Animal Political Ecologies panels at POLLEN 2024, Lund

POLLEN 2024 conference banner

The Political Ecology Network (POLLEN) will hold its next conference ‘Towards Just and Plural Futures’ across three locations Lund, Dodoma and Lima 10-12 June 2024.

The double panel (139) Animal Political Ecologies:  blindspots and novel approaches is in person in Lund on Tuesday 11 June (panel 1  room E1147 13.00-14.30; panel 2  room E1147 15.00-16.30)

Watercolour of European Brown Bear by Arryn Snowball

The paintings featured are watercolours by Arryn Snowball

Panel Convenor/Chair Professor Rosaleen Duffy, University of Sheffield

The panel is chaired by Rosaleen Duffy but the outline of the panel is the result of the collective thinking of the participants.

This panel focuses on animal political ecologies in the Global North. Doing so opens an opportunity to reimagine the world with the interests and worth of individual animals as central to creating that world. Doing so allows us to move beyond human exceptionalism that underpins global capitalism, perpetuating social injustice, speciesism and ecological degradation (Celemajer et al, 2020; Fry, Marino and Nijhawan, 2022; Giraud, 2019; Narayanan, 2023). There is a growing interest in and use of novel approaches that require wholesale redesign and replacement of nature (Adams, 2020; Jørgensen, 2015), including de-extinction, rewilding and gene editing technology (Iordăchescu, 2021; Vasile, 2018; D. Sands, 2022). The lives of animals – as active agents in the redesign and building of novel forms of nature are central to these new visions of nature. Political ecology has not addressed the role of animals in creating social natures (Srinivasan, 2022; Duffy and P. Sands, under review). The ecologies and ethologies of animals themselves, the way they forge lives and experience change, remains unaddressed within political ecology; as a result the field does not offer adequate intellectual tools for this key moment of multispecies thinking (Celemajer et al, 2020; Collard, 2020; Margulies and Bersaglio, 2018). Recent work on animals in the social sciences and environmental history has paved the way for political ecologists to consider why non-humans are subjects and historical actors worthy of social inquiry. Further, the ways that political ecology centres capitalist relations, race, class, gender and sexuality, and can meaningfully and critically engage with ecology and other natural sciences, could address some of the problematic omissions of animal studies, especially when unjust politics are enacted in the name of nonhuman life (Margulies and Bersaglio, 2021; Oomen et al, 2019). The papers in this panel draw on a novel mix of political ecology, environmental humanities and animal studies to develop ways of thinking that centre the lives of individual animals.

The papers interrogate a series of questions:

Why centre nonhuman animals, and how does this challenge political ecology? Does breaking down binaries between human and animal create new ways of thinking about interspecies justice?

How does the serious consideration of individual animal lives, as opposed to viewing them as collectives, unsettle conventional approaches in both political ecology and the natural sciences?

How does centring animals assist/hinder in moving away from hegemonic/Western scientific knowledge systems? How does this intersect with decolonising knowledge?

What conceptual frames and methodological approaches might allow political ecology to begin to understand the experiences and ecologies of animal subjects?

How might de-centring the human in political ecology create new ways of understanding human-animal relations? And how can doing so tackle shared vulnerabilities of people and animals?

In what ways do animal political ecologies build on or differ from approaches anchored in more-than-human, post-human or animal geographies?

How can political ecology’s tradition of situating and critiquing scientific narratives and concepts be applied to understanding the lives of animals? 

What perspectives are neglected in political ecology when specific animals are excluded from established conceptualizations of nature? And what valuable insights can be gained by including animals not conventionally thought of as part of nature?

water colour of urban fox by Arryn Snowball
Watercolour painting of an urban fox by Arryn Snowball

Panel 1 Political Ecologies, Harms and Animals

Chair: Professor Rosaleen Duffy, University of Sheffield

The political ecology of habituation

Dr Hanna Pettersson, University of York, Hanna Pettersson and Dr Tom Fry University of Cambridge

In recent years, there has been a marked shift in efforts to increase coexistence between people and wildlife, including within movements for collaborative and convivial conservation, rewilding, and species reintroductions, aimed at bolstering biodiversity within mixed-use landscapes. Such efforts increase the potential for human-wildlife encounters. The spectrum of human-wildlife interactions and their associated outcomes have been well-documented in both the social and natural sciences. Often defined as ranging from negative to positive interactions, there has been a historical bias in the conservation literature toward exploring the negative, or conflict, side of interactions. Habituation as a concept has suffered a similar fate. In this presentation, we will illustrate that habituation has been narrowly defined and under-discussed within conservation science and practice, resulting in misaligned and unjust outcomes for both people and wildlife. By examining current narratives and trends within the literature and incorporating contemporary examples from across the world, we make the case for a broad reframing of habituation within the context of human-wildlife coexistence in a way that acknowledges the reciprocal and contextual nature of human-animal encounters and agency. Our paper argues for a more open, relational conception of habituation, that can encompass the multiplicity of ways in which it is understood amongst different social groups, forms through which it is practiced, and outcomes it can have for humans and non-humans. It demonstrates that doing so requires accounting for the agencies and experiences of both humans and non-humans in the habituation process, and critically situating this process within broader political ecological contexts.

From harms to harmony: Using empathetic narratives to understand the lived experiences of wildlife crime

Dr Alison Hutchinson, Newcastle University

Examining wildlife harms through the joint lens of green criminology and political ecology brings an attentiveness to the drivers of wildlife, environmental, and human exploitation; and provides space to recognise these combined injustices as perpetuated by global imbalances in power, participation, and representation. Yet, our understanding of wildlife crime all too often falls short of capturing the full scope of harms experienced – by wildlife victims directly, by those humans entangled in extractive-capitalist animal relationships, and towards the wider environment and natural world. To bridge this gap, this presentation takes marine species who are commercially exploited as food-resources as a point of departure and attempts to unravel the complex relationships between wildlife harm, crime, desire, and control. The discussion is guided by a non-speciesist and animal narratology position, which situates the imagined-lived realities of wildlife victims within the context of parallel and supporting socio-political and economic systems. By taking empathetic leaps to recognise the victimhood of exploited wildlife, attention may be drawn to the ever-present, culturally normalised, and politically motivated harms that jointly oppress and marginalise wild species, people, and the natural world. I question whether an animal narratology position – that champions inherent value over instrumental utility – can meaningfully add to the ongoing discourse in human-wildlife relations to address and rectify the shared vulnerabilities of animals and people.

Foie gras and animal lives: the risk of using care as a ‘frame of reference’ for industrial animal agriculture

Guillem Rubio-Ramon, University of Edinburgh and Felix Clarke, University of Edinburgh

Examining how humans and non-humans are entangled in caring relationships is a central feature of disciplines, including political ecology, that, influenced by ecofeminist and post-humanist philosophies, study human-animal relations. Focusing on care can help to ontologically decentre the human, a core aim of these fields. However, this does not necessarily equate with a political centring of non-humans. To explore this tension, we examine scholarly work from (a) human-animal studies and cognate fields on foie gras and (b) from political ecology on industrial animal agriculture (IAA) and care. We follow Puig de La Bellacasa who argues that “the work of care can be done within and for worlds that we might find objectionable” (2017, p.6). Rather than using the work of care as a starting point, we begin our analysis with objectionability, in this case of industrial foie gras production. While foie gras is an atypical example of IAA because of its association with elite consumption, its scale and production methods are nevertheless typical of IAA. We argue that when studying IAA, including foie gras, there is a danger in using care as a ‘frame of reference’. Which, while useful for understanding certain aspects of human-animal relations, comes at the expense of recognising the power relations and political economies which configure the particular settings of care. Thus, a restricted analysis of ‘care’ can have a flattening role, whereby care ceases to be a space for ethical and political contestation, inhibiting scholarship that seeks to improve the lives (individual) animals can live.

Rewilding contested landscapes: three short stories about renewing coexistence with Red Kites in Northern Ireland

Dr Dara Sands, Norwegian University of Life Sciences

Throughout human history, people have modified the ecologies and landscapes of the world through the practice of moving and introducing animals, either deliberately or accidently. Today, rewilding and related ecological restoration initiatives involving the reintroduction of locally extinct wildlife represent an equally intriguing pathway for reimagining contemporary and future landscapes. Yet, returning unfamiliar animal species to human-dominated landscapes brings complex socio-ecological challenges centred around ‘renewing coexistence’ (Auster et al. 2022). To examine and better understand these formidable challenges, this presentation will advance three short stories offering partial accounts of important issues that have influenced efforts to renew coexistence with Red Kites in Northern Ireland. Motivated by an interest in exploring storytelling’s potential for promoting alternative visions of human-wildlife interactions and conservation (Harris 2021; Fernández‐Llamazares and Cabeza 2018), the presentation will demonstrate how efforts to renew coexistence can be undermined by both long-standing and novel contestations linked to rural livelihoods, social conflicts and environmental governance. Further, the stories illustrate how centring the lives of Red Kites can shed light on the colonial-capitalist relations that perpetuate disharmony and conflict, as opposed to coexistence.

Przewalski's horse
Watercolour painting of Przewalski’s horse by Arryn Snowball

Panel 2: Political Ecologies of Animal Lives

Chair: Professor Rosaleen Duffy, University of Sheffield

Przewalski’s Horses: Hoofing the Trail of Wildlife Conservation History

Dr Monica Vasile, Maastricht University

Despite the undeniable role of animals in wildlife conservation, existing perspectives within political ecology, history, and social sciences depict conservation efforts as solely human-driven, sidelining the critical aspect of animal agency. In these depictions it is humans who do the conservation work: they manage, protect, patrol borders of national parks, breed endangered species, and cull predators. Such portrayals often obscure the labour, skills and behaviours of animals. This presentation endeavours to bridge this gap by drawing upon insights from the field of animal history. It argues for a paradigm shift, positioning wildlife conservation practice as a result of complex human-animal relations, a co-production where animals actively contribute to their own conservation. Specifically, I analyse the reintroduction of the extinct-in-the-wild Przewalski’s horses, from zoos to the Gobi Desert – a celebrated success story. I show how despite the conservation staff’s strategies to manage and control the horses’ adaptation, the animals proved anything but manageable. They responded in surprising ways. For instance, a stallion displayed intense aggression, killing other reintroduced stallions. A mare jumped fences to give birth. Some horses resisted independence, returning to paddocks, while others ventured far afield. These diverse behaviours challenged and changed planned strategies. Ultimately, it was the animals’ actions that steered the conservation project towards a perceived success. By tracing individual horse biographies, drawing from interviews, scientific reports and archival materials, I explore moments where animal behaviours disrupted human expectations. I ask how did individual animals, their embodied ways of being, knowing and becoming, drive their conservation journey?  

The life of ‘the vixen’: Commensality and the emergence of urban animal subjects

Dr Tom Fry, University of Cambridge

Whether through the direct feeding of wildlife, or animals taking advantage of human surplus, urban areas are beset by commensal relations between humans and non-humans. Widely used in biological and ecological sciences, the term ‘commensality’ defines a relationship of proximity and interaction in which one species shares resources or gains benefits from another, literally “eating at the same table”. Through the sharing of food, commensality can fundamentally alter the ecologies and ethologies of animals, which in turn can reshape their relations with people. This paper argues that urban commensality should be considered not simply as the transferal of resources, but as engendering the emergence of particular urban subjects. It tells the story of one individual red fox termed ‘the vixen’, the people she lives alongside, and the means by which she forges a life in an inner-city neighbourhood of London. ‘The vixen’ is typical of many urban foxes: she is an adult who, unlike her rural counterparts, did not disperse when she reached adolescence, instead staying in her parents’ territory and increasing her chances of survival in the city. For ‘the vixen’ it was her sharing of space with particular humans, and their provisioning of food for her and her cubs, which underlined her survival, and so her life as an urban fox. Through her story this paper argues that understanding the impacts of commensality means being attentive to how it shapes the forms of inhabitation of individual animals, and the relations and arrangements that sustain them. London is a city where, unlike the countryside, commensality means foxes like ‘the vixen’ survive, and so are produced as particular urban subjects. But this survival is fragile and contingent, dependent on a complex composition of her own behavioural ecology, the environmental subjectivities of her neighbours, and wider political economies that shape urban habitat.

Bears’ lives in focus. Thinking about conservation through animal biographies

Dr George Iordachescu, University of Sibiu

In various regions of Europe, brown bear populations are either recovering due to successful reintroduction programmes or maintaining a favourable conservation status after governments adopted stricter measures for their protection. Nevertheless, bears’ fate might not be as auspicious as it seems, as their recent strong comeback poses significant challenges to imagine the future of large carnivore management on the continent. Within an increasingly divided political environment that leans towards delisting the species as a first step to mitigate human-bear conflicts, brown bears are on the verge of turning from a subject in need of protection, to an object of game management once again. This paper turns this conundrum upside down by centring bears as compelling actors to think with, while trying to make sense of the changing landscape of conservation governance. It uses bear biographies as beastly tales to recentre bears’ lives in conservation practice. Instead of favouring an anthropocentric perspective that renders them as an object of intervention, this methodological option allows for seeing bears as political actors who live their lives regardless of administrative boundaries or legal protection status. The intervention builds upon the lives of three bears to critically approach processes such as habituation, dealing with trauma and seasonal adaptive responses in an attempt to illuminate how bears respond to multiple environmental harms such as deforestation, wildlife trafficking, pollution and habitat destruction.

Watercolour of Grey Squirrel by Arryn Snowball