Accepted paper:

The Governance of Big Cats in the Age of the Anthropocene


Nayanika Mathur (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

How might the anthropological literature on governance and the state be productively put in conversation with the geography literature on the nonhuman? This analytical move acquires particular importance in the age of the Anthropocene. This paper is a methodological rumination on this question.

Paper long abstract:

This paper draws upon a methodological question posed and tentatively answered by my forthcoming book, Crooked Cats (2020). Crooked Cats explores how humans share space with big cats that might - but also might not - be dangerous. A central objective of this work is to, quite simply, provide an ethnographically grounded account of a world where tigers and leopards live in close proximity to humans. A core problematic in such multispecies space-sharing is a lack of systematic and comprehensive human knowledge of leopards, tigers, and lions. This ever present uncertainty holds particularly true for those big cats that are considered "crooked" due to their proclivity for eating humans. Popularly known as "man-eaters", they remain un-knowable and highly unpredictable in spite of their long history and study by a variety of disciplines. Against this backdrop of merely speculative knowledge of man-eaters, human co-habitation with them creates a terrifyingly distinct lived atmosphere; one in which there is an effervescence of stories, conspiracy theories, jokes, news items, rumors, critical discourse, rage, and the making of celebrity big cats. Crooked Cats elaborates on these social effects of life and living with man-eaters in South Asia. In so doing it contributes to one central issue in the recent animal turn and questions of the state/governance in geography and anthropology: In the age of the Anthropocene where we are witnessing increased levels of human-animal conflict as well as species extinction, how do state formations respond to the tricky issue of governing big cats?

panel B02
Geographies and anthropologies of the state: places, persons and nonhumans