EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution


Living together in changing environments: towards an anthropology of multiple natures in Europe and beyond

Location S-243
Date and Start Time 03 August, 2014 at 09:00


Saskia Walentowitz (Institut of Social Anthropology) email
Herta Nöbauer (University of Vienna) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This workshop calls for ethnographies that describe the making of and engagement with multiple natures in changing Western environments. How are nature continua achieved through the coordination of practices and intimate knowledge entangling people, life forms, technologies and bureaucracies?

Long Abstract

The historical advent of Nature as a domain separate from human culture and society is the corner stone of Western Modernism. This dualism fostered the anthropological project and its comparative practices of othering. However, anthropology currently undergoes a quiet revolution. The premises of naturalism are unsettled by ethnographies of multi-species socialities grounded in multiple nature cosmologies on the one hand, and by studies describing how people, life forms and things are enmeshed and separated in scientific, medical and technological practises on the other hand. All these studies de-essentialise nature by demonstrating how reality multiplies in both, multinaturalistic and multiculturalistic ontologies. Paradoxically, such non-dualistic approaches have seldom been applied to living environments in the West, outside of clinics and laboratories. This workshop aims at gathering sound ethnographies that describe the making of and engagement with multiple natures in changing Western environments. We also welcome contributions that deal with other locations where naturalism is salient for nature conservation, management, exploitation, or otherwise. Ethnographies may address the following questions: How do people and non-human life forms entangle and emerge alongside with landscape technologies, environmental bureaucracies, and practices of resource management, biodiversity protection, agribusiness, outdoor sports, tourism etc.? How are technologies and practices embodied in people's intimate knowledge about and experiences with changing environments and landscapes? How are various nature continua achieved through the coordination of shifting, multiple natures? How do human/non-human collaborations co-shape the negotiation of conflicting interests and strengthen previous or new identities and institutions concerned with changing environments?

Discussant: TBA

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Cultivating multiple plant natures in Switzerland

Authors: Saskia Walentowitz (Institut of Social Anthropology)  email
Jonas Thommen (Social Anthropology)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper, we will explore how non-dualistic approaches in anthropology enable us to fruitfully engage in the making of multiple, differing, and sometimes conflicting plant natures in Switzerland.

Long Abstract

In Switzerland, in accordance with the Swiss Constitution's claim to respect the "dignity of creatures", the 2004 Gene Technology Law stipulates that the "dignity of creatures" must be respected in biological research. Since then, scientists are confused about how to demonstrate their compliance. Therefore, in 2008, the Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology issued guidelines including a decision-tree in order to guarantee "The Dignity of living beings with regard to plants". While the Gene Technology Law effectively limits genetic plant engineering in Switzerland, intensifying public programs and non-profit initiatives declare "war" against so-called "invasive species" that threat "native" plants and must therefore be "controlled", indeed "eradicated". In order to investigate such equivocations, social scientists, we will argue, need to de-compose representational, socio-logical approaches to "nature" in the singular. Instead, we will explore how recent, non-dualistic approaches in anthropology enable us to fruitfully engage in the making of multiple, differing, and sometimes, conflicting plant natures in Switzerland.

Snow and the emergence of multiple natures in the European Alps

Author: Herta Nöbauer (University of Vienna)  email

Short Abstract

Based upon my fieldwork on snow in the Austrian Alps this paper explores the emergence of multiple forms of snow and nature in two ski resorts in Tyrol. It will do so by tracing the entanglement and effects of the multifaceted engagement with snow, specific technology, land ownership, and politics.

Long Abstract

Ski resorts all over the world play a crucial role in tourism and are important sites of an ever increasing 'vertical globalisation' taking place in mountain regions. Mass tourism along with unstable weather conditions and climate change has been changing snow scapes in comprehensive ways. More specifically, mass tourism has had significant impacts on the expectations and perceptions of snow scapes and the amount of snow required in defined spaces and seasons, particularly. One of the most determining expectations and marketing offers is to provide 'snow reliability' to tourists. The extensive use of snow making machines is considered to be the most successful way for realising this promise also in ski resorts in Austria where I have conducted fieldwork in the province of Tyrol. Snow making in turn involves a huge net composed of male experts, land owners and renters, manifold practices and politics, multifaceted technological equipment, energy, legally defined quality of water, of sensitive properties of air humidity and ambient temperature.

In my paper I will argue that through particular and gendered ways of engaging with snow and technology multiple forms of snow and of nature are being generated. It is not only the Western dualistic distinction between 'natural' and 'artificial' snow which is at work here and which also is employed for marking social differences. Rather I will show how beside this dominating distinction the 'natural' and 'cultural' properties and qualities of snow and nature are changing and leading to new forms and different validations of nature.

Ecotourism: multiculturistic ontologies of nature

Author: Saskia Walther (LMU München )  email

Short Abstract

The presentation shows social-cultural processes which go along with changing practices and concepts of nature under a gender sensitive perspective, using the example of a community ecotourism project in Mexico. The presentation is based on a one year field research in 2013/2014.

Long Abstract

Romanticized representations of indigenous communities as "ecological natives" focus on their intensive collaboration and intimate relation with nature. In the terms of "othering" these representations oppose the western dualism between nature and culture and are increasingly used by indigenous actors to advance their economies and to recreate their identity in a globalizing world. This is evident in many community-based ecotourism projects in Mexico, which are framed by global discourses on environmental degradation and environmental protection alike. Ecotourism reconstitutes the relationship between local communities with "nature" as ecological practices and discourses are creatively appropriated by indigenous actors, who use them to conserve their natural resources. This also involves a revitalization of local environmental practices and knowledge. These processes revise the ways in which the community land is remembered, narrated and conceived and cause contradictory concepts of nature cosmologies. This results on the one hand in novel, often conflicting collaboration practices with "nature" and a new configuration of the community management of the community territory. On the other hand, this includes new emotional and sensory experiences and simultaneously reconfigures the social institutions and structure. The presentation aims to show the social-cultural processes under a gender sensitive perspective which go along with the changing practices and concepts of nature, using the example of the community ecotourism project in the village of Santa Catarina Lachatao in the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca. The presentation is based on a one year field research in 2013/2014 in which was conducted a participatory fotoproject.

"When a beach is a lot of beaches": environmental perceptions in an urban beach

Author: Francisco Maya-Rodriguez (Pablo de Olavide University)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on the results of an ethnographic research this paper describes the manifold uses of an urban beach, showing the several ways the coastscape becomes significative for those who use it.

Long Abstract

Cadiz (Andalusia, Spain) is a small coastal city that has deployed an urban development model based on leisure and tourism sectors as response to local deindustrialization. This transition has lead to a progressive transformation and reinterpretation of its urban coastscape, regarded by administrators as one of the main attractors for foreign investors and visitants. One of the places most affected by this process has been La Caleta beach, found at city's downtown. Due to its particular location, history and morphology, this small beach boasts a diversity of maritime fauna, being also an important local heritage site which, alongside, functions customarily as one of the city's most emblematic, active and dynamic open public spaces. These factors have made of the beach a commonplace shared by people who develop activities ranging from artisanal fishing to archaeological research as well as tourism, sunbathing, scuba diving or ball sports gaming, among others.

Drawing on the ethnographic results of a current doctoral research project, this paper analyses the taskscape of the beach together with its recent past and its users' narratives. Deeming the activities that perform this coastscape as means through which the beach is perceived, becomes knowable and valuable for those who interact within it, we describe the manifold ways through which it turns meaningful for the locals and the several ideas of nature they put into play in the process. By doing so, we develop a reflection upon the configuration of local environmental imaginaries.

Entangled backyards of quasi-urban living

Author: Tarmo Pikner (Tallinn University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper analyses cognitive framings of nature in the context urban allotment gardening. One particular aspect is to rethink embodiments related to well-being. The ethnographic example about Narva town can valorise here some continuity and tactical modifications in engaging with nature.

Long Abstract

Cities bring people together within imagined and materialised environments, where various entities of nature become part of coexistence. Urbanisation influences how people think and do nature. There is challenge to approach nature as multiple coproduction or 'commons' (Hinchliffe 2007, Ingold 2000) in analysing vernacular ecologies bound to cities.

This paper analyses cognitive framings of nature in the context urban allotment gardening. One particular aspect here is to rethink embodiments related to well-being. The city planning models are brought together with embodied stories of gardeners, which are articulated within ethnographic observations, interviews and artistic representations.

The empirical example focuses mostly on summer-house and garden cooperatives in (mostly Russian speaking) Narva city region in north-eastern Estonia. This example can valorise some dimensions of continuity and tactical modifications in engaging with nature and in producing environmental knowledge.


Hinchliffe, S. (2007): Geographies of nature: societies, environments, ecologies. Sage, London.

Ingold, T. (2000): The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill. Routledge, London.

Hiding the marshes: wildlife management, avian and human transgressions in urban parks: a case study in France

Author: Marine Legrand (Muséum National D'histoire Naturelle)  email

Short Abstract

Under the banner of the "urban ecology" utopia, French local public authorities make changes in public parks and gardens management to provide shelter to wildlife. This leads to the deployment of material and discursive power devices aimed at hiding from city dwellers places devoted to biodiversity.

Long Abstract

In Europe, an increasing number of local political authorities get involved in the "urban ecology" movement, giving a new turn to an old utopia: "reconciling human and nature in urban areas". To give substance to this project, one path chosen by French local administrations has been, in the 1990's, to make changes in parks management in order to provide shelter to wildlife in these public places. How do human and non-human becomings get entangled in this landscape reshaping process, guided by scientific concepts? To address this question, we adopted the perspective of environmental anthropology, looking at how material and symbolic frontiers between humans, animals and plants get negotiated in urban public spaces designed for both leisure and biodiversity protection. We conducted an ethnographic inquiry in the Seine-Saint-Denis district (North East suburbs of Paris), in an urban park that shelters rare bird species. We suggest that in our case study, the attention for wildlife in urban parks goes along with the deployment of technical and discursive devices (Foucault, 1970, Agamben, 2007) based on expert ecological knowledge, both aimed at humans and birds. While marshes are shaped to invite chosen bird species to nest, they are also hidden from most city dwellers by access restrictions. These devices never completely reach their target: the path taken by bird species communities remains unpredictable, while the secrecy surrounding the marshes allows a high level of social transgression.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.