ASA11: Vital powers and politics: human interactions with living things

University of Wales Trinity Saint David, 13/09/2011 – 16/09/2011

(P24)

British landscape, heterotopia and 'new animism'

Location Room 4
Date and Start Time 14 Sep, 2011 at 09:00

Convenors

Jenny Blain  email
Robert Wallis (Richmond University)  email
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Short Abstract

Commonly, presentations of place deal in humanly-inscribed meaning, in viewing, shaping, protecting landscape. This panel invites discussion and theorising of places and component beings as creators of meaning and change, asking what anthropology brings to understanding of other-than-human agency.

Long Abstract

Conventional portrayals of landscape, seascape, townscape within Britain, present either a 'wild' unpopulated, mysterious and 'unspoilt' tourist destination, or a human-created, moulded place be it of farmland, town centre, suburban garden. Viewers are invited to look, to explore, to protect, to preserve, to restore, to further shape: agency here lies with the architect, planner, tourist or tour guide, farmer, promoter, heritage manager, in short with human people. Heterotopic spaces are ones in which humans, in such human-centric focus, inscribe multiple or changing meanings.

Sacred landscapes, however, in other discourses may have their own agency, as may other-than-human people within these - trees, ancestor spirits, reindeer, rivers. They call to some people, exclude others, and have their own being and historical trajectory to which human activity may be peripheral. We ask here, what anthropologists can bring to an exploration of agency of these landscapes of Britain, or of how the slow pace of life of a yew tree, the swift pace of a goldfinch creates its own context and meaning.

The panel invites presentations of how landscape or its components engage with humans; including exploration of (human) discourse on what Harvey (2005) terms 'new animism', and theorised discussion of tensions between discourses of protection and discourses of 'being changed' by place.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Re-wilding and restoring: a comparative study of two apposite heterotopias of wild cattle in the United Kingdom.

Author: Sonja Britz (University of Newcastle) email
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Short Abstract

In History of Quadrupeds, (1790: 25) Thomas Bewick wrote: ‘There was formerly a very singular species of wild cattle in this country, which is now nearly extinct. Numerous herds of them were kept in several parks in England and Scotland, but have been destroyed by various means; and the only breed now remaining in the kingdom, is in the park at Chillingham Castle, in Northumberland’

In this paper I wish to consider the still extant Chillingham cattle and the recent introduction of Galloway cattle as part of the Lake District re-wilding project known as Wild Ennerdale. Both breeds are native species and have medieval ancestries. In both instances they can be seen as co-workers within a larger system. Not bred for meat, instead they help maintain the spaces they inhabit and with as little human intervention as possible. They are also representatives of an almost mythical past in which aurochs (Bos primigenius) roamed freely in the forests, in stark contrast to contemporary industrialised farming

Long Abstract

The feral cattle at Chillingham (first mentioned 1225-1600's) are unique in the world as their sex ratio and age distribution are not managed by human beings, and no culling of bulls occurs. The aim of the Wild Ennerdale is for the land to revert, in conjunction with animal agency, to some earlier condition that simulates an earlier wilderness or, more likely, a condition termed by ecologist George Peterken as 'future naturalness' .( Mabey, 1997 cited in Haywood, 2009 The two herds of cattle are allowed to roam free and breed with minimal human intervention. (Wild Ennerdale 2011).

These contemporary manifestations of animal agency differ in spatial representation and status. The Chillingham cattle are historical, exclusive, ordered and part of Establishment, whereas the Ennerdale cattle can be described as co-workers in an experiment whose outcome is unclear and in which human intervention is less visible. According to Foucault ( 1967 ) the medieval space of 'emplacement' was replaced by 'extension ' from Galileo onwards, yet there remain some spaces in contemporary society that are still inviolable; these he described '…… still nurtured by the hidden presence of the sacred'.

I would argue that the Chillingham cattle belong more to a heterotopia of emplacement, whereas those at Ennerdale occupy a space of extension in which '.. a thing's place was no longer anything but a point in its movement'( 1976

A sea-bounded island as incarceration or retreat

Author: Judith Okely (Oxford University/University of Hull) email
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Short Abstract

The Isle of Wight, sea surrounded, facilitates incarceration, whether prisons or boarding schools. Seascapes also encourage retreats. These include royal or artistic enclaves, yachting leisure, or proletarian holiday package. The paper draws on an ethnography of incarceration and imagined idylls.

Long Abstract

The sea around islands has been exploited for imprisonment e.g. Alcatraz and Devil's Island. Thanks to deep waters, bestialised criminals are separated from civil society. The Isle of Wight has brought both long-term incarceration and holiday escape. At the inter-flux of maritime trading and war strategies, it has reified royal connections and class divisions. Its prisons confined the most dangerous and the criminally insane. Other locations were constructed as Queen Victoria's retreat or as creative enclave for the likes of Tennyson, Julia Cameron, Keats and Dickens. The Island has provided upper class yachting leisure, proletarian seaside holiday package or celebrity music fest.

As with Foucault's heterotopia, the Island harboured boarding schools. These ensured class and gendered isolation while facilitating sexual abuse. The sea prevented any breakouts from mono-culturalism. But as wild nature, the sea and its onslaughts defied regimentation. School gardens, cultivated as spectacle, brought diversion from emotional deprivation and austerity. In the author's boarding school, animals were rare:- the headmistress's one pet dachshund, collections of impaled butterflies and occasional horses for riding by a privileged few. The activities of frogs provided the single case study for lessons in sex and reproduction. The author draws on nine years incarceration, a filmed return decades later, encounters with a prep school master, recent exchanges with former inmates and the ethnography of imagined idylls.

'The biggest ice house in Scotland': siting meaning and agency in the natural world

Author: Katharine Dow (University of Cambridge) email
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Short Abstract

Spey Bay ice house is thought to the largest ice house in Scotland. The different interactions of people, plants and animals with this site demonstrate the multiple meanings of nature and the agency of the natural world in people’s construction of an heterotopic idyll.

Long Abstract

This paper describes a place, and human interactions with that place, through a series of occurrences. The place is a former ice house at the mouth of the River Spey in northeastern Scotland, now part of a wildlife centre run by a global conservation charity and open to the public as a tourist destination. It is a polysemous location, a site of interaction between animals, plants, people and land as well as a symbol of contemporary economic and ethical transformations. For most of its history, it was a vital resource of the local salmon-fishing industry. Now, it acts as an exhibition space, wildlife-watching vantage point and local landmark. Where once this was a place with abundant natural resources to be exploited for financial gain, it now relies on charitable donations to survive and is used to promote a particular ethical consciousness about caring for the local, and global, environment. The ice house is an heterotopic space in itself, but it is also the stage on which the people who live and work around it act out various aspects of their lives as people who are building good lives. The presence of rare wildlife and 'wild' nature impels people to act in particular ways, inscribing new meanings on an 'untouched' place. This paper considers the agency of the natural world in the lives of people who have appointed themselves as its guardians and explores how particular places produce new meanings and change the people with whom they interact.

Enchanting landscapes: ancestors, people, 'nature' and 'heritage'

Author: Jenny Blain email
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Short Abstract

This paper will explore dimensions of seeing landscape variously as cultured or cultural, ‘culturing’, or possibly ‘enchanting’, raising questions on implications of ancestors and landscape for identities of today and for developments of reflexive social theory.

Long Abstract

Historically within social sciences, 'animism' has been used to signal otherness, a 'superstitious' belief or faith in directive or authoritarian non-human entities. If, rather, 'animism' is interpreted to mean the possibility of relationships between human and other-than-human people, within a 'living landscape,' in which all players, be they stones, sparrows or social scientists, have their part, how does this influence both spiritual practices and the interpretative repertoires with which we attempt to account for those practices?

This paper will explore dimensions of seeing landscape variously as cultured or cultural, 'culturing', or possibly 'enchanting'. How are relationships of place and humans constructed and reported in practitioner discourse? Examples of (human) practitioners in this paper include spiritual practitioners engaging with 'ancestors', and heritage tourists exploring 'who they think they are' within 'heritage' contexts of Britain. Contexts therefore range from bronze-age burials, to Victorian graveyards. The paper raises questions on the importance of ancestors and landscape for identities for today. And it deals with how we, as reflexive practitioners of social research, can reflect, theorise, and learn from these happenings.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.