RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2018

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333 Excavating multispecies landscapes: temporalities, materialities and the more-than-human Anthropocene (2): ‘Reconfiguration’
Convenor(s) Aurora Fredriksen (The University of Manchester, UK)
Charlotte Wrigley (Queen Mary University London, UK)
Chair(s) Aurora Fredriksen (The University of Manchester, UK)
Charlotte Wrigley (Queen Mary University London, UK)
Timetable Friday 31 August 2018, Session 3 (14:40 - 16:20)
Room Glamorgan Building - Committee Room 1
Session abstract Along with eroding coastlines (Matless 2017) and the ‘blasted’ ruins of capitalist development (Tsing 2017), nonhuman beings are key signals of the Anthropocene in landscapes. Changing migration patterns, novel colonisations, extinctions, adaptive mutations and hybridisations make legible the material transformation of landscapes through melting ice, warming seas, desertification, toxification. The current or threatened absence of once present species fold in remembered, forgotten and imagined pasts and alternately apocalyptic and redemptive futures into a present of haunted, spectral landscapes (e.g., Whale and Ginn 2017; Gan et al 2017: G1). This is evident in popular imaginaries of the Anthropocene as human induced environmental catastrophe – in visions of a ‘silent spring’ (Carson 1962), ‘insectageddon’ (Monbiot 2017), and coral reef ‘graveyards’ and ‘ghost towns’ – that foreground the absence of once present nonhuman beings in beloved landscapes. It is also evident in projections for a so-called ‘good Anthropocene’ that envision a near future in which technoscientific progress and human ingenuity are able to ‘turn back time’ and/or alter the future by returning long absent nonhuman species to landscapes through restoration, rewilding or de-extinction initiatives. As the Anthropocene invites a reassessment of humanity’s place in the geologic timescale, nonhumans become intricately entangled in these shifting temporalities: cryobanks stash endangered species’ DNA as a future safeguard against extinctions (Chrulew 2017) whilst melting ice reveals prehistoric carcasses and thousands of years of fossilised climate data.

Beyond total absence or abundant presence, there are smaller, sometimes stranger ways that nonhuman beings make the Anthropocene legible in landscapes: old trees calling out in flower for symbiont animal pollinators that are now absent, signalling a loss of synchronous time and cascading transformations of place (Rose 2012); hybrid polar-grizzly bears wandering the edge of exposed shores once covered in ice extending out to sea; a type of bacteria found only in the rectums of geese digesting toxic waste from mines (Hird and Yusoff 2018); and long dormant microbiotic pathogens from the deep past re-emerging as permafrost melts in arctic landscapes. In these and many other possible examples, carefully attending to the signs writ into landscapes by nonhuman beings can unsettle anthropocentric narratives of the Anthropocene centred on the history of Modern (western) humanity and its future dissolution or redemption, calling forth more ambivalent, multivocal narratives of multispecies worldings in flux (DeLoughrey 2015).
Linked Sessions Excavating multispecies landscapes: temporalities, materialities and the more-than-human Anthropocene (1): ‘Ruin’
Excavating multispecies landscapes: temporalities, materialities and the more-than-human Anthropocene (3): ‘Redemption’
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: ac2018@rgs.org
Wading through the Anthropocene: flamingo worldings in uncertain times
Aurora Fredriksen (The University of Manchester, UK)
In the diverse land- and seascapes of the US state of Florida it seems that everywhere one looks the Anthropocene is visible: in vast suburban sprawl and overdeveloped and eroding coasts, in super storms flattening the keys and flooding cities, in rising sea levels reclaiming the everglades and in beaches along the panhandle poisoned by oil from offshore spills. Amidst all this wreckage, however, a quieter story of the Anthropocene has emerged in recent years: the return of long absent wild flamingos, not in their historic range on the southern edge of the Everglades and the Florida Keys, but 80 miles northward in Palm Beach County’s Stormwater Treatment Area 2 (STA-2), a human-made facility for filtering anthropogenic pollutants from storm runoff. Notably, for many casual observers the most remarkable thing about the STA-2 flamingos is not the inescapable hybridity they make visible, but the realisation that wild flamingos had ever been absent from Florida’s land- and seascapes to begin with: flamingos are ubiquitous icons of the Sunshine State, appearing everywhere from numerous captive populations and countless souvenirs, to state lottery tickets and school mascots. In this paper I explore how the absence and presence of American flamingos in Florida’s land- and seascapes from the 19th century to today makes visible a longer history of the Anthropocene: one marked for humans by unsettling mixtures of regret and forgetting, nostalgia and kitsch, hope and anxiety, and one worlded by flamingos in ways that disrupt, resist and escape human narratives and sensibilities.
Digging up the past - material memories in flourishing swinescapes
Kieran O'Mahony (Cardiff University, UK)
Whilst the spectres of absent or disappearing nonhuman lives deserve particular attention amidst the current environmental crisis, it would also appear vital to engage with the relations of those that have flourished. Paying attention to the mobilities, bodies and agencies of successful nonhuman species can help us understand more broadly the multispecies assemblages that make up ecologies of place, the material aspects of this, and the multiplicity of time-space.
Throughout the northern hemisphere, ‘generalist’ wild boar are becoming increasingly abundant, benefitting from the multiple changes induced by the Capitalocene to thrive in established territories and (re-)colonise lands new. Changing global economies and geopolitics leading to rural land abandonment, 'blasted' landscapes, past persecutions of carnivores, climate change, and other factors have all facilitated wild boar success.
Referencing literature and fieldwork, this paper stories the way behaviours and socialities particular to wild boar i.e. digging and disturbing soil for roots, fungi, insects and bulbs, affect broader nonhuman assemblages. However, of particular interest is the way such behaviours threaten to reveal the traces of traumatic and seemingly buried pasts. By upturning detritus and soil, wild boar may dig up and carry the material remains of atomic catastrophe and disease outbreak, or expose the bones of the dead, destabilising ontological security and understandings of time.
Making the “man-eater”: the role of the state in producing more-than-human geographies of deathly encounter
Jared Margulies (University of Sheffield, UK)
Where, and under what conditions does it become acceptable to kill a tiger? What can the procedures of classifying a tiger as a “man-eater” teach us about the shifting politics embedded in more-than-human landscapes of encounter—as spaces of fraught entanglement? This paper draws on fieldwork from South India to address these questions, and in doing so explores the many uses of animals by the state in maintaining territorial hegemony in the name of wildlife conservation. I draw on Mbembe’s (2003) concept of necropolitics and McIntyre and Nast’s (2011) spatialisation of the term—the necropolis—in order to analyse how the Indian state attempts to manage increasingly violent human-wildlife relations in a contested commodity agricultural landscape ‘mapped’ as critical conservation space. Examining the process of how the state goes about reclassifying tigers from strictly protected species to killable—the process of making a “man-eater”—helps articulate the persistent and foundational role of capital in mediating the relations forged in landscapes where species meet. This paper responds to calls across political ecology and political geography to better theorize the role of non-human animals as essential subjects of inquiry (Collard 2012; Hobson 2006; Sundberg 2011), and how state efforts to manage human-wildlife relations in an era of increasing multispecies entanglement are resisted across animal worlds.
Abundance in the Anthropocene
Eva Giraud (Keele University, UK)
Eleanor Hadley Kershaw (University of Nottingham, UK)
Richard Helliwell (University of Nottingham, UK)
Greg Hollin (University of Leeds, UK)
Numerous conceptual attempts have been made to understand the Anthropocene in relation to the overwhelming species and habitat loss precipitated by environmental toxicity (Murphy, 2006, 2017; Alaimo, 2016; Shotwell, 2017) and mass extinction (van Dooren, 2014; Bird Rose et al, 2017). It has been noted, however, that amidst these losses ecological niches have emerged, which are often taken as signs of resilience and hope, from mushrooms that flourish in damaged forests (Tsing, 2015) to urban wildlife that inhabits brownfield sites (Lorimer, 2015). Yet resilience presents more complex challenges when it is a characteristic of so-called pests, parasites, and pathogens.
This paper contributes to understanding the challenges of the Anthropocene by drawing together research from three cases: bed-bugs, hookworms, and antibiotic resistant microbes, all of which have flourished in particular contexts as other lifeforms decline. Yet such resurgence, emergence and restoration are intimately bound up with the failure and unintended consequences of prior attempts to remove these beings from human worlds, and the degradation or pathologisation of the technologies, infrastructures and situations that previously kept them at bay.
We delineate the challenges (including to notions of excess and absence) posed by certain lifeforms flourishing in the Anthropocene, and focus attention on the possibilities posed by each case for finding ways of living alongside forms of life that might be unsettling or even threatening, but can no longer be expunged from human worlds. In doing so, we situate abundance as a constitutive element of the Anthropocene that requires sustained engagement and intervention.