Performing nature at world's ends
(P07)
Location I
Date and Time 11th December, 2008 at 08:30

Convenors

Simone Abram (Durham University) post@sabram.co.uk
Marianne Elisabeth Lien (University of Oslo) m.e.lien@sai.uio.no
Adrian Franklin (University of Tasmania) Adrian.Franklin@utas.edu.au
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Short Abstract

The panel takes a new look at the production/reproduction of nature as a performed category through comparative analysis of the enactment of nature in places constituted as peripheral. We welcome comparative ethnographic approaches to the performance of nature at 'world's ends'.

Long Abstract

A long history of anthropological focus on nature and culture has alerted us to the contested construction of nature as category. This panel takes a new look at the production and reproduction of nature as a performed category through comparative analysis of the enactment of nature in places constituted as peripheral. Given the central role of nature in nation building, rights of ownership and appropriation and the right to define what is worth preserving are crucial themes. The old truism of identity being located in place can no longer be assumed; we cannot expect the production of nature in any place to be exclusive, nor the sharing of social worlds to be linked exclusively to location. Even for those who do not objectify nature as a categorical object, though, concepts of nature may be thrust upon them. Observation of this conjunction, challenge and resistance form part of the comparative project we seek to explore through this workshop.

We propose the idea of 'world's ends' as a fruitful comparative axis drawing on forms of peripherality and wilderness broadly conceived. Does a proximity to 'wilderness' heighten the contested performance of natures? To what extent are questions of ownership a focus of conflict in territories conceived as peripheral? And how is nature negotiated in relation to the production of indigeneity? How do forms of dwelling involve different kinds of nature-cultures? What particular issues arise over temporary dwellings and holiday homes? And what are the implications of tourism-related exploitation of areas defined as wilderness?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Introducing Performing Nature

Authors: Simone Abram (Durham University) post@sabram.co.uk
Marianne Elisabeth Lien (University of Oslo) m.e.lien@sai.uio.no
Adrian Franklin (University of Tasmania) Adrian.Franklin@utas.edu.au

Short Abstract

Abstract

PN@WE is a series of workshops focused on various ways people 'do nature'. Nature is performed through knowledge practices with different ontic commitments, ideas of order, different materialities and constituting different socialities. The workshops focus on productions of knowledge both within and outside the confines of science and towards the translations that occur between knowledge practices. This paper introduces the outcomes of previous workshops and sets the agenda for the panel.

Land, culture & identity: comparative studies of indigeneity & belonging in society and nature

Author: David Trigger (University of Queensland) David.Trigger@uq.edu.au

Short Abstract

The paper will outline a research program focused on human/land relationships through investigation of diverse senses of cultural belonging. What is the significance of indigeneity across nations with different histories? How do ideas of autochthonous and settler human identities mesh with notions of nativeness and invasiveness in nature?

Abstract

The paper will outline a research program seeking to deliver understanding of human/land relationships through investigation of diverse senses of cultural belonging. What is the significance of indigeneity as a concept and publicly asserted identity across nations with different histories? How do ideas of autochthonous and settler human identities mesh with notions of nativeness and invasiveness in nature? The project foregrounds ambiguous tensions between negotiated degrees of belonging in society and parallel assumptions about natural versus exotic qualities among plants and animals. While currently based on Australian material, the intention is to propose comparative investigations across several countries, considering possibilities of work in societies with non-European cultural histories (e.g. Malaysia), nations with non-British colonial histories (e.g. across South America), and countries with both entrenched European minorities and a non-White majority that is culturally distinct from the 'indigenous' minority (e.g. South Africa). Are such societies instructive for nations like Australia & New Zealand, in terms of similar and different senses of place and identity, links between ideas of autochthony and belonging, and pressing environmental issues about 'nativeness' in plants and animals?

Tree of life—tree of death: Eucalyptus in a changing South African landscape

Author: Rune Flikke (University of Oslo) Rune.Flikke@sai.uio.no

Short Abstract

This paper seeks to shed historical light on the alien species debate in contemporary South Africa. I will outline the discourses and practices in connection with the importation of eucalyptus trees from Australia to South Africa from the 1870s onwards.

Abstract

South Africa is in the middle of a heated debate on alien spices, which have spurred efforts to Africanize the landscape through removal of eucalyptus and other imported spices. The eucalyptus is blamed for exhausting the already meager supply of clean water. In this contemporary context, eucalyptus is equated with disease and poverty. However, the role of eucalyptus is not new.

In the late 1870's discourses on eucalyptus surfaced during 'a sanitation hysteria' that swept King William's Town, on the Eastern Cape. A key figure was J.P. Fitzgerald, who had previously worked as a doctor in New Zealand. He advocated the planting of eucalyptus to combat health problems. The non-European eucalyptus was thus central in South African efforts to domesticate the alien African landscape, and health and prosperity was the rationale. The focus on eucalyptus in efforts to form a colonial home, suggests that the European imagination was concerned with other issues than bringing a known landscape to Africa.

The paper will explore how the concept of 'performing nature' is suited to underscore the place eucalyptus trees occupy in efforts aimed at molding emotive connections and securing disjunctures to problematic aspects of the colonial and postcolonial life. I will suggest that the eucalyptus figures centrally in these experiences due to the trees' usefulness to reflect on, and negotiate, interracial spaces. The particular space eucalyptus occupied for the European settlers, and how it reemerges in post-apartheid imagination is thus intimately tied to identity politics during times of political unrest and uncertainties.

An improper nature: introduced animals and 'species cleansing' in Australia

Author: Adrian Franklin (University of Tasmania) Adrian.Franklin@utas.edu.au

Short Abstract

This paper investigates the social and cultural content to eradication thinking and programs for introduced species in Australia. What is held up to be a purely scientific and ecological logic is exposed to contain themes of nationalism and social exclusivity.

Abstract

This paper investigates the social dimensions of the vilification of introduced species in Australia. While the case against all of the more vilified species (e.g. cats, donkeys, wild horses, camels) is based on the scientific facts of their threat to native species, this paper argues that eradication policies have been (very widely) pursued even where no such evidence exists. Equally, some species that are highly invasive and a danger to some native species (trout, deer, hare) are not subject to the same degree of vilification or intensive eradication policies. It is argued that there is a compelling but unacknowledged social content to such policies and the attitudes that support them. The paper identifies a range of social and cultural factors that weigh into the equation illuminating a powerful relationship between nature and nation formation and nationalism. It illustrates how biopolitics and nature aesthetics are shaped by particular post-colonial configurations. The paper also analyses how taxonomies of proper and improper animals express, and fuel, tensions between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Australians as well as recent anxieties about migrants and refugees.

The nature of belonging: The making of an authentic Australian river

Author: Stephanie Lavau (The University of Melbourne) stephanie.lavau@unimelb.edu.au

Short Abstract

In this paper, I outline some of the routines and rhetorics of managing the Goulburn River in south-eastern Australia, and the different “natural” rivers they perform. I explore various versions of “naturalness” that are invoked as the final arbiter of which fish should swim in these waters.

Abstract

The Goulburn River in south-eastern Australia has become a battleground between trout fishery and native fish habitat. This very public confrontation between utilitarian and ecological enactments of river is entangled with another, more murky, contestation over these waters. Management of the fish community of the mid-Goulburn has stalled as river managers, river users and local communities debate which fish belong in the river. The threatened, native Murray cod; the eminently fishable, introduced brown trout; and the much maligned European carp: these three species are the key figures in this debate. In Australia, such politics of belonging is frequently configured around geographical origin; that is, on a distinction between indigenous species as natural and introduced species as unnatural. However, in this case other versions of naturalness” are invoked as the final arbiter of which fish should swim in these waters. In this paper, I outline some of the routines and rhetorics of river management and the different “natural” rivers they perform. In doing so, I argue that this negotiation of belonging expresses contemporary concerns with origins, authenticity, integration, and national identity.

Appropriations of nature and land in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa

Author: Knut G Nustad (University of Oslo) k.g.nustad@sai.uio.no

Short Abstract

The paper examines conflicting appropriations of nature and land in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa. This is analysed as the active creation and reformulation of separate but intertwined discourses on land rights, nature and the environment in post-apartheid South Africa.

Abstract

The paper examines different appropriations of nature and land in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. The area epitomizes the highly contested and complex issues involving land in post-apartheid South Africa. More than a thousand people were removed from the area between the 1950s and the 1980s. The rationale for the removals and the alternative use to which the land was to be put, ranged from commercial forestry, mining, national security to nature conservation. Today the area is promoted as a unique natural resort and a holiday destination, and comprises the affluent town of St Lucia, squatter settlements and people having been resettled in newly built villages. After being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in December 1999, severe restrictions were imposed on settlement in the area. This heavily impacted on the legal processes of land restitution set in motion after the end of apartheid, with more than 80 per cent of the Park being under some form of claim. Moreover, many of the claims were settled through negotiations with traditional leaders on behalf of their community, hence departing from the conception of land right and entitlement set down in the South African constitution. These different and contesting appropriations of the land - as nature to conserve, as resources under traditional authorities and as individual entitlement - will be examined as the active creation and reformulation of separate but intertwined discourses on land rights, nature and the environment in post-apartheid South Africa.

Contesting nature, contesting identities: claiming ownership of a wilderness area

Author: Erin Hobbs (University of Western Australia) hobbse02@student.uwa.edu.au

Short Abstract

This paper examines the ways in which conservationists and mining developers use contesting ecological theories to claim a moral sense of ownership of a desert landscape in Western Australia

Abstract

In this paper, I look at how environmentalists and mining developers reproduce and contest notions of wilderness and nature in a dispute over a proposed mining development on the West Australian coastline. If it goes ahead, the salt mine will be the biggest in the world, covering 411 square kilometres of desert and mangrove systems. Upon making the proposal public, the developers created a stakeholder committee, which has provided fertile ground for each group to perform their understandings of nature for each other. Over time, both groups have produced their own distinct theories to describe how the ecological systems of the area are interlinked, as well as how the environment impacts upon the people in the town nearby. These theories have become integral aspects of the public identities of each group, and are frequently used to contest and resist the others' claims.

I will explore how the environmental group and mining developers use these differences in order to claim that they have the more "correct" environmental knowledge. I then ask to what extent do either of these theories help each group to claim a sense of ownership of the landscape? And, how does a sense of ownership give either group the right to decide the future of this landscape?

Performing the narrative self on New Zealand's sub-Antarctic islands

Author: Eric Shelton (University of Otago) eshelton@business.otago.ac.nz

Short Abstract

Visitors to New Zealand's sub-Antarctic islands engage in managed opportunities to perform personal narratives of wild nature. Videotaped examples of such performances are presented and analysed with respect to problematic narrative tensions between individual performances and the prescribed or public narrative.

Abstract

Shelton & Tucker (2007) presented various narratives available to be used in describing the environmental status of Aotearoa/New Zealand, and the place of Polynesian and European Homo sapiens within or outside these. The narratives comprised despoliation, indigenous, wise use, and restoration. The sub-Antarctic islands of New Zealand are managed according to a restoration narrative. Within this narrative only six hundred visitors per year are allowed to land on the islands, and in some places only one hundred and fifty. In preparation for landing, visitors are presented with a 'public narrative' of how the islands may be experienced, supported by a well-illustrated book of the area. Once ashore, visitors perform their individual narratives of wild nature. Back on board, the public narrative is repeated and reinforced. This presentation utilises video of such narrative performances during two expedition cruises and explores the tensions inherent in applying a singular narrative to phenomena with multiple available meanings.

Hunters on Strike - Facts, ethics and aesthetics in reindeer hunting and management

Author: Knut Haukelid (University of Oslo) knut.haukelid@tik.uio.no

Short Abstract

Hunting is one way of performing nature, but in 2003 the hunters on Hardangervidda in Norway organized a “strike” and refused to hunt reindeer. This paper document the meaning, ethics and aesthetics of reindeer hunting and why certain conflicts over wildlife and hunting become global issues, while others remain local.

Abstract

Hunting is one way of performing nature, but in 2003 a rather strange event took place on Hardangervidda in Norway. The local "reindeer-authority" imposed a ban on hunting that year because they estimated that the reindeer population was too low. The Directorate for Nature Management tried to overrule the local authorities but to no avail. The hunters organized a "strike" and refused to hunt reindeer. Normally you would not expect a "strike" from hunters and many people regard hunters as "blood thirsty", cruel, and not politically engaged. This strike proved them wrong. Also it was an action that gives us direct insight into the struggle between local knowledge and scientific knowledge and thereby larger debates on identity, ethics and aesthetics. Reindeer hunting has a long standing history in Norway and there are cultural values and cultural practices attached to this type of hunting. This paper document how these values and practices are an important part of the Norwegian history and what characterizes reindeer hunting in Norway - its meaning, ethics and aesthetics. The paper also discuss if reindeer hunting is a cultural practice that is loosing ground, and why certain conflicts over wildlife and hunting become global issues, while others remain local.

The nature of salmon and the image of the wild: Performing nature in Norwegian salmon aquaculture

Author: Marianne Elisabeth Lien (University of Oslo) m.e.lien@sai.uio.no

Short Abstract

While wild Atlantic salmon are severely threatened, images of wild salmon are central to the technoscientific development of salmon farming. I explore how the nature of salmon is reproduced through the lense of the wild, while boundaries between the wild and the domesticated are increasingly blurred.

Abstract

While wild Atlantic salmon are severely threatened in Northern Europe, images of wild salmon are increasingly central to the technoscientific development of the rapidly expanding intensive salmon farming world wide. This paper explores the interface and exchange between the wild and the domesticated in regions of recent Atlantic salmon domestication, such as Norway. I argue that the image of wild salmon takes on important roles in performing nature in several different ways. These include the portrayal of wild salmon in the marketing of farmed salmon, and the continuous exploration of the 'nature of salmon' through scientific investigation of the (wild) species. In particular, I draw attention to the increased emphasis on 'natural salmon behaviour', as a response to recent legal requirements regarding fish welfare, and the enrolment of wild and domesticated salmon to 'perform' nature in laboratory settings. More generally, I seek to explore how nature as a category is reproduced in a setting in which the boundaries between wild and domesticated are increasingly blurred.