Ferality and fidelity: conservation as a space of social reproduction
Adam Runacres (University College London (UCL))
Timothy Cooper (University of Cambridge)
Utopias and Temporalities
Elizabeth Fry 01.02
Tuesday 3 September, 13:00-14:30, 15:00-16:30

Short abstract:

This panel will attempt to broker a dialogue across different sections of anthropology concerned with the idea of conservation (of material culture and of nature) as an agent of continuity and rupture, with regard to state intervention and resistance to it.

Long abstract:

Through dialogue between ethnographic studies of material culture, heritage, wildlife, and conservation, this panel explores the parallels and dissonances among anthropological sub-disciplines' understandings of conservation. In each case, conservation emerges from a desire for fidelity; a concern with preserving, returning to, or imitating an - ultimately constructed - ideal, whether it be a certain idea of nature and wildness, or of origins and completeness. Often both the poison and the cure for problems of asserting order over objects of conservation is wildness itself and its instability; the feral, unruly, often non-human collaborators that atrophy objects but regenerate landscapes. When the pursuit of fidelity falls under the control and intervention of the state, conservation becomes a domain in which censorship, intervention, and authority unfold. However, top-down notions of continuity can become practices of ongoing rupture for local actors, who may negotiate or subvert these processes through the appropriation and circulation of resources. Such acts re-define both the space of conservation and what is reproduced and conserved. This panel calls for a discussion between scholars across material culture, social anthropology, political ecology and wildlife conservation in order to interrogate conservation as a discursive space of ethnographic enquiry. We ask: How is conservation as a social form and category of knowledge crystallised and reproduced? In what ways does the state intervene on such spheres of reproduction through censorship or authority? What role do non-state actors play in resisting that censorship, intervention, and authority by attempting to (re)gain control over material or natural resources?