RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2015

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39 Responsibility: Enacting care over time and space in the Anthropocene (2): Food, care and more than human responsibilities
Affiliation Geographies of Justice Research Group
Convenor(s) Clare Holdsworth (Keele University, UK)
Matt Baillie Smith (Northumbria University, UK)
Charles Levkoe (Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada)
Chair(s) Clare Holdsworth (Keele University, UK)
Timetable Wednesday 02 September 2015, Session 2 (11:10 - 12:50)
Room Forum - Seminar Room 11
Session abstract Responsibility has become a buzzword of contemporary politics. It is David Cameron’s ‘favourite’ word and Ed Miliband has argued for the need to reward responsibility. Yet the political popularity of responsibility also renders it elusive, it is a political solution that continually shifts the need for response to others. Inspired by the writings of Doreen Massey geographical research on responsibility has been preoccupied with ethical and political questions associated with connectivity and propinquity. In particular a key question is how relationality can bring about responsibility to those we feel close to (spatially or personally) as well as near and distant strangers. Yet it is often easier to identify what responsibility is not rather than what it is, and there are both empirical and theoretical challenges in documenting how individuals respond to the political and moral requirement to be responsible within families and communities, as well as how this relates to global concerns. This session brings together presentations that respond to this challenge through considering the different ways in which responsibility is enacted in time and space; including who and what responsibility is framed for and how individuals negotiate competing or different notions of responsibility. Presentations explore how orientations to being responsible shape everyday life and extend the possibility of relations to include human-non human interactions over time and space. This includes forms of voluntarism, as well as practical and emotional support at different spatial and temporal scales.
Linked Sessions Responsibility: Enacting care over time and space in the Anthropocene (1): Paternalism, philanthropy and guilt
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2015@rgs.org
Mourning the Sixth Great Extinction
Nic Beuret (University of Leicester, UK)
The Anthropocene will be an epoch marked by silences and absences. Alongside efforts to assign responsibility and organise mitigating efforts, the new geological epoch will require us to pay close attention to dramatic and unavoidable losses. Through an examination of the work of the social movement The Dark Mountain Project, this paper sets out to explore how we are to stay with the unavoidable more-than-human losses of the Anthropocene. The Dark Mountain Project’s work sets out from the premise that we are in the midst of an on-going ecocide, what has elsewhere been called the Sixth Great Extinction. The Sixth Great Extinction is the current on-going collapse of biodiversity that will see the likely disappearance of vast numbers of species in our lifetimes, including 40% of amphibians and 25% of all mammal species. It is to this loss that the Project’s work suggests we must be politically and emotionally attentive. Setting out from the Project’s work, this paper argues that this extinction event demands from us a work of mourning, one that sets out to reimagine human community as being encompassed by a more-than-human world. By staying with, and being attentive to, the losses of more-than-human life, the work of the Project suggests we are able to undo ourselves as all too human. By doing so, this paper argues that an ecocentric, and geocentric ethics, proper to the Anthropocene, can be elaborated.
Responsibility for Food System Sustainability: The Motivations of Non-Wage Farm Workers and Implication for Food Movements
Charles Levkoe (Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada)
Michael Ekers (University of Toronto, Canada)
In this paper we explore the motivations of non-wage farm workers (i.e. volunteers, interns and apprentices) and the implications for building robust social movements that aim to challenge the dominant food system and develop viable alternatives. Throughout the global north agroecological farming has been welcomed as an alternative to industrial modes of food production and is widely recognized as being fundamental to building a more sustainable food system. Despite its multiple social and ecological benefits, the vast majority of farm owners struggle to remain economically competitive due to public expectations about the low price of food and the high costs of land and labour. A common way that farm owners have maintained and reproduced their farms is through the widespread use of non-wage labour. Drawing on survey data and in-depth interviews with both farmers and non-wage workers in Ontario, Canada, we ask: Who are these non-wage workers and what roles do they play as part of counter-hegemonic food movements? Our research reveals that responsibility is increasingly being downloaded onto non-waged labourers that have become a vital part of (re)producing small-scale agroecological farms by contributing to requirements of seasonal and labour intensive work. The primary motivations of these workers are divided into two general categories: “progressive” motivations expressed through ideals of protest against industrial food systems and contributions to more sustainable food systems; and, “reformist” motivations related to business/job training and self-improvement. We examine these contradictory motivations along with their tensions and implications for movement building and the development of a transformative food politics.
Towards a ‘relation of approach’? Perspectives on the practice of care and responsibility through feeding rough sleepers
Jane Midgley (Newcastle University, UK)
The discursive rhetoric of responsibility has become associated with a neoliberal ‘responsibilisation’ agenda, typified by consecutive government approaches to rough sleeping in England. This has been recently complemented by a Big Society discourse encouraging the adoption of community-based responsibility. I draw from a feminist ethics of care perspective to provide a critical discussion of responsibility, particularly its ascription and achievement. I explore how care and responsibility are practiced and negotiated between rough sleepers, and local public and third sector actors throughout Tyne and Wear, drawing from an ethnographic study focusing on a range of sites providing a meal-based food offer and rough sleepers’ experiences. I argue that public sector actors and those organisations commissioned to deliver homeless support discussed their activities through responsibilisation rhetoric, but importantly also adopted a ‘relation of approach’ (cf. Iris Marion Young) to overcome the distance between policy rhetoric and build trust in their support offers. This allowed commissioned providers, public sector and rough sleeper interests to coalesce through the provision of food, and recognising local norms of behaviour and associated expectations of both providers and rough sleepers (identity constructions, moral deservedness and expression of need). However, underpinning understandings of responsibility and the extent of its practice were tensions expressed by all participants around perceptions of competence. This highlights the messy-ness of responsibility as practiced in this local context and the challenges faced by rough sleepers and those offering supporting services when negotiating everyday realities of responsibility.
Response-ability and cultivating cultures of care: Insights from the laboratory animal house
Beth Greenhough (University of Oxford, UK)
Emma Roe (University of Southampton, UK)
Laboratory animal science offers arguably one of the most challenging and certainly controversial forms of human-animal relations in the Anthropocene, and as such has formed the focus of intense moral concern and regulation within the UK. This paper draws on longitudinal ethnographic research and in-depth interviews undertaken with junior laboratory animal technicians in UK universities between 2013 and 2015, as well as insights from interviews with key stakeholders in laboratory animal welfare. We consider how within and through the space of the animal house, different notions of care are enacted alongside practices which inflict animal harm and suffering as permitted within the limitations of research protocols. These notions of care range from the pervasive and enduring influence of Russell and Burch’s (1959) 3Rs (reduction, refinement and replacement) for animal welfare, to a growing emphasis on professionalism and standards framed as a ‘culture of care’, to concerns over the emotional labour and burden carried by laboratory animal technicians, to the individual response-abilities (after Haraway 2008) enacted by animal technicians in the course of their day-to-day care work, to the challenges presented by anti-vivisectionist activism. We argue that these practices of care and responsibility seek to address both animal and human welfare needs’ within the laboratory animal house in multiple forms (after Mol 2002); sometimes with interspecies complementarity (where human and animal wellbeing coincide) at other times contradictory (where the goods of animals, humans and scientific practices diverge), and always with implications for how we might conceptualise and practice human and laboratory animal welfare in the future.
The veterinary surgeon as sensitive scientist: more-than-human responsibilities in a rural veterinary practice
Megan Donald (University of Glasgow, UK)
Framed by recent research in animal geography and science-and-technology studies, this paper examines geographies of more-than-human responsibility through the production of inter-species care in a rural veterinary surgery. In their role as medical clinicians, veterinary surgeons are responsible for the care of animal patients, human clients and also for upholding formal protocols for general practice. By framing this research through the relational ontology of Whatmore (2009) and the responsible ethics advocated by Greenhough and Roe (2010; 2011), this paper highlights the role that ‘somatic sensibilities’ play in creating porous, more-than-human bodies that respond to others and draw care and empathy in return. The spatial relations of veterinary responsibility will be explained through three ethical interventions: an acupuncture session with a large dog; a case of an injured calf and cow; and, the euthanasia of a pet dog. In all of these examples, based on ethnographic research, the main actors communicate in non-verbal, body language and so the practices of touch that negotiate responsibility will be foregrounded. Through this consideration of more-than-human responsibility and care, I will contend that it is possible (and ethically necessary) to connect intimate scales of touch with wider scales of community responsibility and the temporal resonance of grief.