Hiding the marshes: wildlife management, avian and human transgressions in urban parks: a case study in France
(Muséum National D'histoire Naturelle)
Paper short abstract:
Under the banner of the "urban ecology" utopia, French local public authorities make changes in public parks and gardens management to provide shelter to wildlife. This leads to the deployment of material and discursive power devices aimed at hiding from city dwellers places devoted to biodiversity.
Paper long abstract:
In Europe, an increasing number of local political authorities get involved in the "urban ecology" movement, giving a new turn to an old utopia: "reconciling human and nature in urban areas". To give substance to this project, one path chosen by French local administrations has been, in the 1990's, to make changes in parks management in order to provide shelter to wildlife in these public places. How do human and non-human becomings get entangled in this landscape reshaping process, guided by scientific concepts? To address this question, we adopted the perspective of environmental anthropology, looking at how material and symbolic frontiers between humans, animals and plants get negotiated in urban public spaces designed for both leisure and biodiversity protection. We conducted an ethnographic inquiry in the Seine-Saint-Denis district (North East suburbs of Paris), in an urban park that shelters rare bird species. We suggest that in our case study, the attention for wildlife in urban parks goes along with the deployment of technical and discursive devices (Foucault, 1970, Agamben, 2007) based on expert ecological knowledge, both aimed at humans and birds. While marshes are shaped to invite chosen bird species to nest, they are also hidden from most city dwellers by access restrictions. These devices never completely reach their target: the path taken by bird species communities remains unpredictable, while the secrecy surrounding the marshes allows a high level of social transgression.
Living together in changing environments: towards an anthropology of multiple natures in Europe and beyond