ASA2016: Footprints and futures: the time of anthropology

Exploring taskscape: new approaches to temporality and the doing of the world
Location Calman - Ken Wade
Date and Start Time 06 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2


  • Andrew Whitehouse (University of Aberdeen) email
  • Paolo Gruppuso (University of Aberdeen) email

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Discussant Tim Ingold (University of Aberdeen)

Short Abstract

Returning to Ingold's 1993 notion of taskscape, this panel reconsiders the doing of the world. How does this doing emerge in studies of Anthropocene environmental themes and in the light of more recent approaches to temporality and environmental relations?

Long Abstract

In 1993 Tim Ingold introduced the term 'taskscape' to explain how places and landscapes emerge through the activities of 'those who dwell therein'. It implies unfolding processes of temporality, challenging distinctions between built and natural environment, form and process: between the footprints and the movements that generate them. Taskscape is thus the array of activities that carries forward social life in the world and the traces and footprints that together are the doing of the world.

Since 1993 much has changed in our understanding of landscape. Olwig's work has retraced the etymology of landscape from the medieval polities of northern Germany defined through customary activity to the literal meaning of the word as land shaped. In this sense landscape connotes something similar to taskscape: it becomes its own doing. In his more recent work, Ingold has moved beyond landscape to the notions of meshwork and 'weather-world' in which the life lines and movements of humans, other beings, wind and water flow and entangle. More-than-human anthropology has emphasised the need to incorporate other species into the social and, as such, the taskscape must surely now include their activities alongside those of humans.

Our intention is to return to taskscape to re-evaluate its significance in understanding human-environment relations, their temporalities and how the world that is perceived is made. We invite contributions that explore and expand the concepts of temporality and taskscape in light of recent theoretical and thematic developments, particularly more-than-human anthropology, climate change, alternative energies, and the Anthropocene.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Other taskscapes: dwelling, alterity and the more-than-immanent past

Author: John Harries (University of Edinburgh)  email

Short Abstract

Discussing Newfoundlanders memory of the Beothuk, this paper critically engages with the notion that past is enfolded into taskscape of the present. The theorisation of the immanent past deals insufficiently with alterity, in that it does not admit to another beyond our dwelling.

Long Abstract

This paper concerns how we may sense another in unfolding process of being within a landscape. It is based upon fieldwork in Newfoundland, Canada, concerning the ways in which the people of that island remember the Beothuk, an indigenous people who became extinct in the early 19th century. In particular, it is inspired by those who told me that, as they hunted, fished and camped, they felt a nearness to these other people who had lived on the land and in so doing left traces of their dwelling. The presence of Beothuk in the land is, therefore, not revealed as a series of signatures to be read from an abstract remove but in the actions of others who, years later, dwelt similarly on the land.

It will be suggested, however, that this approach to temporality as being immanent within the unfolding process of relational being, does not sufficiently deal with the fact of alterity. The problem is that such an approach enfolds difference into the same, and makes their past into our past, immanent in the process our dwelling in the world. In Newfoundland, where articulations of settler identity flourish in the absence of indigenous contestation and against the backdrop of a narrative of extinction, this enfolding of the past into the fabric of the living present also has problematic ethical implications. The paper will conclude by outlining a theorisation of a more-than-immanent past as a sense of that other which cannot be assimilated into the here and now.

The date harvest as taskscape: enacting the past and future of/as a Nubian community

Author: Karin Willemse (Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication, Erasmus University Rotterdam)  email

Short Abstract

The date harvest as a taskscape constitutes both nature and culture, both past and present, both those people who are present and those who are absent. How are the dynamics of space, time and memory related to the narration of taskscapes?

Long Abstract

The taskscape has an inherent temporality, which is essentially social. According to Ingold, people, in the performance of their tasks, also attend to each other: watching, listening, touching all constitute a perceptual monitoring of each other's presence. This paper, based on recent anthropological research, considers one such taskscape that centres around the palm groves in Nubia, an area located along the Nile in North Sudan. I will consider he activities surrounding the time/space/activities of the date harvest, which constitute both nature and culture, both past and present, both those people who are present and those who are absent. At the same time the question is to what extend the notion of a taskscape is compatible with the notion of gendered, aged, ethnically etc. 'spatiality': of 'spaces' as 'practiced places', of chronotopes, heterotopia and lieux de memoire. In other words, how are the dynamics of space, time and memory related to the narration of taskscapes?

Weaving the meshwork: landscape and environment as 'tasks'

Author: Paolo Gruppuso (University of Aberdeen)  email

Short Abstract

Following the notions of taskscape and meshwork, I argue for an interpretation of landscape and environment as entanglements of tasks and activities rather than assemblages of geographical, biological and hydrogeological features.

Long Abstract

The Pontine Marshes (Italy), were reclaimed in the 1930s by the fascist regime. It is commonly thought that the Marshes' hydrological regime was modified by human actions only through large scale reclamation projects conducted by the fascist regime. I challenge this view presenting the Marshes as an artefact, rather than a natural phenomenon, resulting from centuries of human and non-human engagement within that particular environment.

My interpretation resonates with Olwig's work retracing the etymology of the term landscape as 'land shaped'. Olwig's interpretation recalls the notion of taskscape, conceptualized by Ingold to point out the array of activities that living beings carry out in the process of inhabiting the environment. Even though, it is arguable that Olwig's understanding of landscape conveys a deeper political dimension, my argument is grounded in the notion of taskscape for three main reasons.

Firstly, taskscape focuses on 'tasks' rather than 'land' or 'shapes', highlighting the idea of the Marshes as a process rather than an outcome of different activities.

Secondly, the notion of task involves the idea of 'care': the inhabitants of the Marshes, accomplishing their tasks, nurture the marshes, keeping them alive.

Thirdly, the notion of taskscape involves a particular understanding of history, conceptualized as 'temporality', which is implicitly social because it emerges through the tasks that living beings perform, resonating with each other in the process of weaving the meshwork.

From this perspective the marshes emerge as tasks themselves, as practices of care aimed at 'keeping the land wet'.

'Divine Fragrance' in the taskscape: the sense of toxicity, waste and smell in Rio de Janeiro's Subúrbios

Author: Laurie Denyer Willis (McGill University )  email

Short Abstract

I consider 'divine fragrance' within the landscape of Rio de Janeiro's subúrbios. How is the creation of divine fragrance from toxic run-off a story about temporal entanglements with waste, material toxicity and environment in the 'taskscape'?

Long Abstract

This paper considers the movement and temporality of 'divine fragrance' across Rio de Janeiro's poor suburban landscape. 'Divine fragrance' is made of a toxic liquid perceived as 'waste' by its international perfume manufacturer. I track how their workers surreptitiously capture and transport this fragrance in 55-gallon barrels, re-forming it into a household disinfectant sold in evangelical communities and networks. The process of reforming toxic waste into divine fragrance is a kind of interactivity in the 'taskscape'. It highlights the entanglement of scent, materials, humans and environment, while at the same time challenging distinctions between the 'toxic' and the 'natural'. Scent is not trivial in informal built environments. These places are often defined by their 'uncleanliness', acute water shortages, and a lack of basic infrastructures. In this paper, then, I trace the very specific 'matter-flow' and 'becoming' of divine fragrance (Deleuze and Guattari 2004) - and the sustenance of evangelical worlds - within the landscape of Rio de Janeiro's subúrbios. I consider how the interactivity of creating divine fragrance from toxic run-off is a story about temporal entanglements with waste, material toxicity and environment, as well as slavery, religious conversion and urban governance. The fragrance of the landscape is embedded in both the toxic and divine 'doing of the world'. In this way, by placing 'divine fragrance' within Ingold's notion of the taskscape, this paper advances the conversation concerning the entanglement of the sensorium, waste and religion in the Anthropocene.

City dwellers without a background

Author: Germain Meulemans (University of Aberdeen / FNRS-ULg)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines the notion of ‘nature in town’ in anthropology and other disciplines. It shows that in these, the city is often seen as a ‘background for life’. Building on the example of the growth of city soils, it argues for an alternative approach based on the life of cities.

Long Abstract

One implication of the notion of taskscape is to make an argument against the idea of the landscape being a 'background for life'. It entails that in a truly ecological view of the world, there cannot be such a thing as a 'background'. This paper examines how these entailments may concern present discussions about 'nature in town' - a notion that has gained importance in different fields since the 1990s. From offshoots in population ecology or ethology to the development of state led initiatives aiming at managing species and ecosystems in towns, it has added city areas to the list of biodiversity hot spots. Anthropologists are not left out of the subject, and have generally invested the notion as a 'hybrid' in which common categories of nature and culture are blurred and re-defined. The paper argues that in these approaches cities are often taken as a background to life, in terms similar to those Ingold aimed at overpassing in his writings on landscape. Building on the case of the study of city soils, I suggest that an approach in which soils are a multispecies compound taken in pedogenesis may provide a way around the 'nature in town' approach. Prolonging the recent soil science assumption that soil organisms 'altogether are the soil', I argue that humans too join them in pedogenesis. In this, the city stops being a background for lives, and becomes a processual entity in which humans, species and materials in fluxes shape one another.

Gull taskscapes: the more-than-human doing of the city

Author: Andrew Whitehouse (University of Aberdeen)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper I follow the lives of gulls as they move and intersect with our own, exploring the uneasy taskscapes that emerge in cities that are also inhabited by gulls.

Long Abstract

Gulls are a group of birds whose lives habitually traverse landscapes. They make their homes on the coast and in marshes but also increasingly in cities. Physiologically they are well adapted for mobile lives, attending to the ebb and flow of the tides or the rise and fall of floodwaters in order to subsist. More recently those rhythms have been added to by the current of refuse to dumps, of fishing boats into harbours, of rain onto playing fields and of consumers discarding their half-eaten snacks. Gulls have followed humans from the country to the city and from the marshes, fields and coasts to the rooftops and pavements.

This paper explores the lives of gulls as they move and intersect with our own and the more-than-human taskscapes that emerge from this uneasy entanglement. These taskscapes include the various 'mitigation strategies' that have been developed as people struggle to adapt to their loud larid neighbours. I speculate on how people and gulls might learn to live more amicably together in these shared urban spaces. More broadly, I consider the doing of the city as something that is never wholly human and how the activities of other urban beings create tensions but also a need for tolerance.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.