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Author:Daniel Sosna (Institute of Ethnology of the Czech Academy of Sciences)
Paper short abstract:
This paper interrogates the concept of responsibility using an example of ravens creating accumulations of plastic waste in wilderness. Their activities and relations to other agents extend the notion of responsibility to account for open-endedness of waste and non-human agency.
Paper long abstract:
Plastic waste raises questions about responsibility for its open-ended engagements and effects across the human and non-human realms. There are two questions that require attention. First, what are the limits for imagining and attributing responsibility for plastic waste beyond the human? Second, what would the concept of responsibility look like if one used plastic waste’s capacity to engage in unexpected relations? Building upon Laidlaw’s view of responsibility, I explore how non-human organisms’ engagement with plastics co-creates responsibility. This paper is based on my ethnographic research of Czech wastescapes where I experienced different conceptualizations and contestations of responsibility for plastic waste being ‘out of place’ because of the activities of cunning nonhuman agents: the ravens. These birds developed skills to find and retrieve food waste from the surface of a landfill. The transport of food waste is facilitated by various plastic containers that the ravens drop to the ground and thus create accumulations of waste in the woods. The ravens appear in the nexus between the waste company, farmers, hunters, foresters, other animals and plants. The company contemplates about its responsibility for animal littering and cleaning the surrounding woods, farmers blame the ravens for hurting the calves on their pastures, hunters feel responsibility for keeping the balance in ‘nature’, and foresters cut down the trees to reduce opportunities for ravens’ littering. Rather than searching for a single source or notion of responsibility, I examine the frictions in multispecies interactions to propose a notion of distributed responsibility growing along the relations.
Intractable plastic: responsibilities in ‘plasticized’ worlds I