the biological understandings of the disease may contribute to the interpretation of its meaning and symbolism.

Rethinking health through bananas and their eaters

Author: Sandra Calkins (MPI for Social Anthropology)  email

Short Abstract

This paper suggests that attention to the ways in which Ugandan biologists care for experimental banana plants provides a window not only to examine manifold human-plant entanglements but also to rethink the notion of health itself in ways that do not automatically privilege the human.

Long Abstract

Banana plants (matooke) in Central Uganda denote fertility and life. They are nodes of sociality, making homes and families across generations. For many Ugandans eating their fruit means eating well - to a point of satisfaction. Drawing on recent ethnographic fieldwork, I examine a research project that strives to create nutritionally enhanced bananas for Ugandans, crossing conventional boundaries between pharmaceutical and food. I track the work of molecular biologics in transforming the banana genome and explore the different notions of health or healths that are thereby shaped. While benefits and risks for the health of human eaters still are the project's normative starting and endpoints, I analyze the care with which researchers attend to the wellbeing of their experimental plants in and outside of the lab, a care that is informed by a rich cultural-historical archive of thinking about and living with bananas. I suggest that the intimacies possible with plants that emerge from the laboratory and the hostility expressed towards "harmful" beings allow recalibrating the notion of health itself - away from the focus only on the human to include a variety of beings.

Nonhuman agency in health and knowledge production: human/nonhuman (a)symmetries in Brazilian Amazonia

Author: Pirjo Kristiina Virtanen (University of Helsinki / University of Turku)  email

Short Abstract

This paper discusses how certain nonhuman entities regarded as crucial actors redirect daily activities and produce healthy bodies in the Amazonian forest environment. I show how interactions with them have contributed to human well-being, especially through knowledge-production, for generations.

Long Abstract

For several Amazonian indigenous groups, plant, animal, and ancestor subjectivities are considered to contribute to the well-being of humans. In this paper, I discuss how these entities are crucial actors in redirecting daily activities and producing healthy bodies for the Apurinã people in Brazilian Amazonia. I focus on knowledge that is transmitted through the sounds made by animals, especially of birds, that predict the arrival of people and the presence of game. Among other things, they may also warn of a forthcoming storm or other changing weather conditions, thereby redirecting the work and future acts in the community. Nonhumans also interact with humans in dreams, regarded as a vital source of knowledge. To increase their capacity to dream, the Apurinã use specific plants, and various plant substances produce and construct peoples' bodies more generally. The paper argues that knowledge-production generated by certain nonhuman entities has contributed to the construction of healthy bodies and wellbeing among the Apurinã for generations. However, although human history comprises interrelations with nonhumans, the ethnographic material discussed underlines both symmetries and asymmetries between humans and nonhumans, rather than simply balanced continuity. Nonhumans also have their individual histories, and the recent environmental degradation has harshly shaped their lives.

Negotiating care-full relationships: care as trans-species work in falconry and domestic breeding of raptors

Author: Sara Asu Schroer (University of Aberdeen)  email

Short Abstract

The paper seeks to bring into focus how caring can be understood as a relational achievement of both humans and other living beings based on processes of negotiation.

Long Abstract

In this paper I will consider the notion of 'care' and 'wellbeing' for an anthropology that seeks to move our analysis beyond the human to include other living beings as active participants in shared worlds. The paper seeks to bring into focus how caring can be understood as a relational achievement of both humans and other living beings based on processes of negotiation. I will explore this negotiation of care-fullness in relation to ethnographic fieldwork material on falconry and the domestic breeding of birds of prey, particularly the relationship between breeders and so called imprinted birds of prey used in artificial insemination. The paper will explore care in terms of 'trans-species' work, emphasising the bodily and intimate involvement necessary to keep up relationships over time, that maintain wellbeing and health both of birds and humans involved. Caring in the domestic breeding complex is a practice that involves negotiation of power relationships beyond ideas of purely human dominance and mastery and invites to open up ideas of ethical conduct to encompass the active participation of other-than-human living beings.

Together is better: a study on inmate-horse relations and how it affects participants' lives.

Authors: Barbara Ghiringhelli (IULM University)  email
Vittorio Maria Rocchelli  email

Short Abstract

The aim of this research was to explore the experiences of humans and horses involved in the project “Horses in Prison" (ASOM). How this program rehabilitates both inmates and horses? The results suggest a positively impact for all parties involved.

Long Abstract

This study focuses on inmate-horse relations and how it affects participants' lives. Equine-facilitated prison programs have become more prevalent in the US and in Europe. Deaton (2005) found that working with animals in prisons can be "highly therapeutic and rehabilitative" in addition to providing vocational training for inmates. Strimple (2003) found that inmates working in horse-training programs learned "life-enhancing skills" and that participation led to a reduction in recidivism rates. To-date, no studies have been undertaken on the benefits to animals that are involved in this programs. The purpose of this interdisciplinary research is to explore the experiences of humans and horses involved in the project "Horses in Prison" (ASOM), the first Italian equine-assisted activities for inmates in the house of detention - Milano Bollate. How this program rehabilitates both inmates and horses? The study is carried out as collaborations between anthropologists and veterinarians through a mixed research methodology: participant observation, in-depth interviews, visual ethnography, vet check. Growing numbers of ethnographers and ethologists have recognized that many of their techniques and approaches have strong parallels, and that the two disciplines can enrich one another.

Fifteen inmates and twenty-two horses are involved in the study. In this research the horses were seen as individuals having their own agency (Mcfarland and Hediger 2009). Preliminary results show that "Horses in Prison" can change the atmosphere of prison, provide meaningful work and training for inmates, and be an appropriate project for the rescue of horses seized, abused, neglected or at the end of career.

Affective work in living and working with captive dolphins

Author: Veronique Servais (University of Liège)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing from fieldwork in a marine park, the presentation will describe the relationship that dolphins and their trainers develop. It appears that learning how to be affected by and how to affect the partner is a key component of an interspecific collaboration that isn’t sheer domination.

Long Abstract

The presentation is based on ethnographic work conducted with dolphin trainers at an aquatic park in France. Among professional trainers, this park is renowned (and laughed at) for the specific way it tries to "let the dolphins be themselves" instead of ruling by sheer domination. Here, trainers let the dolphins "talk back" to them and adapt themselves to the dolphins. In their view, they are doing true collaborative work: they don't use punishment, neither restrain, nor food deprivation, but they try to keep alive the dolphins' desire to learn. In this context, it appears that affective work plays an important role to preserve good relationships. Trainers are always at risk of putting "too much" emotion in their work, or the wrong one, but at the same time they need to let them be affected by the dolphins. In order to become an efficient trainer, they need to learn how to do so. It means learning to attend and be sensitive to specific signs, to restrain from "letting emotions get into the training", building mutual trust through swimming together, and cultivating a mindful presence to the dolphins during the training sessions. Doing this, trainers produce the body of the dolphin in such a way that the world of the dolphins can affect them, and produce their own body in such a way that their world can affect the dolphins in return. The result is an entanglement of worlds that I shall try to describe, taking into account the ethical question.

Alaska native corporations, sustainable livelihoods, and living well

Author: Thomas Thornton (University of Oxford)  email

Short Abstract

This paper looks at how re-evaluations of ‚old paradigm‘ natural resource extraction development schemes are playing out among Southeast Alaska Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian people through their regional Sealaska Corporation and its “Values in Action” programme, a new development paradigm which seeks to define a more holistic sense of corporate, community and environmental sustainability based on 4 interrelated Native core values of wellbeing: land, heritage, strength, and balance.

Long Abstract

More than 200 Alaska Native Corporations were created as engines of self-determination and economic development as part of the landmark Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, one of the largest peaceful transfers of land (44 million acres) to indigenous peoples in history. It was expected that these new indigenous corporations would combine economic development with sustainable livelihoods to increase wellbeing. However, in the eyes of critics they became stealth neocolonial vehicles for further assimilation of Alaska Native cultures and extraction of their natural resources. At the same, Native corporations have been subject to high expectations for social, cultural and environmental responsibility by their indigenous shareholders, which has resulted in 21st century re-evaluations of ‘old paradigm’ natural resource extraction development schemes among these corporations. This paper looks at how these re-evaluations are playing out among Southeast Alaska Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian people through their regional Sealaska Corporation and its “Values in Action” programme, a new development paradigm which seeks to define a more holistic sense of corporate, community and environmental sustainability based on 4 interrelated Native core values of wellbeing: land, heritage, strength, and balance. The operationalisation of these values into innovative social-economic enterprises is assessed through a case study of the activities of a new corporate subsidiary named for the one of these core ‘living well' values: Haa Aani (Our Land).

"Treating others good": well-being of land and animals in northern Canada

Authors: Robert Wishart (University of Aberdeen)  email
Jan Peter Laurens Loovers (University of Aberdeen)  email

Short Abstract

Well being for the Gwich'in of northern Canada is encapsulated in a local sensibility of treating people and all other things 'good.' We explore this overarching philosophy by focusing on the way people work with dogs and how they position this work as part of a larger effort to maintain a healthy world.

Long Abstract

Gwich'in, Dene people in subarctic Canada have often emphasised the notion of 'treating others good'. This not only comprises fellow humans, but other persons including animals, the land (including rivers and lakes), other beings and materials. Focusing on the relations between Gwich'in, dogs and the land, we tease out what such treatment of others entails as well as elaborate on the local sensibility of 'good' treatment. We commence with an account of Gwich'in and working dogs and situate this in a broader discussion on well-being, the land, resource extraction initiatives, and apocalyptic prophecies. Gwich'in recount caring for their dogs through feeding, respectful communication, and shared activities in order to craft 'good dogs': dogs that work together and with people. Mistreatment can lead to uncooperative dogs or, crucially, to misfortune or bad health for humans. The treatment and well-being of dogs is similar to that of other animals as well as the land but a key difference lies in the practices or recognisable domestication: feeding, breeding, housing, etc. The feeding of the dogs, like that of humans, depends on healthy land, rivers and skies because fish, caribou, birds and other animals are situated as being part of a 'good' diet. The well-being of the dogs and people is thus immediately connected with the well-being of the land. In this sense, Gwich'in have become particularly concerned with resource extraction initiatives in the upper Peel River as it undermines the notion of 'treating good' and gwiinzii kwundei (good life/well-being).

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.