EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

The return of the wild: fears, hopes, strategies. Ethnographic encounters in wildlife management in Europe
Location U6-41
Date and Start Time 22 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2


  • Bernhard Tschofen (University of Zurich) email
  • Michaela Fenske (Universität Würzburg) email

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Short Abstract

The panel presents research into the politics and practices of dealing with wild animals such as bear, lynx, wolf or wildcat in Europe. It discusses the challenges that arise with the return and spread of wildlife and the associated hopes and conflicts from an anthropological perspective.

Long Abstract

The recurrence of wild animals such as bear, wolf or boar in the recent years has become an issue controversially discussed and conflictually managed in many European countries. The fears, hopes and modes of acting associated with animals seemingly meet central concerns of modern societies. This makes wildlife today a subject of extensive negotiations between different milieus with contradictory relations to nature, to environment and to 'the other species'.

The Panel intends to be a forum for exchange of ethnographic encounters in this field. It invites to put up research from different countries, on various wild animals and especially on ways of managing wildlife for discussion. Focussed on the concepts of wilderness in the public the anthropological legacy of human-environment relationships will be evaluated in a field of exemplary social explosiveness. Therefore, studies concerning conflicts between different groups of interest (e.g. environmental protection, agriculture) at the level of representations and practices are of special interest. Within these social fields culturally defined spaces are negotiated with recourse to different stocks of knowledge - cultural memory, both expert and experiential knowledge - to become value orientations, life-world ontologies, and unavoidably subject of power relations. Further opportunities of panel presentations lie in anthropological approaches to the political dimension of the field, in researches on the role of animal politics, the administration and transfer of knowledge. Contributions that make the return of the 'savage' to the starting point for a discussion of the potentials of Human-Animal Studies and Multi-Species-Ethnography are particularly welcome.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Back on stage, first curtain: wolves in Lower Saxony

Author: Irina Arnold (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen)  email

Short Abstract

Dealing with the example of the return of the wolves to Lower Saxony, a federal state in the north of Germany, my paper outlines how the actors in the various fields perceive and deal with their new non-human neighbours.

Long Abstract

While wild cat and lynx made their comeback almost unrecognized by mainstream media, the return of wolves creates huge debates in media and society. What exactly are the fears and hopes connected to the wolf? Who is involved in the processes of 'managing' its return? And how might the situation in Lower Saxony, a federal state in the north of Germany, be different than in other federal states of Germany or countries in Europe? By conducting interviews with people from the various interest groups (i.e. hunters, farmers, NGO's, politicians), I try to assemble perspectives on the topic. Further questions that are dealt with are in more general the relation between management and the so-called 'wild', the establishing of a culture of management in recent years and how the wolf enables people to speak out about various social, economical and cultural fears, hopes and dimensions. What does the wolf stand for in our societies? How do discussions about the wolf also feature the blurring of former binary oppositions such as nature-culture or wilderness-civilization?

Hunting wild animals in Germany: conflicts between wildlife management and 'traditional' practices of Hege and Waidgerechtigkeit

Author: Thorsten Gieser (University of Koblenz)  email

Short Abstract

Hunting wild animals in Germany has become a contested field as wildlife management regimes meet 'traditional' hunting practices of 'stewardship'. At the centre of this conflict we find divergent human-animal relations and divergent conceptions of the 'wild'.

Long Abstract

Almost 400,000 non-professional hunters are supposed to 'manage' wildlife populations in Germany, killing an average of 4.5 million game animals per year in a process officially governed by forestry and conservation agencies. In public discourses, hunters' representative bodies often join ecological argumentations on the function of hunting for managing wildlife and ecosystems in order to justify their practice to the (overall) critical mainstream society. On the ground, however, hunters tend to vehemently refuse being labelled 'managers' and instead claim to be engaged in Hege, a particular 'traditional' form of stewardship that defines the hunters and their 'fair' relationship with wild animals (called Waidgerechtigkeit). As a consequence, wildlife management has become a nexus of practices of power and resistance.

In this paper, I argue that the conflict between ecologically-motivated wildlife management and the hunters' practices of Hege centres a) on divergent human-animal relations and b) on divergent conceptions of the 'wild'. In wildlife management, ideas of ecology are fused with earlier (mainly North American) notions of unspoilt and untouched wilderness. Therefore, the discourse does not allow relationships with wild animals (other than killing, i.e. hunting reduced to its ecological function). For hunters, however, the relationship with wild animals is paramount and their practice thus calls into question the common notion of wilderness.

With this conflict in mind, we might ask: Is there a place for human-animal relationships in public discourses on wild animals?

Predators and reindeer on the same pastures?

Author: Helena Ruotsala (University of Turku)  email

Short Abstract

My paper will discuss the different fears, hopes and also strategies in encountering wild animals and reindeer in Lapland. Wild animals are among others, bear, wolf and other predators. My main question is, that do predators and reindeer have space on the same pastures.

Long Abstract

Lapland is often regarded as a sparsely populated area in the northern periphery, which has enough space for predators as wolverine, wolf and bear. This stereotype of a wilderness does not fit with the picture which the people living there and herding reindeer have about it. Reindeer herding is a very important source of livelihood, both economically and culturally. It is also a way of living, which pays a lot of attention, both for peopling living on reindeer herding, but also for other groups, such as wild life researchers, politicians and decision makers. For all of them, transferring knowledge about different animals and their living conditions are important. Different groups have also different needs and values, and they are encountering e.g. in the questions of predators and reindeer. The discussions and conflicts about reindeer and predators are today very political and also very heated, but they are important. My main research questions is that, do predators and reindeer have space on the same pastures? In my paper I try to find some answers on this question. This is based on my ethnographic fieldwork in Lapland.

Ecological and political claims when talking about "wild" animals: Vepsian case study

Author: Laura Siragusa (University of Helsinki)  email

Short Abstract

This paper problematizes verbal art in respect to human-animal relations among Veps. It presents a difference in ways of speaking about “wild” animals depending on their location. Their return to inhabited villages is perceived as the direct result of political and economic power relations.

Long Abstract

This paper problematizes verbal art with regard to human-animal relations. Stemming from my work with Veps, a Finno-Ugric minority in north-western Russia, I show that there is a difference in Vepsian ways of speaking when discussing the presence of "wild" animals in their habitual habitat (i.e., forest and swamps), or their return to and presence in inhabited settlements.

The Vepsian categories of "wild" and "tame" are often blurred and closely connected to the territory the animals inhabit, rather than a long-standing relation of domestication with humans. In general, "wild" animals are those which live in the forest, swamps, meadows, and not in the villages. Veps tend to speak carefully about them, often by using taboos and paraphrases, especially when going to the forest to hunt, fish, and gather berries/mushrooms. The forest is the territory ruled by the master of the forest, a spiritual being in which villagers believe, with whom Veps negotiate the success of their activities and safe relations with the animals.

Instead, the presence of the government in the villages is felt stronger and when the "wild" animals return to the inhabited settlements, Veps talk about them differently, often acquiring a political tone in their speech. The "wild" animals become part of an accusation towards the political powers for a lack of investment in rural areas and a change in the local ecology.

Swiss wolf management: "You're dead if you hit 26"

Author: Peter Nikolaus Heinzer (Universität Zürich)  email

Short Abstract

The paper discusses Swiss Wolf Management as an exemplary phenomenon in which different concepts of "wilderness" are being mediated between various actors and interest groups. As a result of this new dimension of urban-rural dynamics, the role and character of Swiss alpine spaces are re-negotiated.

Long Abstract

"You're dead if you hit 26." Italian wolf biologist Luigi Boitani's comment from a wolf's perspective refers to the surpassing of the maximum amount of sheep kills wolves are "allowed" within the Swiss national Wolf Management concept. The quote shows the beaurocratic - and also extremely pragmatic - nature of the official ways of dealing with wolves and the changes they create concerning the long-standing relationshionship between Swiss people and their "natural" environment. It also shows a slightly ironic and distanced stance, which seems to reflect the objectivist attitude many scientists adopt towards the politically motivated pragmatism of state wolf management. Add to this idealistic notions of eco-preservative wolf activists and first-hand experiential perspectives of sheep owners, and you have a large spectrum of very different approaches to what "nature" or "wilderness" is and should or should not be, and to the question as to how to deal with it and place it in a positive relation to yet another complex construct: society.

This paper outlines the main sets of knowledges and positions regarding concepts of "wilderness" and "nature" within the context of Swiss Wolf Management and links them to questions about the role and character of Swiss alpine spaces and the new dimensions of urban-rural dynamics. It gives a rough overview on the author's first attempt to make out certain assemblages and to bring a bit of order in this complex and higly emotionalized research field.

Elusive and charismatic animals in the making and unmaking of Turkish wetlands' livable nature

Author: Caterina Scaramelli (Amherst College)  email

Short Abstract

This paper demonstrates the nature of wetlands habitats is never given, but rather the outcome of situated cultural work. It examines the work of Turkish conservationists as they create and recreate wetlands' "livable natures," following the muddy, leafy, and watery paths of wetland animals.

Long Abstract

Wetlands have often been valued as habitat for animal species. In the early 20th century, concurrently with large-scale drainage and reclamation projects, wetlands started to be protected and managed as breeding grounds for waterbirds. In the late 20th century, conservation scientists reframed the value of wetlands — incorporating concerns ranging from biodiversity, to ecosystem services, climate change and, recently, human cultures. I demonstrate that assessment of the wetlands' natural habitats are never given, but rather are the outcome of contingent cultural work. I examine the work of conservationists, educators, and state officials in contemporary Turkey as they create and recreate wetlands' "livable natures" in two protected areas, complex landscapes of shifting agroeconomies — the Gediz delta on the Aegean and the Kızılırmak delta on the Black Sea. I follow the muddy, leafy, and watery paths of waterbirds, water buffalos, and feral horses. Turkish conservation experts debate over wetland animal species, asking questions about their status — wild or domestic, native or invasive — and about the ecologies communities of animals produce in different regimes of rural land use at the edge of conservation areas. Rather than staking claims based on preconceived notions of nativeness and invasion, and symbolic and religious meanings, experts engage with and make sense of the agency of animal practice in changing lived ecologies. The mundane work of conservation involves the performance of different kinds of scientific and technical work of boundary making, deliberating over who — human and non-human— has the right to live and work in and represent wetlands.

The return of the wolf in the Netherlands: intruder or longed-for sight in the "new wilderness"?

Author: Anke Tonnaer (Radboud University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper discusses the return of the wolf in the Netherlands against the backdrop of the public debate of whether the “new wilderness” can serve as an accurate imaginary of the Dutch landscape. The mixed reception of its return shows the ambiguity of the current-day human-environment relation.

Long Abstract

On 7 March 2015, a wolf was spotted in Drenthe, a sparsely populated Dutch province bordering on Germany. For several days the animal wandered the area, causing a national outburst of both fear and enchantment, as ostensibly "the wolf" had returned to the Netherlands after the species was last seen 150 years ago. In this paper, I will analyse this incident against the backdrop of a larger public debate on the legitimacy of the "new wilderness" as an accurate imaginary of the Dutch landscape. The new wilderness is the contemporary creation of relatively vast expanses of Dutch as well as European lands through a restoration strategy known in rather oxymoronic terms as "nature development". Public support for the new wilderness depends on an imaginary in which nature may prosper undisturbed and the Dutch public can enjoy its spectacular scenery at the same time, including the rare sighting of large predators like the wolf. This imaginary, however, is highly contested by others, such as farmers and local residents. In the view of these adversaries, the "new wild" is little more than a virtual concept in a man-made country like the Netherlands. I argue that the reception of the wolf's return epitomizes the ambiguities of the current day human-environment relation. Whereas the opponents reason there is, both territorially and symbolically, no place for the animal any longer, the advocates strive to demystify its historically bad reputation by heralding it as the new spectacular in a rewilded landscape.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.