EASA2018: Staying, Moving, Settling

(P019)
Liveability in a time of ecological destruction [Humans and Other Living Beings Network]
Location Room 23
Date and Start Time 15 Aug, 2018 at 09:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Sara Asu Schroer (University of Aberdeen) email
  • Charlotte Marchina (IIAS) email

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Discussant Marianne E. Lien (University of Oslo)

Short abstract

This panel centres on the notion of liveability in a time in which human activity on the planet has had large-scale destructive influence on ecologies and the myriad more-than-human lifeworlds that constitute them.

Long abstract

This panel centres on the notion of liveability in a time in which human activity on the planet has had large-scale destructive influence on ecologies and the myriad more-than-human lifeworlds that constitute them. We are interested in exploring how people imagine liveable ecologies. How is their sense of belonging and responsibility shaped by the experience of ecological destruction and loss? What actions do they take? What hopes, visions and expectations do they have for the future? How do these clash with what is possible and what has already been lost (e.g. in community projects, environmental activism, rewilding or de-extinction initiatives)? We are particularly interested in approaches that seek to move environmental anthropology 'beyond the human' by opening analysis up to nonhuman beings as active participants in shared social worlds. How is human and nonhuman wellbeing interconnected? What can be gained from attuning to more-than-human temporalities and materials when addressing questions of liveability and ecological ethics? The questions this panel raises can be explored through different ethnographic contexts and narratives be it for instance in relation to rural communities, urban ecological activists, laboratory scientists or ecologists. We invite contributions from anthropology but also from other disciplines such as human geography, history of science, science and technology studies or archaeology.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

(De)-extinction and the precarity of life in the Anthropocene

Author: Sara Asu Schroer (University of Aberdeen) email
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Short abstract

Based on an initial exploration of species (de)-extinction, exemplified through the historical trajectory of the peregrine falcon, this paper raises the question of liveability and what it means for a species to flourish in the Anthropocene.

Long abstract

This paper presents an initial exploration into questions of species (de)-extinction, exemplified through the historical trajectory of the peregrine falcon. This takes us from a time of near extinction of the species, to its status as a key-stone species in conservation. Triggered by near extinction of many raptor species due to the use of pesticides in industrial agriculture it was growing concern of the species' survival in the wild that led to the emergence of captive breeding and domestication. Once bred in captivity birds were released back into the wild, with methods such as hacking and radio tracking being used to ensure their survival. Through complicating straightforward boundary drawing between categories of the wild and domestic, the cultural and the ecological, this paper raises questions surrounding liveability and what it means for a species to flourish in the Anthropocene, characterised by supposedly dissolving boundaries between nature and culture.

The Plantation as a Space of Hope: Tea and the travel of seeds, science and clones

Author: Bengt G. Karlsson (Stockholm University) email
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Short abstract

In the paper I probe the plantation as a site of multispecies entanglements as well as a space of hope in troubling times of ecological crisis.

Long abstract

In this paper I discuss the making of tea plantations in Kenya with focus on the tea bush itself; looking at how the tea plant was domesticated in India, brought to Africa and engineered into new clones better suited to the local conditions and the requirements of the tea industry. Plantations are monocultures that commonly replace diverse indigenous forests. While this implies loss of biodiversity - plants, insects and animals that are being displaced or eradicated - the plantation itself enables new forms of life to thrive. In the paper I thus probe the plantation as a site of multispecies entanglements as well as a space of hope in troubling times of ecological crisis.

The Social Life of Difficult Things: Navigating Air Pollution in Mongolia's Capital

Author: Saskia Abrahms-Kavunenko (New York University Shanghai) email
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Short abstract

This paper will discuss the social life of a 'difficult thing': air pollution. It will pay attention to the ways that pollution, light and purity are part of urban assemblages. How does the desire for purification and light, in a chronically polluted city, relate to Mongolian religious practices?

Long abstract

Urban dwellers tend to be buffered from intimacy with the feedback loops of environmental calamities. Urban centers are examples of the ingenuity of human 'niche construction', whereby an organism actively alters its environment to make that environment more habitable for itself, reducing the immediate selection pressures of natural selection (Odling-Smee et al. 2003). In large cities, most urbanites live largely disconnected from the processes that feed them and provide them with energy. For the wealthier inhabitants of cities temperature extremes are more of an inconvenience, to be alleviated with central heating or air conditioning, than the serious threat that they are for the urban poor.

Looking at Mongolia's capital, Ulaanbaatar this paper will explore one feedback loop that affects all urbanites: air pollution. The paper will investigate how urban Mongols navigate chronic air pollution through religious practices. In the context of a heavily polluted winter city a lack of light, which is continually obfuscated by smog, is associated with spiritual blockages. The pollution of the air, with its actual limitations on light and breath, creates obscurations in both cosmological and tangible ways.

This paper will discuss the social life of a 'difficult thing': air pollution. In doing it will attempt to illustrate urban life in the Anthropocene. It will pay close attention to the ways that pollution, light and purity are part of urban assemblages. And how the desire for purification and light, in a chronically polluted city, relates to both human and other-than-human beings.

An Ethnoecology of Submerged Life

Author: David Anderson (University of Aberdeen) email
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Short abstract

This paper examines the active role that sub-surface forms of life play in the lives of laboratory scientists and circumpolar hunters. The paper will focus on the woolly mammoth thought to be extinct but who is thought to swim underground for Evenki and Dolgan hunters and reindeer herders.

Long abstract

For many circumpolar Arctic peoples, life on the Earth's surface represents only one livable ecology. This paper examines the active role that sub-surface or perhaps non-tangible forms of life play in the lives of terrestrial peoples today. The paper will focus on the case of the "woolly mammoth" - or _khele_ - thought to be extinct according to traditional urban zoologists but who is thought to swim underground for Evenki and Dolgan hunters and reindeer herders. The paper will describe the encounters that hunters have had with the khele, and the folklore surrounding it. It will compare Evenki and Dolgan ways of interacting with this more-than-human lifeworld to recent proposals to retro-breed the mammoth by genetically splicing frozen gametes with contemporary elephant stock. The paper will argue that the making of tangible life, which technologies of de-extinction promise, is not necessarily the same as recreating an evocative an liveable world.

Caring for the forest by treading lightly. The story of a man on a mountain

Author: Lisa Jenny Krieg (University of Bonn) email
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Short abstract

From a perspective of care and temporality, this paper will discuss the practices of 'slow care' of a zoologist living in an isolated mountain village, fighting species extinction. Taking nonhuman ways of moving through the forest as an example, he weeds and plants along irregular lines.

Long abstract

In a small village on a mountain that can only be reached by foot, on a small French island in the Indian Ocean, there lives a man with a long beard. This man spends his days observing birds, trees, and reptiles. He walks a lot, and thinks a lot, and he treads lightly. He has also published hundreds of scientific articles about the fauna and flora of the Mascarenes, and many consider him an expert of nature conservation on the islands of the Western Indian Ocean.

The island of La Réunion, like many other small islands, is home to numerous endemic species, which slowly go extinct due to habitat loss and invasive species. Contrary to NGOs and government institutions, who often use radical approaches to kill invasive species, the man in this story has a different approach. He treads lightly and moves slowly, along irregular lines, inspired by animals. Uprooting invasive plants and distributing seeds of endemic plants, he creates small niches where endemic species flourish.

In this presentation, I will think through different approaches in nature conservation on the Mascarenes in relation to conceptual perspectives of care and multiple temporalities. Care, as a performance of relatedness to the world (Puig della Bellacasa), can also be seen as a way to act within what Tsing (2015: 24) calls "polyphonic assemblages", the interplay of human and non-human temporalities and rhythms. How does attunement to nonhuman temporalities change conservation and practices of care? What are conceptual and practical implications of 'slow care'?

Liveability of a forest in uncertain contemporaneity

Author: Agata Konczal (European Forest Institute ) email
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Short abstract

This paper focuses on a forest as space where the meaning of liveability and ecological destruction is agreed. It analyses multispecies relations and the role of the various pasts and futures for the way in which liveability is imaged and managed.

Long abstract

With a myriad of lifeworlds that constitute its biodiversity, the Bialowieza forest (Poland) is described as a reminding piece of 'true nature'. In 2014-2018 a massive outbreak of a bark beetle took place there affecting 10% of trees in the forest. While foresters described the situation as an 'ecological disaster', ecological activists see the outbreak as a proof for a liveability of the forest. Using multispecies entanglements of the forest, I reflect on a relation between liveability and ecological destruction. I do it by analyzing the role of the imagined past and future. I present, how particular memory about the bygone landscapes influences the way in which liveability is managed. For the recent rise of the right-wing approach symptomatic is a narration about 'the land of old' - better Earth with strong nations and pristine nature (Latour, 2016). Thus, the willingness for 'the return' is on the rise around the world ('Make America/Poland/France/India… Great Again'), accompanied by the growing feeling of uncertainty. The same narrative about the past can be found within the idea to restore 'the lost nature'. With the example of the Bialowieza Forest, I present a forest as a matrix of relations and temporalities between which the meaning of liveability and destruction is agreed. I give a voice to inhabitants of forests, humans and beyond, like bark beetles and spruces, to show that the environment has a memory of previous events and relations. Thus, the contemporary includes various pasts and multiple futures (Kohn, 2013).

Haunting fungus. Re-imagining Philippine banana plantations as more-than-human interaction

Author: Robin Thiers (Ghent University) email
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Short abstract

A fungus threatens Philippine banana plantations. I argue practices of "producing despite" push us to understand plantations as being shaped through more-than-human interactions. This in turn opens a window to imagine new and unknown futures.

Long abstract

Since around 2010 a parasitic fungus (fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense TR4) is attacking monocrop banana plantations in the Philippines. Banana companies, government authorities and international scientists respond to a supposed "Bananageddon" with disease containment interventions and resistance-breeding. These responses are based on an exogenous framing of the disease, as inflicted by an external intruder (the fungus) to an otherwise stable and controlled plantation environment. This framing sustains a modern imagery of the plantation as a space in which man and nature can be mobilized as 'alienated' (i.e. 'as if the entanglements of living did not matter', Tsing 2015) production factors in a benevolent process of capital accumulation. Alternatively, I suggest the haunting presence of the fungus - microscopic, enduring and highly mobile - draws us to the more-than-human interactions that shape plantation geographies, and to new and unknown possible futures.

The paper builds on fieldwork conducted from 2015-2018 with sector participants in the Philippines and abroad, engaging with the fungus in a variety of ways. In their practices of "producing despite" the fungal threat different types of growers mix science-sanctioned advice with on-field experimentation and knowledge-sharing in daily interactions with neighbors, suppliers and friends. While possibly encouraging further spread of the fungus, these practices also generate their own forms of knowledge and new opportunities for innovation and accumulation. More radically, thinking with the fungus encourages some people to question the modern agro-industrial plantation altogether, alternatively grounding their agro-ecological advocacy and practice in the "more-than-human" entanglements of plantation soils.

Liveable ecologies and the issue of ownership: Potentialities and limitations

Author: Cecilie Vindal Ødegaard (University of Bergen) email
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Short abstract

The paper conceptually explores ongoing attempts to rethink ownership as defining feature of how the "humanity"-"nature" relationship conventionally have been defined. It discusses how attempts to redefine the status and ownership of entities of the landscape may inform liveable ecologies.

Long abstract

In the face of neoliberal politics, extractivism and ecological degradation, conflicts over land and ownership appear to intensify. Meanwhile, land grabs and dispossession are in many contexts accompanied by an upsurge of multiple unconventional ways of imagining human relations to land. This paper seeks to conceptually explore ongoing attempts to redefine one of the social institutions through which the relationship between "humanity" and "nature" have been defined; namely ownership.

In recent years we have seen various cases where people affected by climate change have sued major carbon-producers, hence making a sense of ownership and belonging into sites of resistance. The global concern with climate change is simultaneously informing the emergence of alternative "politics of nature", where scholars, indigenous activists and governmental bodies in different contexts attempt to find new ways to include landscape in the sphere of politics. The more experimental version of such attempts includes the granting of legal rights to rivers, forests, and mountains, such as the former national park Te Urewa, New Zealand, which has been redefined as a proper, juridical person; owned by itself, and with the possibility of suing, and being sued. A central argument in this paper is that we need to understand and compare such attempts to redefine the status and ownership of entities of the landscape: Are they attempts to actualize land-people affective connections in ways that may inform liveable ecologies and ethical imaginations? Can they simultaneously be an expression of the "ownership society" and a juridicalisation of moral-political domains?

Sustaining life: a critical pedagogy for living life in its full

Author: Elizabeth Rahman (University of Oxford) email
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Short abstract

Liveability goes hand in hand with human capability, as one teacher training initiative in the Peruvian Amazonian is acutely aware. Carving their own ecological niches to afford pan-species flourishing, this initiative employs a critical pedagogy to evaluate divergent intercultural epistemologies.

Long abstract

Liveability goes hand in hand with human capability, a fact that one teacher training initiative in the heart of the Peruvian Amazonian is acutely aware. Victims of river pollution, exploitive labour relations, ethnic discrimination and invasive extractive activities, the population of the Loreto district of Peru are reimagining their futures, for themselves and for the others species with whom they live and on whom they mutually depend. Celebrating 30 years of 'alternative' forest development - focusing here on human development - the initiative has capacitated over 20 different ethnicities in intercultural bilingual education, using a critical pedagogy to evaluate the usefulness of global capitalist ideologies practices and 'dialogues of knowledge' to cast divergent intercultural epistemologies into perspective. Progressive 'western' pedagogies are counterweighed by a reverence for indigenous ways of learning and being, respecting animist perceptions whilst incorporating western science. In the community "life plan", teachers work to incorporate new skills in agroecology, pisciculture and bee-keeping into community consensus. Carving their own ecological niches to afford pan-species flourishing, this initiative may afford a template for tradition-making now and in the future.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.